California Dreaming

California Dreaming

Greetings from 35,000 feet in the air!  

Right now I’m cruising in the clouds somewhere high above Nevada, three hours away from landing back home in Indy.  I don’t know if this makes sense but I’m always ready to come home, even though I’m never ready to come home.  I miss my husband and my doggie and I miss my baby girl.  I miss her gorgeous eyes, her snuggly morning hugs and the sweet smell of her head. 

Maybe it’s a mama thing but nothing quite compares to the smell of your baby’s head, even when they’re not babies anymore.

This weekend I had the chance to fly out to California for a few days to visit my sister and her fiancé.  They moved to Sacramento in October and I found a killer deal on nonstop flights in and out of Oakland (thank you, Southwest).  My husband agreed to hold down the fort back home while I hopped on a plane to head out West for a few days with my mama, my other travel buddy.  My husband is always so supportive of my wanderlust.  I’m so grateful to be with someone who just gets me. 

I was really looking forward to this trip to of course to see my family, but also to travel somewhere I’ve never been before, the Pacific Coast.  It did not disappoint.

We left Indy just as a big winter storm was moving in.  I got the winter storm warning alert on my phone right before takeoff and smiled smugly to myself, dreaming of the California sunshine and quite pleased at the timing of this whole thing.  Sorry to ya’ll back home but I’m up outta here.  Two minutes later the pilot came on and instructed us to stay buckled in at all times because he anticipated turbulence as we flew over the winter storm.  Well played, universe.  Well played.

I think my payback came in the bathroom on the plane.  I hate using restrooms on board so I tried to hold it as long as humanly possible, but it was a five hour flight and the caffeine moved right through me.  The flight was surprisingly smooth sailing but definitely had some bumps that gave me the willies, one of which occurred while I was doing my duty in a bathroom the size of a phone booth, and that’s being generous.  Pants around ankles, I knocked my head on the side of the lavatory, not hard enough to seriously hurt but hard enough to not know whether or not I was going up or coming down.  It was like being on a rollercoaster…on the toilet.  It was a mess. 

My mom smirked at me when I got back to my seat, but we spoke nothing else of the incident, thank you very much.        

I’m the window seat queen.  I love looking at the world below and trying to track where I am.  Once we flew past the winter storm, the flight was stunning.  Over about Colorado the clouds broke enough to give us some breathtaking views of the Rockies.  The desert and rock formation views above Utah and Nevada were pretty awesome, too.  Once we reached the Cali border, the clouds picked up again until we began the descent to land in Oakland.

As we approached the airport, the clouds opened up to the most lush, emerald green rolling hills and mountains I’d ever seen.  If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought we were landing in Ireland.  Apparently some pretty gnarly storms moved through the California coast and Bay Area (San Francisco) the previous week and dropped 2-3 inches of rain, causing the green to be greener than usual.  It took my breath away.  Toto, we’re not in Indy anymore.    

It was a whirlwind of a few days and I loved every minute.

We spent the afternoon of our arrival exploring Midtown Sacramento, where my sister lives.  Midtown is a relaxed, quaint area with an eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, parks, and some of the best food I’ve ever had.  My sister and her fiancé live right across the street from no less than fifteen different restaurants and shops.  I’m super jelly of their apartment locale and the ability to walk anywhere you want at any time, a luxury I definitely don’t have living in the suburbs.    

Day two was our day in San Francisco.  SAN FRANCISCO, YOU GUYS.  I saw my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean at Lands End, and what a glimpse it was.  Land End Lookout provided the most beautiful, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and rocky shoreline.  It was the quintessential snapshot of the Pacific coast. 

Next up was a jaunt by the Painted Ladies (aka the Full House houses) and a trip down Lombard Street as we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, a seaside village of shops, fresh seafood, street performers, and expansive views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island (yikes). 

Oh, Alcatraz.  The history and mystery of that island has an uncontrollable magnetism.  I think it’s the idea that a blip of such deep, dark cruelty and horror somehow happened smack in the middle of such a beautiful paradise.  That feeling of “if the outsiders looking in only knew” made my stomach turn a little bit.  But nonetheless, it sucked me right in.  That night we went home and watched Escape from Alcatraz, the 1979 movie with Clint Eastwood that explains the real-life prison break that happened on the island in 1962.  Insanity.  We googled and pondered the evidence and came up with some conspiracy theories of our own.  Alcatraz gets you every time.

We finished up in downtown San Fran and headed to a gorgeous lookout across from the city.  I’m such a sucker for a good view.  The Golden Gate Bridge is so iconic I felt like I dreamed it was right in front of me.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s majestic.  It’s surreal.  It’s everything you see in the pictures.  Everyone should see it in their lifetime.   

Last but definitely not least was a stop in saucy Sausalito, a picturesque town tucked in the hills that reminded me of a cliffside village in the Mediterranean.  We had dinner right on the water across the Bay from San Francisco and watched the sun set over the city as the lights from the houses in the hills flickered on.  It was gorgeous.  Sausalito had my name written all over it.  I’ll definitely be back here to stay.    

We had a pretty full day exploring San Francisco so we spent the next day leisurely shopping the boutiques in Sacramento, napping, eating, shopping, eating some more, and having fresh, warm cookies delivered to our door.  Yes, my friends, there is a cookie delivery service out here.  Get with it, Indiana. 

There are so many differences between Sacramento and back home, and they’re all part of the beauty of living in such a diverse world.  Aside from dessert delivery services, here are some other unique things I noticed about Sacramento and San Francisco: 

*The outdoor lifestyle.  It’s no secret that the weather and climate in Sacramento and *most* parts of California are typically warmer and less temperamental than the Midwest.  Because of this, outdoor living is emphasized just as much, if not more, than indoor living.  Almost every restaurant has an outdoor patio equipped with heaters for use when the temperatures are chillier.  Most apartments have large outdoor patios.  Local parks, state parks, national parks, hiking trails, wildlife areas, bike rentals, boat rentals…it’s clear Californians are outside whenever humanly possible.

*Cities are built for pedestrians.  There are pedestrian crosswalk signals at larger intersections in Sacramento, but at most other intersections the signals are absent because it’s assumed that pedestrians have the right of way, every time.  Drivers have become accustomed to this.  Cities are built for walking and spending time outdoors, and it shows.  I saw very few overweight people out here.        

*Weed is legal.  That is all.

*You have to pay extra for shopping bags.  California is a green state, so to encourage eco-friendly shopping practices each store charges anywhere from ten to twenty-five cents extra for shopping or plastic grocery bags.  It works.  I only paid for one bag the entire trip.

*Motorcycles don’t have to stay in lanes.  They can weave in and out of traffic and drive smack on the dotted line in between lanes.  It seemed like madness to me at first but car drivers here are used to it and are more defensive when they commute.   

*The traffic is intense.  I’ll never complain about Indy rush hour again.

*The animals!  Sea lions are all over the place, in their natural habitat and not at the zoo.  I was way too tickled pink by this!

*The mountains.  I was also way too tickled by the mountains.  Real, live mountains, everywhere you looked!  This was a big change for a Midwestern gal like me whose biggest geographical thrill comes from the sledding hill in her backyard.

*There is seriously so much to see.  And it’s all so close together.  Within no more than a two hour drive in any direction from Sacramento, you will run in to something awesome: Lake Tahoe.  Yosemite.  San Francisco.  Alcatraz.  Silicon Valley.  Napa.  Sonoma.  San Mateo.  Redwoods.  Oakland.  Palo Alto.  I could go on.  You could spend months exploring this area.  Maybe someday I will…   

*The air is just different.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Maybe it comes from the Pacific breeze or the mountain air or both, but the air is so pure and refreshing.  It’s cool without being cold and breezy without being windy.  I think I’ll miss the air the most.

It’s always hard for me to leave my daughter at home but looking back, it was definitely for the best.  It was a short, fast-paced trip and we all would have struggled fitting so much in to such a short period with jet-lag and a toddler.  Everybody was exactly where they needed to be this weekend.

I’m so grateful for the chance to explore this beautiful, vibrant part of the country.  I leave a little piece of my heart wherever I go and California will be no different.  As sad as I am that my baby sister moved 2,000 miles away, I’m so happy she calls this land her home.

Until next time, California!

TRAVEL TIP:  You’ve got four airports all within a relatively short distance from the action: San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose.  Be flexible with your flights arrangements and be sure to check all four airports for the best deals!