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Against my strong hatred for the cold, wet, dark-at-4 PM PNW winter and contrary to everything I’ve been saying, I unexpectedly took a new and better job that’s going to keep me here for the time being (and at least another winter).  I took the opportunity of a week off between jobs and headed down to California to run around the Bay and Death Valley.

Hilary was in town for the weekend, so I left after lunch on Sunday to head to California. The drive went quickly as usual, and I got to Berkeley around 3-4 AM. One interesting tidbit I discovered along the way is that just outside Salem is the 45th North parallel, meaning the latitude is halfway between the north pole and equator.

Around a week or so prior to leaving I won a prize from the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. For being nearly the 2000th person to “Like” their page, I won a pair of passes and a lovely poster. I left before receiving the passes but went to the garden anyways on Monday afternoon to check it out.

The Botanical Garden was really nice! They had several representative collections of plant life from around the world and worked to make them grow in the bay climate. I was really impressed by the detail and sheer variety of plants in each collection. I’ve been to a few other gardens in Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa, but this one was by far the largest (34 acres). I only had a couple hours before closing so I took in what I could, but didn’t make it to the California collection.

The one thing that I wish I could take away (or adequately describe) from the place was the smell.  It was in the upper 50s, sunny, with a light breeze. The air was fresh, crisp, smelling of foliage and hints of the few plants that had started to flower. It’s completely seductive and would make for a wonderful Saturday afternoon of wandering. Right at closing the frogs in the Japanese Pool started croaking, adding another aspect of niceness to the environment. I met up with an employee who was enthusiastic to meet one of her Facebook fans and I claimed my poster+passes. I will definitely return to stay longer and recommend this to others!

The weather in the Bay was absolutely wonderful. This was a great week to have went. There’s a remarkable difference between 54 F in Seattle and 54 F there, it’s way more pleasant and sunny. All the recent rains there had made everything super green and lush. This was especially obvious when driving down I-5 to go to Death Valley. I’ve only been down the 5 in August/September and by then things are usually pretty dry and brown.  This time it was rolling fields of green and lots of white trees beginning to blossom on the massive farms. All of this made me crave to stay outside as much as possible to take it in.

After leaving the garden, I wandered around Berkeley and UC taking photos as the night fell. Despite students running around, it was pretty tranquil and quiet. I then wandered over to Oakland. I had read a lot about Lake Merritt and Jack London Square, and I wanted to see what they were like at night. For as much as I hear they’re popular areas, I was somewhat surprised to see both were pretty dead at night.  JLS looked sketchy and dark, at the edge of the industrial zone. Lake Merritt was nice, with a string of lights surrounding its entire perimeter, and a little bit of pedestrian traffic.

Tuesday morning I wandered back over to Oakland, then drove over to SF. Some major piece of the new Bay Bridge was being lifted up in place this week. On Treasure Island I ran into a guy that was making a painting of the construction work. It looked really cool (maybe a bit Impressionist-y?), I wish I had it hanging on my wall or at least a photo of it.

I drove around aimlessly in SF for a while and discovered Ocean Beach on the west side of the peninsula. It was awesome to see a sunny, clean beach with lots of surf. The sand was warm, the wind was cool and the water was frigid! Following the coast around, I dropped by to take touristy photos at Lincoln Park and the Presidio. Later that night I was trying to decide where to eat that might allow me to sit outside and people watch, Yelp led me to a brewpub (21st Amendment) that was busy with lots of 30-something tech nerds.

One thing I’ve noticed this trip was the lack of traffic in San Francisco. Maybe the memories I have of it were from a particularly busy time or I was more off the beaten path this time, but it seems like it’s way easier to get around now.

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