I love the Bay. I love San Francisco. I love the cobbled streets, the beautiful Victorian influenced architecture, the unique counter culture vibe, the plentiful access to public transportation and the feeling of looking outside of a window on a rainy day in Chinatown and realizing that I am in The Golden City. It is the City where origins of the Beat generation still thrive, where a rich source of activism continues to flourish, and where I hope to live someday.
Usually, the time spent traveling to San Francisco has always been by car. Just take Highway 5 in California and you’re there within 5-6 hours. However, I had an opportunity to travel to the Bay by train to partake in “The Great Train Escape” for NaNoWriMo, where Californian WriMos use the long train ride to the Bay to just write. From LA, it took 11 hours to reach the Oakland station riding along the coast.
Here is a brief overview of my experience traveling solo:
The train ride itself went very smoothly. I was assigned a seat and after I was checked in by the train conductor, I was free to roam around the train. I spent most of my 11 hours at the observation deck of the train, which had a gorgeous view of the coast once we reached the Malibu area. I would suggest packing your own food since lunch and dinner there was horrendously expensive for small portions. Their snacks and alcohol choices were pretty decent, and I had a nice glass of wine while writing and enjoying the view of the sunset.
Staying at Alameda
Alameda is its own small island just a short drive away from Oakland. I stayed at an AirBnb with a wonderful host named Laura (definitely recommend her if you have access to a car). Although it is a very peaceful and beautiful place, the closest Bart station was farther than I would have liked so I still had to take a Lyft or Uber to get there, which was slightly inconvenient for my budget. However, it was a nice place to stay and was very close to both the Oakland Jackson Train Station and the Oakland Airport.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
It was a rainy day, so there was hardly a line at all. It’s a small bakery with very few seats and a small counter space facing the window. I got the Pistachio donut, which was a good combination of savory and sweet. Of course, I had to take a picture of the famous sign placed on their wall.
The Workshop Cafe
I split most of my time in San Francisco writing at cafes and exploring as much of the city as I possible could. One of the first cafes I went to was The Workshop Cafe. This cafe is interesting because it works very similar to workspaces you would find at a library. Just find a table, check in and order some food to be delivered to your seat. You can also order at the front when you first enter.
I absolutely love this place and wish they had one in LA. It’s a great place to eat, get work done and even have a drink after your day of productivity. I wrote a good amount in just the few hours that I stayed in this workshop. Reserving a workspace is free for the first 10 hours. After that, it’s $2 per hour. Not bad if you really want to be in a working, productive environment.
City Lights Bookstore
This bookstore was so beautiful! I especially have an attachment to this store as an English major. For one of my final classes in college, I took San Francisco Literature and learned about the Beat Generation and that Allen Ginsberg sold copies of his poem, Howl, at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Currently, it houses diverse forms of literature and exclusive City Lights publications and poetry.
Right when I walked in and heard Frank Ocean’s album playing in the background, I knew this was the perfect coffee shop for me. The set up is unique due to the circular interior design and the large windows that face the streets of Chinatown. I treated myself to an almond latte and avocado toast. Despite the hefty price for brunch, it was the best decision ever. I felt so inspired looking out at the window with my laptop in front of me. There was plenty of seating and enough outlets. I would definitely come back again.
This was my first time using the famous cable car line and it felt much like a slow mini rollercoaster making its dips and turns. It’s very straightforward and takes you to iconic landmarks such as Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf. One important thing to note is that it does take awhile to get on the returning cable car ride back to downtown since crowds of people flock the line to head back. If you hate long lines, I would suggest taking an Uber ride back, which is only $4 more than the cable car ride back to Downtown.
Although I didn’t see much of Fisherman Wharf due to the rain and the evening darkness settling in, Ghiradelli Square was a nice little square filled mostly with gift shops and, of course, Ghiradelli shops selling mounds of delicious chocolate. The lights filling the streets and corners of the square reminded me so much of the holidays. I had dinner at Lori’s Diner closest to the square, which is a nice family-oriented, sit-in diner. Don’t let the Yelp reviews fool you! Always come in with an open mind and you’ll be surprised. I came in and ordered a clam chowder and it tasted pretty good to me!
Downtown San Francisco
On Saturday night, downtown was vibrant and colorful with activity. The store lights were shining and the holiday lights were twinkling. Everyone was already enjoying their holiday vacation in The City.
This was a very cool and hip location with good food and unique shops lining the whole street. They have clothing stores that sell 50s style dresses, gypsy streetwear and other unique shops. They even sold taxidermy animal heads in one of the stores. I couldn’t stay long since I wanted to continue writing for NaNoWriMo at the time I was there, so I ate dinner at a place called the Street Taco, which had excellent taco bowls for around $10, and walked around for a bit before taking the bus back to Downtown.
Of course, my trip could not have been complete without a picture with the beautiful International Orange colored Golden Gate Bridge.
This was my first time traveling alone since I studied abroad in 2014. Two years of staying within Los Angeles built up an anxiety of traveling alone for long periods of time. The new, tense political climate also increased my anxiety to venture out in the open. But I remember this quote from John Green’s novel, Paper Towns:
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
I knew that I had to force myself to break away from my comfort zone, to challenge my current mental state and to tell myself that fear should not paralyze or mobilize me. It should encourage me to challenge what I fear and to combat it with strength and courage. For so long, I have stayed within the comfort of my own skin and bubble. It’s time to accept that we may have constant fears and struggles, but it should motivate us to improve, to strengthen that skin by exploring new places, spaces and people.
If you have been wanting to travel somewhere, but have held yourself back due to the fact of traveling alone, I implore you to just do it. Take that “extraneous” step towards letting go of those fears and doing what your heart desires.