My excuse for traveling this past week was probably about as valid as it will ever get. I was asked to serve as an Accredited Judge for a SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship) Competition at Berkeley. This worldwide competition was just hands-down inspiring and I won’t go too much into it, but one of my favorite business models was from a group of high schoolers in Vietnam, who designed straws made out of rice. Bye-bye forever, plastic straws. If you’d like to hear more about this competition, please reach out! I could honestly talk about their ideas for days.
So, since I’m coming into my last year of university and planning on spending a year traveling right after, I tried to make this trip as budget-friendly as possible. This began with transportation. I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport), which is the subway system that runs through San Francisco and Oakland. Since I was staying in downtown San Francisco, this was perfect….which brings me to my next budget-friendly choice: CouchSurfing.
CouchSurfing is exactly what it sounds like, but at the same time, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds. This completely free service links you up with locals in the area that are willing to let you crash on their couch (futon…bed…etc.) at no charge. Pretty similar to AirBnb, you can read their reviews and see photos of your host/ location before you dive in. When I arrived at my host’s house, he already had lunch waiting! His company allowed him to work from home for the day, so he was able to let me in, but I figured that I’d get out of his hair so he actually was able to work.
Since I was solo-traveling for this conference, I went to meet up with another solo traveler that I’d connected with through the CouchSurfing app to go see some of the San Francisco sights! We met at the de Young Museum, which is located inside of Golden Gate Park. This fine arts museum showcased art from the 17th through the 21st centuries and, as most museums are, it was very cool to see the surrounding history of these pieces.
After we finished up here, we decided to head to the Japanese Tea Garden as it was just next door. This garden is actually the oldest public tea garden in the entire United States. As an added bonus, with a student discount, it costs next to nothing to get into this oasis. Though the garden isn’t too big, it does have a giant bridge you can climb, plenty of greens, ponds and koi. This little garden was gorgeous and it’s a bit crazy that they were able to pop this gem right into the city.
Since Golden Gate Park is giant, we decided to make one last stop at Strawberry Hill. This is an island in the park where you can hike, rent a boat or just hang out at the waterfall. We arrived a bit too late for boat rentals, but the hike and waterfall were absolutely gorgeous. If you’re a nature-lover, Strawberry Hill is a must-see in San Francisco.
For dinner, we went to Mensho, a popular ramen restaurant. We knew this was a good choice as we pulled up to the 30-minute line adorning the outside of the eatery. In this day and age, if you see a line, you better get in it because no one has the patience to wait for anything unless it’s worth it. Once at the front of the line, we ended up lucking out and getting a front row seat to the kitchen, watching our own dinner being made. After consuming the most expensive ramen I’d ever had (AKA more than the 99 cent packs), I went back to my host as we planned to meet back up around eight with some California wine and Netflix. Being in the tech industry, he had an entire set up with a projector across his entire living room wall. It was pretty impressive!
The next morning, I had to wake up early to head to the SAGE Competition, but was able to explore a bit at lunch. A woman from Poland who also was judging was familiar with the Berkeley area, so we took a long walk around the neighborhood while waiting for lunch to arrive. The cool thing about Berkeley was that the campus was sort of built into the hill, with both city and hiking intertwined. Also, and maybe this is just because it was summer on campus, I was able to enjoy the whole city lifestyle and vibe, but without the noise. It was such a cool little haven.
Once I came back from the competition, I went back to meet up with the same CouchSurfer I’d went to the museums with. We decided to meet at City Lights Bookstore. This place is famous for their world literature, arts and progressive politics. Knowing me, I headed straight up to the top floor to read the poetry collections. Once my friend arrived, the mission to find a Burlesque show began…at a sport’s bar. As you may already begin to sense, no, we did not find a Burlesque show. However, enjoying the midwest atmosphere at the sports bar, we asked the bartender if there were any similar bars nearby & she told us to head down to Polk Street.
The first thing we witnessed upon arriving on Polk Street was a crowd of people flooding out of an establishment and onto the street. Curious, we walked over and saw a woman running across the bar giving a hearty “Cheers!” to every glass she came in contact with….on to the next. We took homage for the most of the night in this dive bar before concluding the night at a sister bar next-door that gave complimentary goldfish crackers away all night AND was dog-friendly. Is heaven real, do you ask? My research points to yes.
On Friday, I let myself sleep in a bit and then headed down toward Fisherman’s Wharf for breakfast. This is one of the most iconic tourist spots and it just wouldn’t feel right coming all of the way to San Francisco and missing this wonder. However, soon after arriving, I was suckered into buying a polaroid camera. Okay, fine, it was me. I suckered myself into buying a polaroid camera. After a few overexposed shots, I finally figured out my settings in Ghirardelli Square as I ordered a coffee and began my journey to the Museum of Ice Cream.
The Museum of Ice Cream is a pop-up museum and ever since I missed its exhibit in New York, I’ve been dying to go. I met my CouchSurfing friend at the museum, but, as he’d realized shortly before I arrived, we needed a reservation beforehand! I blamed this overcrowding on the “Do it for the ‘gram,” but hey, guilty as charged. We decided to make reservations for later in the day and head to the Museum of Modern Art- San Francisco to waste some time, and I am SO glad that we did.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was my favorite museum of them all. It had plenty of art and graffiti and pieces that really made you think. In fact, we almost ran out of time and had to rush through the last few exhibits! My favorite part was probably this interactive display. It was sort of like a printer scanner, where you could set your belongings on top of it to make shapes, and then pose while they snapped a picture. You can see my shopping bag and camera, as well as my friend’s glasses.
As for the Ice Cream Museum, there simply isn’t anything like it. Before we entered the building, we all needed to think of what our name would be if we were ice cream flavors. One of my favorite’s in our group was Chunky Monkey.
Essentially, we needed to go through the museum and complete the challenges in each room to fill up our name tags with badges. From making bracelets, to riding a giant animal cracker to hopping into a pool full of sprinkles, our badges were nothing short of earned. On top of all of this, we were given a new type of ice cream in EVERY. SINGLE. ROOM. Think ice cream sandwiches, dots, freeze pops–you name it! And as if this interactive journey couldn’t get any better, as you leave the museum, if you give them a review on yelp, you can get a free can of sprinkles! This day was filled with excitement.
After the ice cream coma, I went back and picked up my belongings because my current CouchSurfing host was flying to Austin for the weekend, so I had the opportunity to stay on a different side of the city, near the Embarcadero. Turns out, this free app ended up placing me on the 29th floor in one of the tallest apartments in the city! I put my stuff into the spacious apartment and then went for a walk down along the water to get to know the person I was staying with. After this, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped in a grocery store to pick up some things for dinner. These things ended up being steaks, which we grilled down by the pool while relaxing in the hot tub. Not really what I had imagined while accepting requests through CouchSurfing, but hey–not complaining.
The next morning, I had to get up early to head back to the SAGE Competition. Since my host was already awake, he offered me a ride over to Berkeley in his Mustang, which I couldn’t really say no to. Have you ever taken the BART from San Francisco to Oakland? Your ears pop like no other while underwater. Now, try that same view from atop the Bay Bridge–much better.
Since my lunch break began a bit earlier on this day, I decided to take a stroll down to the nearby bakery for a coffee and a croissant. This cafe, much like the ramen place, was lined down the street. However, instead of being frustrated, I was excited. I truly believe that if you see a line, it means there are good things to come.
For dinner, I stopped by the famous Ferry Market, as it was along the water & just a few minutes walking distance from where I was staying. Picture this: Me, guacamole & cabernet sauvignon on the boardwalk at sunset. Picture-perfect, but I let my phone die a bit too early to capture that one. After this long day of presentations, I went back and passed out almost immediately. I had another long day ahead of me!
For my last full day in San Francisco, I had a blast. I spent my morning prancing around the city, in search of the strongest cup of coffee. Though I did find this, I also found the strangest barista–a robot! This cafe would have you type your order into the iPad, as a machine arm constructed your latte…..and yet, I still ordered the simplest drink [black coffee]. You’re welcome, robot.
After my caffeine fix, I went to meet up with Viceth, a local photographer in San Francisco. I figured that if came all of this way, I needed at least one good picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Technically, I did get this picture. However, the fog ended up rolling in right before we arrived, so, even though we are extremely close to this architectural masterpiece, you can barely see it.
My favorite part about my morning with Viceth, though, was the hidden gem he showed me across from Saks 5th Ave.
“Even the people living in the Hyatt don’t know about this,” he said.
We strolled over to the elevator and took it to floor 20-something (it’s a secret). From here, we walked out and then through an unmarked door, and then another and another until finally we reached a fire escape balcony with an absolutely insane view of San Francisco. This is definitely something you wouldn’t be able to find on Trip Advisor. After soaking in these dramatic views, we took a drive to probably one of the most iconic places for photography (like weddings, quinceaneras, etc.): The Palace of Fine Arts.
The Palace of Fine Arts has a large breathtaking pond equipped with fountains, and tall, dramatic architecture that is absolutely perfect for photos; I could definitely see why everybody comes here. We walked around the paths a bit before hurrying off to catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge before the fog overtook it. Unfortunately, the fog beat us anyway and even though we were within 100 feet of the bridge, we couldn’t see it because of how thick the cool air was.
This marked the end of my journey with Viceth, but the start of a new journey with my aunt, who came all the way down from Sacramento to visit for a day trip! We headed off toward the Moss Beach Distillery to grab lunch and figure out our plans for the day.
If you know us at all, you’ll know that it’s no surprise that we chose to eat at a haunted distillery. “The Blue Lady” is said to roam the area, sometimes in the restaurant, and sometimes on the beach…..where she was murdered. See, back in the 20th century, this establishment served as a speakeasy during the prohibition. “The Blue Lady”, a young woman wearing a beautiful blue dress, was said to have been having an affair with the piano player. One night, her husband showed up at the speakeasy and he, the piano player and the young woman moved their fight to the beach. The next morning, her body was found lying on the beach, the piano player walked with a few bruises & the husband? Never seen again…
Since the 1930s, people have reported seeing her apparition on the beach. Interestingly enough, after numerous TV shows and parapsychologists have tried communicating with The Blue Lady, they’ve found that she sometimes modernizes her look, as she enjoys fashion & can be spotted in the ladies room or out on the bluffs in a black dress instead. Though I didn’t spot The Blue Lady myself during lunch, I did get to see an amazing view overlooking the water and possibly even some spouting whales! These are common in this area, but since the animals were so far out, even with binoculars, I wasn’t able to identify for sure who was doing all of the splashing.
After being sufficiently stuffed, my aunt & I parked down at Ocean Beach and hiked up the hill overlooking the Sutro Baths, beach & surrounding colorful houses. This view was absolutely breathtaking–I could’ve stayed here all day! However, duty calls & as the last leg of the SAGE Competition was finishing up, I had to run back over to Berkeley for one last round. The 3 winners ended up being Vietnam who created edible straws from rice, China who made a high-tech rotating waste and recycling disposal equipment, and finally Japan, who made a company focusing on replenishment of degraded forests, especially in Bornea and Japan. It was seriously SO cool seeing high schoolers come up with these world-changing ideas.
Once I arrived back at my home for the weekend, my host took me up to the rooftop of the building and let me tell you–there really is no view like the Bay Bridge at night. This is probably the only time I’ll ever say this, but the traffic actually added to the beauty. The hundreds of headlights making their way from Oakland over to San Francisco led to a sparkling effect across the water. It was amazing and no photo could ever do it justice….though I did try multiple times to prove this theory wrong. That night was bittersweet as I had to soak in my last views of the city skyline.
I woke up early the next morning because I had a couple last tourist stops to make before leaving. The first stop was Lombard Street. This place is famous for its 8 turns that wind up a single block. Though this was a really neat little place, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t really anywhere to get a good view of the collective turns, unless you got lucky and had an aerial view from a friend in the apartments nearby.
My last destination was the Painted Ladies, which is one of the most photographed locations in San Francisco. I wanted to go here because I was told that the house filmed in Full House was one of the Painted Ladies. However, I didn’t fact check this information until I arrived, and soon realized that the real house used for this show was blocks away, and I didn’t have enough time left to redirect my route (brb crying).
Defeated, I made my way back to the BART for my last San Francisco visit, brunch with my boss for a future remote internship I’ll be picking up this fall. We had a great time and I was pleasantly surprised as afterward, I got a ride to the airport in his 2019 Tesla. The dashboard was literally just a giant iPad….2019 really means 2019, huh.
I had a great time in this tech hub and I’m just really thankful that I was able to meet so many wonderful people and make these new connections, even though I was only in the city for a mere week. Until next time, see ya Cali.