Grace Wu

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Stop #16 & #17: Petaluma and San Francisco, CA

After Redwood National and State Parks, we headed south again, this time to Petaluma. My dad found out that an old high school friend lives there. He hadn’t seen in decades! I guess whenever they both would go back to Taiwan, they would miss each by days or weeks.

We drove down Scenic Highway 101, which I realized went through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where they have an even more scenic route, through another Redwood grove; the Avenue of the Giants. Of course, we were going to take that route. We drove through a winding road, through cool shade, seemingly back into the fairty tale land of Redwoods. There was a visitor center towards the end of the drive and we stopped by. I love going to every visitor center we pass by. Definitely nerdy, but I’m collecting as many stamps as I can get. The Parks sell a “passport” that you can add in stamps as you travel to different parks. I just stamp the little diary notebook I have. This visitor center had some excellent displays, about how the park was formed, the history, and had plenty of artifacts, including a wagon car, whose body was made from one log of a Redwood! There also was a slice from a Redwood that had little plates across the surface, that would mark large historic events while the tree was alive, like when the Vikings and Cleopatra were around and when the States were formed. It’s still amazing to think that a tree can live for THOUSANDS of years.

As we drove on and left the shade of the Redwoods, the temperature kept going up, 85 to 93 to 102 degrees. We stopped in Laytonville, at Paco’s Tacos, along 101. I ate in the shade of a tree but the air was stifling. No humidity which is thankful, but hot air is still hot. Everywhere we saw signs about fire danger, banning fireworks. In California, there is fire season, which is now. It seemed like Californians are supposed to know about fire season just as you would prepare for winter season.

We arrived in Petaluma and my dad called his friend as we pulled into his driveway. His friend, David, came out and they were reunited after 30+ years! It was pretty nice to see them non-stop chatting as soon as they saw each other. When I went in their front door, I was greeted by two grey huskies, my day was instantly made. Oakley and Bubba were so FLUFFY and friendly! I met one of David’s sons and we chatted a bit, as my dad excitedly caught up with his friend.

The next day we had breakfast at IHOP with my dad, his friends, and a lady who used to be his boss back in the day. It was a happy reunion of chatting that I was mostly excluded from. 😝 I was ok with it as I dove into my breakfast. ( After several days of camping, a hot greasy meal is lovely. )

We went back to the house and my dad and I drove down to San Francisco, about 45 minutes south. When my dad first moved to the States, he landed in San Francisco, so I think it’s a special place for him. He told me he learned how to drive stick shift on the hills there. 😱 We drove over the Golden Gate bridge, it was very foggy, which was cool and a bit scary to drive through at the same time.

We first stopped at a park near the Golden Gate bridge. I didn’t realize the area was managed by the National Park Service. They had a cute gift shop/cafe near the water. We took a few photos and headed back to the car; the meter was going to run out soon. It turns out I had parked right in front of a climbing gym, and they had the gate open so you could see inside. I wanted to climb so bad! But there was no time. 😭

Our next stop was Chinatown. Driving through San Francisco isn’t as bad as NYC, but parking was still a pain. (My dad said if you didn’t turn your wheels the right way when parking on a hill, you could get fined. Not sure if that’s the case, but the hills are no joke and it seems safer just to turn them to the curb when on a hill.) We found 2 hour parking and wandered around Chinatown for a bit, buying some things from a bakery or small grocer. Aside from the different architecture (and the hills) I felt like we could have been in NYC. The same type of stalls, touristy stores, and old grannies sitting around felt very familiar. We had lunch at House of Nanking, apparently a very popular place according to Google. When we sat down, a woman there asked if we could read Chinese, I said my dad could and then she brought over different menus in Chinese. Apparently, they have some dishes that are on the English menus. 😂

After lunch, we walked around some more, but then we realized our parking was almost up and we were in a tow away zone. We bought a couple of veggies from a stall and booked it to the car. Whew, made it back just in time.

My cousin had advised us to try to leave the city around 630-7pm to avoid the traffic. It was only 4 so we decided to check out Golden Gate Park. We walked around a bit, past the Carousel, and found the Conservatory of Flowers. It was about to close so we didn’t go in but they had an amazing Dahlia garden just outside.

We headed back to Petaluma, and stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point on the Sausalito side of the bridge. It was still foggy and super windy, we snapped a few pictures and left. It’s interesting how the fog just seems to disappear the further we drove away. In Petaluma, my cousin was saying at night the fog rolls in around 8-9pm and is cloudy in the morning. Then by 11am, the fog disappears and it’s sunny all day.

Our next planned stop was Yosemite National Park, but the only campsites left were first-come, first-serve ones. It was too far of a drive to do in one day and get to the campsite early enough, so I found a campsite just outside of the park that had tent sites. One of the more stressful things about this trip has been making sure there’s a place to sleep for the night. I still have the NY mentality that everything that is first-come, first-serve will instantly be taken up. Or that every possible place to sleep where we are going will be full. That hasn’t been the case at all so I’m trying not to get too worked up about it. I called the RV Resort and Campsite and asked for a campsite for that night. They had spots open!

The next day my dad and I grocery shopped and filled up on gas. In the afternoon, we said goodbye to the family and drove east. Just before we got to the campsite location in Groveland, a huge mountain loomed before us. As we started up the switchbacks, a sign said TURN OFF AIR CONDITIONER. Huh? It was currently about 95 degrees outside. At first, I was like ok whatever, it’s too hot to do that but then talking with my dad, we thought it must be there for a reason. So we turned off the AC and rolled down the windows. The conclusion I came to was that because it would take a huge effort from the car to drive uphill on the switchbacks that adding on powering the AC might be too much for the car. I guess either way, I didn’t want to get risk anything.

We made it up the mountain, and the views were astounding. The landscape here out west is very hard to compare what I’ve seen back east. We arrived at the campground and they had a pool! And showers! Amazing. I took a quick dip in the pool, and showered. Dad and I snacked a bit for dinner and went to bed. Right before hopping in the tent, I looked up at the night sky. I had been forgetting to do that every time we camped, it would get dark and I’d just go to bed. Tonight the sky was brilliant, millions of stars littered the sky, and I could faintly make out the Milky Way. I crawled in the tent and tried to get some sleep before another early morning.

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