I was born in Southern California and lived there for five and a half years before my family moved to New York. (I know, I know. You know this already.) I’ve been back to visit more times than I can count, but I have never explored the state north of Los Angeles (which is not north at all). Needless to say, I was a little excited to cross San Francisco off my travel list.
Our original travel itinerary called for nearly three full days in San Francisco to visit our friend from high school who had moved out west just a few weeks prior. But as anyone who has ever traveled before knows—original travel plans never last long. A couple of weeks before we were set to depart on The Grand Adventure, we were informed that our layover between Seoul and San Francisco was changed to a full 24 hours later. With Alexa’s fierce persistence (and maybe some yelling at airline people over the phone…), we changed the first flight so we could spend our extra time with Gina in Seoul and not get stuck the Beijing airport for an entire day.
Alexa and I boarded our plane on that Saturday morning with ease. Lines moved quickly, our phones were fully charged, and our water bottles full—so we comfortably settled into our seats and relaxed. I cracked open my copy of Why Not Me? because I needed a laugh (or five hundred) after our emotional morning, and Mindy Kaling was the perfect distraction. So perfect, in fact, that I got about 40 pages in before I realized that our plane was still sitting at the gate. It had been cloudy and drizzly earlier that morning, but now it was really raining. And there were a few cracks of thunder and lightening. And then a few more.
The plane finally took off more than an hour after we were scheduled to and the panic set in for me and Alexa. We were supposed to have two hours on our layover in Beijing, but that time was cut in half. To say that we were scared to miss our connection was an understatement…
Sometimes you see people walking briskly or jogging softly through the airport, and you chuckle to yourself. “Ah, that poor person. They didn’t get here early enough and now they’re going to be late. Good thing I got here early! No rushing for me!” And then you are that poor person, and you find yourself running through the airport, trying to read signs and find the passport control area and not cry. Trying to tell the Chinese airport security officers that your flight is boarding in five minutes and you are not there and asking if you can please, please, please cut the line. Trying not to lose your cool as a family of eight tries to send five different bags through the scanner that all have liquids over 3.4 fluid ounces. Trying to not pass out as you sprint toward the boarding area and try to remember which gate you’re actually supposed to go to.
But you make it! You hop on the long line of boarding passengers and breathe a sigh of relief in between your tired wheezing and thank the shoe gods for sneakers. You don’t even care that they have another security checkpoint between the gate and the airplane door, or that you’re stuck in the middle section and the flight attendant won’t get you a cup of water before takeoff.
And then, some 12 restless hours later, you’re back in your home country and customs is pretty much a breeze and all you have to do is get your bag from the baggage carousel and then you get to have fun again! Except, you can’t be that lucky. You made your connecting flight. But that suitcase you checked with all of your clothes and shoes and souvenirs? It did not make said connecting flight and is probably still in China, but no one is really sure, so they’ll try to find it. (Insert lots of grumbling and frustrated sighs.) I gave myself the length of the cab ride from the airport to Nate’s apartment to be grumpy over my lost luggage, and then I let it go. We only had a day and a half in San Francisco and I didn’t want any more of it spoiled by my bad luck.
Even though the forecast had predicted rain, there was an inkling of sun when we first arrived in San Francisco and we made the most of it while we could. We walked to the Ferry Building Marketplace and grabbed lunch from a local organic produce store. I was so happy to see all those fresh ingredients again! The rain had found us by then, so we went to the Marina District and hid out at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon for a couple of hours, sampling delicious artisan chocolates and wines.
That evening, we went to Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant that Nate had heard many good things about. It was my first vegan restaurant, which was exciting in and of itself, but I was so stoked to have so many delicious choices after I had struggled to find food in Seoul. We caught up over mojitos and sangria, followed by grilled veggie tacos and sweet potato flautas and the best refried black beans I’ve ever tasted. After our long (and delicious) dinner, we headed back to Nate’s apartment for a relaxing night in.
We slept in on Sunday morning and then walked to Philz Coffee for the perfect iced coffees and breakfast burritos (avocado and black bean—yum!). With lots of ground to cover and only one day, we opted for a self-guided bike tour of the city. (I went on a bike tour once before, in Barcelona, and it was one of the best travel experiences I’d ever had.) So we rented three bikes and spent the afternoon exploring as much of San Francisco as we could—from Alamo Square to Golden Gate Park, through Presido Park, and onward to the Golden Gate Bridge.
With the threat of rain looming once again, we returned our bikes and went to Yerba Buena Gardens to relax at a tea lounge. Toast and teas were the perfect way to cap off the afternoon! We walked the few blocks to Nate’s apartment in a light rain and warmed up under lots of blankets. We had considered going out for dinner before Alexa and I had to leave, but by that time we were too tired to move again. We ordered in pizza and lounged around until it was finally time to leave. We said our final goodbye of the trip and headed to the airport for one last time.
And because obviously our trip couldn’t end on an easy note, the rain delayed our flight home twice and we spent more time than we would have liked waiting at the airport. I had always dreaded leaving California—the kind of dread that makes your heart ache and puts a pit in your stomach—and this time was no different. The thirty-six hours in San Francisco were nowhere near long enough to satisfy my wayfaring spirit, and sitting in the airport for those extra couple of hours made the dread even worse.
We returned safely to New York the morning after and I have missed every moment—from being chased by a monkey and having my shoes stolen to nearly missing a layover and temporarily losing my luggage—of our trip since then. It just goes to show, it’s all just part of the adventure.