71 Miles to Almost Anything

4 03 2009
From the roof of my former SF apartment

From the roof of my former SF apartment

I feel as though I’ve been touting the virtues of California a lot recently. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself in several conversations, both with fellow Californians who know what I’m talking about and with New Yorkers (or other East Coasters) who wonder if I’ll ever go back. It’s amusing really: the Californians pretty much always say they’ll return, especially this time of year.

The East Coasters will often ask why I left, but generally conclude that they could not live in California, mostly given the earthquakes. This is an amusing fear to me: I’d much prefer the threat of an earthquake (the last major quake in the San Francisco Bay Area was 1989) than the actuality of hurricanes, tornadoes or whatever other national disasters occur just about annually in other parts of the country.

But that is not the point. Whenever Easterners ask me what’s so great about California, my answer is simple: everything. We have great weather (most of the time) and in most places in the state you’re not far from whatever it is you might seek: mountains, ocean, desert, sea elephants, wine… California, and San Francisco in specific, pretty much has it all.

Which is why it was so thrilling to find this e-zine the other day: 71Miles is a website covering weekend destinations within a four-hour radius of San Francisco. Within those guides is something for everyone. Head out to the coast, up to the mountains, into the wine country, or simply stay put. From San Francisco, four hours gets you (almost) to Santa Barbara, also known as paradise, to Yosemite, one of the natural treasures of the United States, and just about anywhere else you might want to go.

It’s basically a blog, but it’s amusing, well-written, and there is a lot of good content on it. Best part? The writer/editor, John A. Vlahides happens to be a New York transplant to San Francisco. Go figure.





Queens Towers (by special request)

18 10 2008

I was recently chided for having written about two of my nieces and not their sister, my darling Olivia.

And so, without further ado, a post especially for Olivia, in two parts.

I may be belaboring the point but I love being an aunt for the simple joys of passing on knowledge, joy, enthusiasm, and for cultivating those female bonds which I think are so special. At home in California this summer I had several opportunities for just these things, some already noted and others soon to be forthcoming. The added bonus of all this, I found, is that I get to learn in the process as well. And thus, part 1…

We have a tradition when my brother Gregg brings his girls from Colorado to California for visits. We head to Oakland’s Jack London Square and take the East Bay Ferry into the city. From there the routine is pretty generic and pretty touristy, usually consisting, in random variations, of lunch at Johnny Rockets, playing and shopping on Pier 39, and a long time marveling at the famous sea lions who lounge there. Then we make the long walk along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, where the rest of us wander the markets waiting for my brother to spend an inordinate amount of time purchasing wine before we catch the ferry back to Oakland. It’s always a great day and the kids look forward to it every visit.

This summer, however, we switched it up, especially for Miss Olivia. Last year, on the walk to the Ferry Building, I pointed out Coit Tower to the darling and she has been obsessed ever since, determined that we must visit the “Queen Tower” and also the “other Queen Tower,” which happens to be San Francisco’s other most distinctive building, the Transamerica. So this year, we diverted from the usual plan and took Olivia to the Queen Tower, no small feat given that I have not lived in the city for more than two years now and have become a little rusty on my geography, not to mention there’s that massive hill to climb (we cabbed it).

Once up there, however, it was well worth the trek. For my mother, who had visited often with her own mother (my Gaga), it brought happy memories of growing up in San Francisco. For Olivia, who for a year had been talking about the Queen Tower, it was a thrill, nearly equaled but not overshadowed by the joy of seeing “Alcatrax.”

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

And for me, who managed to grow up in the Bay Area, live in San Francisco for two years, and only see one of its most iconic landmarks for the first time on a visit from New York, it was a reminder of what we take for granted when we have easy access to some of life’s most amazing places, and a reminder that you don’t have to travel to travel. Often the best things to see are in our own backyards. Or at the very least just a ferry ride away.

Coit Tower, which can be seen from most places in downtown San Francisco, looms over the city from its perch on Telegraph Hill in North Beach. It was erected in 1933, and was commissioned to honor San Francisco’s firefighters by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric San Franciscan who often rode along with the firemen, despite this being considered unladylike behavior. For more information, click here.





Flashback: Summer at the Lake

10 07 2008

It seems somewhat odd to blog about my trip home in terms of “travel” but California is so chock full of beautiful places and fun things to do, how could one not? My trip home started in one of the prettiest places in California (and Nevada). The Russo clan headed up to Lake Tahoe for the 2008 family reunion. Thanks to vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), we took over a lovely (and massive) house, complete with hot tub and loft for the kids, and spent three relaxing days playing in the sun.

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

Which got me thinking about all the great times I’ve spent in Tahoe in the past. It really is an ideal getaway spot, especially since it’s a mere 4-5 hours from the Bay Area. This trip, we spent all our time at the beach, playing in the lake, kayaking, making sand animals (yes sand animals)…

But beyond the lake there is so much else to do. The former Olympic Village at Squaw Valley has a swimming lagoon (in case there’s not enough water in the lake), a spa, and a roller skating rink, not to mention the cable car that provides some pretty stellar views of the area. They even offer sunset and full moon hikes. Then there’s hiking, biking and horseback riding through the lush wooded areas. Even walking through the houses makes for a pretty workout.

Then there’s Emerald Bay, one of my favorite Tahoe spots. There is little that rivals Emerald Bay when it comes to pristine, intense natural beauty. As a child I joined our family friends at their cabin in Tahoe every summer, and the highlight of those trips was always the day Uncle Mike piled us into the boat and headed over to Emerald Bay, where it’s not just the striking green water that fascinates. Perhaps more fascinating is the craggy Fannette Island (the lake’s only island) atop which sits a mythical-looking miniature castle. Then there is Vikingsholm, the ornate Scandinavian mansion on the shore (which can of course be toured). Hiking around the bay affords some stunning views, but there is something about being on that rich green water and circling the island that excites.

The grown-up side of Tahoe has everything from casinos to great restaurants (my favorite being the classic, right-on-the-lake Sunnyside). But my adult Tahoe highlight centers around girl’s weekend, life vests, and the Truckee River. That would be river rafting, folks, because when it comes to fun in the sun (and fun with water) Tahoe has a little bit of everything.

Other Great things about Tahoe?

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

Some Tahoe resources:

Keep Tahoe Blue: In California “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers are about as prevalent as those that read “A village in Texas is missing its idiot.” But the former slogan is far more hopeful: it’s the battle cry of the Tahoe Improvement and Conservation Association, devoted to protecting the lake and its surrounds. Visit the site for history and to learn how to help.

tahoe.com: A trip planning tool with information on lodging, activities, food, and more.

Tahoe World: The latest in Tahoe entertainment, complete with a calendar of happenings.