Approaching the last five days of living in suburban San Francisco, Diane enjoyed her last week of work while I began to pack. Surprisingly, as I laid it all out and opened the two pieces of luggage that will make the trip to Malaysia, it suddenly looked like less than I thought. Unusually big, the good suitcase we purchased for international travel comes equipped for this kind of move with secret little zippered compartments everywhere. After a cup of tea and some contemplation, I set out to experiment and found myself with room to spare. Satisfied I haven’t over-packed despite all the comments from experienced expats, I zipped it all up and left it in the corner of the house, now devoid of everything except one stupid couch (to be donated) and the furniture the buyers agreed to buy from us (the entire bedroom set, two lamps, two coffee tables).
Having finished my task earlier than expected, I decided to share a post dedicated to the good experiences we’ve had in California since returning from Canada in 2007. Knowing I’ve focused on a deteriorating quality of life coupled with prices that are nowhere in line with the average salary, please note that California does have a lot to offer should anyone be lucky enough to have any cash left for leisure activities. Offering everything from majestic mountains to ocean beaches, California features majestic mountains including two relatively unknown national parks for those that hate the crowds of Yosemite. For beach lovers, there’s 700 miles of coastline including the relatively unknown Northern coastline. Parents never run out of stuff to do with kids and even childless couples like us enjoy Disneyland, Universal Studios and The San Diego Zoo. With the best aquarium on the West Coast and America’s premier wine country, Diane and I enjoyed our share of the state’s best attractions over the years.
As we leave for a new life in Southeast Asia (after goofing off in Canada for a month), we offer a look back at some of our favorite activities and share some of our favorite pictures from California. Closing another chapter of life we still endorse a visit to the Golden State despite its incredibly high disparity of wealth that prevents millions of residents from enjoying what’s in their backyard. In no particular order, here’s some of our favorite memories.
Initially thinking we wanted to live here, we returned from Alberta in 2007 and rented an apartment in a relatively upscale section of the city only to find that jobs paid 35% less but houses cost the same as everywhere else. Steeped in old world money, we didn’t find much of an identity other than a small beach towns divided by class and a lot of tourism. Despite that, we loved The San Diego Zoo and visited many times. Normally I’d never condone zoos but also realize Diane and I have been lucky enough to see elephants, orangutans and exotic birds in their natural environment simply because we can afford to do so. Therefore, I highly endorse the zoo and its lesser known but equally great sister site, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Once hosting the Winter Olympics, Lake Tahoe is one of the most scenic lakes on the North American continent. Having first seen it back in 1988 when I moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco, it’s remained a beautiful vacation spot despite significant environmental challenges including declining water levels and severe drought. As non skiers, we always visit in summer when lake cruises, sunsets on beautiful beaches and spectacular wildlife make for a perfect getaway just a few hours from The Bay Area
Although very subdued compared to Las Vegas, the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe does have several popular casinos complete with gambling, dining and occasional name brand talent. Ironically, one year Diane and I attended a cheesy live performance of an Abba look-alike band and believe it or not, it was so amazing it stands out to this day as the best $45 ticket we ever bought
Unexpectedly, we stumbled into an art gallery while perusing the local shops after dinner one night during a live signing by noted artist Michael Godard. Never having met an “artsy” type before, we liked his stuff so much we bought a custom painted canvas with the Canadian equivalent of the dollar painting seen below:
Always holding a special place for us, Diane and I got married on September 23rd, 2000 at a small outdoor ceremony held at The Monterey Plaza Hotel. Easily one of the most beautiful spots anywhere on The West Coast, Monterey is home to the best aquarium in America. (Actually, I’ve been to another great one in Baltimore but I think they’ve put a permanent blemish in their tourism given recent events). Set among a large protected marine wildlife conservation park, throngs of sea lions, pelicans, and cormorants are often nesting, playing and enjoying the tourists.
Highly recommended, it’s also the home of famous attractions like Pebble Beach and The 17 Mile Drive, one of the nicest coastal drives with lots of great signage. Hint: ALWAYS wait for late September when gray skies finally lift or all you’ll see is fog and low clouds and wonder why the hell I’m praising its scenic beauty.
While I’d never live in Southern California, we love an occasional visit and prefer Universal Studios to Disneyland when we travel alone. Diane’s sister-in-law, on the other hand, has taken her kids to Disneyland about five times since we’ve lived here. (They’re the ones with us in the featured image). Always more entertaining due to the shows and entertainment based activities that focus on movies, one event that stands out was when I participated in a show where you get to be part of the movie cast.
Northern California Coast
When I first moved to California, all my old East Coast friends always asked me about the beach life. Obviously unfamiliar with the climate of a 750 mile long state that spans a distance the same as Atlanta to Washington D.C, many people mistakenly think our beaches are for sunbathing and swimming. Except perhaps for a small window in the fall when the water temperature is tolerable, only those that make those Polar Bear Club winter swims enjoy the ridiculously cold water temperatures of Northern California. Once you venture north of the Bay Area, it gets even colder. Visiting the less traversed North Coast affords hours of beach combing opportunities and small villages featuring empty coastline, fresh oysters and other local seafood. Only 90 minutes from our house is Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the more popular weekend getaways.
Unfamiliar with wine tasting, Diane and I couldn’t pick out a bottle of cheap rotgut from a $300 fine wine when we first visited Wine Country. Gradually, we began occasional day trips and eventually found our way through the cornucopia of wineries offering every possible varietal. Living only an hour from the heart of the most famous wine country in the country allowed us to use weekday vacations and patronize our favorite local winery, V. Sattui. Often buying a bottle of their proprietary chilled wines with some cheese and crackers, we’d kick back in the beautiful garden and look forward to the other incredible treat; World class dining. Usually too rich for our blood, we had a personal favorite called Ad-Hoc run by famous local chef Thomas Keller.
Wishing to offer diners a less expensive option, the restaurant offers a prix-fix menu that changes daily and isn’t posted until 3 PM daily. For the basement bargain price of only $53 each (extra for the special appetizer of the day), diners take a chance that whatever they serve will be something desirable to their own personal taste. And it always is. Below is a gallery of one night’s gastronomic artistry.
So as we anxiously await the departure date, we leave California with lots of great memories, a chunk of cash from the sale of our house and a taste for the next chapter in life spent in a totally different environment on the other side of the planet. With the MM2H visa filed and all our belongings sold, stored or packed, this is the last post typed from the comfort and ease of my old HP keyboard and my obsolete yet still functioning Windows Vista Operating System. Unsure what lies ahead other than not worrying about commutes, managers or mortgages, we bid a fond farewell to California and hope you join us for our life as Experimental Expats that starts in Canada and moves to Penang by late June. Ciao Bella, Bay Area !!
Please share your California memories or please ask anything about visiting
Driving our 2002 Honda CRV over the Canadian border as Homeless Soon to be expats