One summer, when the children were young, we decided to take a different type of vacation. We had done the beach thing in Alabama and Florida. We love the beaches there and we brag to people all over the country that these beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world. We wanted to experience something out of the ordinary, so we flew to San Francisco. Mimi and I had been there many times and fell in love with San Francisco. We knew the kids would love the Pacific Coast and especially the infamous Haight Ashbury area of the city.
We packed up for camping and hiking and also doing some city stuff. We rented a car and headed to the beautiful city. Getting around San Francisco is easy as the streets of the city are laid out on a grid system which makes navigation really easy. We found our goofy hotel, an old hippie place with wild rooms, each done up with a different theme. Ours was the Peacock room, so you can imagine the decor, a childhood dream. Mimi and I also loved it.
Once settled in, we went to the furthest end of Golden Gate State Park. We had planned to walk from one end of the park to the other. It’s been miles. Along the way, there are Japanese gardens, artist exhibitions, fields for Tai Chi exercises and many museums. It was a particularly beautiful day that does not happen every day. It can be very cold and windy at any time of year and the weather fluctuates wildly throughout the day, so you should be prepared to get rid of your clothes as quickly as you might need to add more clothes.
We took our time walking through the Japanese gardens recognizing the plants and seeing plants we had never dreamed of. Along the way there were many glass houses to walk through and discover. We passed by a few museums, but the weather was so nice that day that we decided to take full advantage of it because we knew that the chances of having two days like that were rare. At some point we realized we had toured the Haight Ashbury district arena. This is the area where you saw all the old photographs of the hippies in the 60s during the counterculture movement. This is where the good Ole Grateful Dead and many other bands got their start. The neighborhood is like stepping back in time, still looking and smelling like 1964. The stores have incense, loud music, and people looked like they had stopped.
There was a lot of partying and everyone was in a fun mood. Mia found some cool hippie clothes at a second, third, or maybe even a thrift store, so she fell for it. I dared Max to wear Uncle Sam’s hat with red, white and blue sequins on it with his glasses, no crazy shirt and shorts. I told him I’d give him $50 if he wore that outfit all over the neighborhood. My mistake was that he would have worn this anyway, but he took the 50 bucks and had a blast. People were giving her the thumbs up and dancing with Mia and Max in the streets to all the crazy music blaring from all the stores.
At one point, Mia and Max asked if they could go to the end of the block and come back on their own. Who wants to hang out with their parents, right? We weren’t comfortable with such a long separation, but we understood that they wanted to try without us, the old morons hanging around. We gave them a four-block play area and some time to do it. Mimi and I sat in a cafe and watched them walk into the crowd in their costumes. We ran into a group of hippies a few times that day along the way. It looks like they were walking the streets having fun playing their ukuleles, blowing their kazoos and singing and dancing.
The only group that was louder and wilder to see was the Hare Krishnas with their saffron robes and singing Hindu songs while loudly playing tambourines. We rushed when we heard them coming towards us. It’s their own little parade. I don’t know much and they can get quite rowdy. About 10 minutes before it was time for the kids to meet us at our place, we noticed a girl walking through the crowd towards us. She weaved and swung through people. She mostly weaved. What we noticed about her was that she was with the same groups of hippies that we had seen several times that day and that she had Max’s Uncle Sam hat on her dreadlocked head. . This worried us and just as we were getting up to see where our children might be, they both popped out of the crowd of revelers with big smiles on their faces. They had sat with this wild bunch for a bit and befriended them. Max thought that hat would look better on the girl than on him, so he gave it to her in the free spirit of the things that were going on. I still think he could have sold her the hat and kept the $50. He came out like a bandit.
The next day we saw the sights, the Golden Gate Bridge, and north of there we saw the Redwoods and the twistiest road, China Town and all of San Francisco’s iconic sites. We all agreed it was time to get out of town and go camping and hiking. You’re never too far from it all when you’re in California. We headed south towards Big Sur. We had seen pictures but none of us had been there before. We fell in love with the coast and Malibu, but really fell in love with Big Sur and revisited several times afterward. As we crossed the steep coast with the ocean in sight, the Big Sur area became denser with ferns and giant redwoods shading everything. For a minute I thought we were about to have car trouble because the steering wheel kept pulling me in a direction I wasn’t aiming for. I stopped fighting him and let the car go where it was trying to take us. Stranger thing, the car wanted to be in a gravel parking lot at The Big Sur Bakery. I was starting to see the cars hovering so we parked and walked into this really quaint cabin filled with the most beautiful pastries handled by some of the nicest people we have ever met. It’s as if they were waiting for us.
One of the girls with dreadlocks noticed that the kids seemed to be pooping and offered us a cappuccino with beautiful leaf designs artistically drawn into the froth on top. We went to the outside garden to sit at a large hand carved table and thought we had gone to heaven. In this garden, there were agaves so big that our minds were blown away. There were Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind, gravel paths winding through the most unusual garden we had ever seen. We looked up to see a guy in a tree making a “nest”, more like a tree house. The nest was made of braided branches to form an oval in which to crawl to spend a moment or to meditate. The soft cushion on the floor makes it more comfortable. The artist told us about his design, he told us he was paid to create these nests in the homes of the rich and famous all along the coast. They were incredibly beautiful works of art. I imagine each one would take months to build. I will post pictures on our website for everyone to see.
There was a huge stage set up in the middle of their garden and the guy who set things up said a sitar player was coming that night to play under the stars and we were invited. It felt like home, so we pitched our tent and made our camp look nice. We made dinner reservations that night and went to the beach to play. The beaches on the Pacific coast are cool and windy, but incredibly beautiful. The giant cliffs and crashing waves with gigantic rocky outcrops in the ocean were spectacular. We split up, some of us walking, others doing yoga and exploring. We found another nest on the cliffs that the same artist had told us about, one of his first to build and still in very good condition.
That night we had a dinner none of us will forget. There are only four tables in the restaurant and it was very quiet and lit by candles. The food was carefully prepared. There was no menu. They served what they were cooking that night in three or four courses. It was magically delicious. After dinner we found a place to sit on cushions on the floor to listen to the sitarist. We met fellow travelers and had wonderful conversations under the starry night and under the redwoods. Unforgettable.
The following days we found beautiful long hikes above the coast where it was sunny and warm to the beaches where it was cold enough to get the sweaters out. I love this climate. I still feel at home there as if perhaps in a past life I had had the chance to live among the ferns.
On our next summer trip there, we were camping when the wildfires got so smoky we had to pull up our tent pegs and move on. It was so sad to see it all on fire. I think he may have burned down the bakery my car took us to. I hope not or maybe it was rebuilt. I couldn’t bear to watch.
Mimi and I learned a lot about agaves and succulents on the West Coast and realized that if they could handle the crazy weather there, surely the plants could handle Mississippi’s version of crazy weather. We experience them from these trips. We have found some that can handle our climate all year round and others that only work well for part of the year. We had fun finding out. If you’re curious about what a true artist can do with these plants, check out Flora Grubbs’ website. We visited his garden center several times to find inspiration. She took succulent gardening to another level.
This is the crazy story of this week. Sometimes I can’t believe what we’ve been up to with our kids and each other while I’m writing these things. But we have gone through adventures that have given us very rich memories and inspiration. We’re ready to put our travel shoes back on once the dust settles from all that wild stuff going on in the world.