San Francisco is a destination I have always built up wildly in my imagination. The food, the people, the squished colorful houses — the bay area has an eclectic, busy vibe that I love. My mom and I took a girls trip there last summer to celebrate my graduation, and we had an incredible time shopping and eating our way through the city. Last summer, Brandon and I drove through the city (stopping only to grab lunch and some chocolate from Ghirardelli square) on the way to buy our trailer. I was dying to stay for longer, but we were on a time crunch. On top of that, I planned a 5-day trip to visit my brother and his family in Virginia in late October, and found an amazing deal on a flight from SFO. All things considered, it was a no brainer to stop in the city for a couple of weeks during our migration south.
We stayed at the San Francisco RV Resort (LOL at the name); basically, it’s a dilapidated parking lot that is all but crumbling away into the ocean off a 60 foot cliff. It is located 20 minutes (give or take with traffic) from the heart of the city in nearby Pacifica. We had the misfortune of getting to the resort at the exact same time as the couple assigned to the spot next to us. The couple spent nearly an hour trying to pull their 40-foot bus into a space far too tight. After he finally finished parking, we were able squeeze into our space and set up. We hardly had enough room to open our door without whacking the Breaking Bad-esque rig on our other side. All we could do was laugh; this was a stark change from the wooded forests and spacious sites we had in Florence only a few days prior. That aside, it was certainly not a negative experience. The staff—well, most of the staff—was friendly and helpful, the laundry facilities were updated and clean, and we were parked just feet from the ocean, which would lull us to sleep each night and gently wake us in the morning. Aside from not being able to open our windows or talk louder than a whisper, it was more than adequate. The immaculate sunsets right outside our front door were a cherry on top. What a wonderful example of training your mind to see the good in everything.
In the first few days, we got some wonderful pizza from Gialina Pizzeria, wandered the streets of San Francisco at nighttime, and explored more of Pacifica. We discovered a trailhead only about a mile away on Pacifica beach; it lead up into some bluffs and stretched on for miles. We explored those trails nearly every day, which gave us a perfect escape from the crammed RV park. We spent an entire Sunday afternoon in Golden Gate Park, walking and people watching, followed by a late lunch at San Tung Chinese. They are applauded by locals as having some of the best fried chicken in the city; Brandon noted that while it was good, but it wasn’t the best he’d ever had. I did get a great fortune, though:
A few days into our stay, I caught a 5 AM cab to SFO and met up with my family in Virginia. I stayed very busy there (you can read about my trip here), and Brandon had a few days to to tinker around with his film gear, ride his electric longboard and see several new movies. He was also able to get down to the wharf and see some of the great tourist sights in the area. Every day, he called me and told me that I was missed and he couldn’t wait for me to come back. That, I tell you, is one of the best feelings in the world. I came home to a sparkling clean house and a vase full of flowers, which means that he really missed me.
After I returned we had (ahem: I thought we had) five more days to get my “San Francisco bucket list” activities in. The thing was, we were having so much fun staying close to “home” in Pacifica that we didn’t really feel like spending all of our time in the city. We found two aaaaamazing restaurants near the campground; a gourmet deli that was home to one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I had ever eaten, and a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant with some killer homemade salsa.
While I had been in Virginia, some of our new friends (Jenn and Brent and Jema and Jon), whom we had met in Florence, arrived at the RV park. Another four or five full time families arrived soon thereafter, making the resort a giant party. We met tons of new families, all with kids in tow, who had full timed for years. All of them had such different stories, but there was one common denominator; they all love—no, adore—nomadic living. Have I mentioned what happy people RVers are? We spent countless hours talking with these new friends about their adventures, rigs, favorite cities and campgrounds, cooking and more.
A couple days before we were scheduled to leave, we made the trip into the city to the Tuesday farmers market at the Ferry Building. There were several booths and plenty of fresh produce tents set up outside, but my favorite treasures were found inside. Every shop in the Ferry Building is a “browsers” paradise. You see, I can’t buy little trinkets anymore – my 27-foot palace won’t hold them! But, I can browse. Luckily, we can (and do) still buy a lot of delicious food, so I grabbed a couple loaves of ACME bread and Stonehouse olive oil and balsamic dipping mix. Feeling in the mood for a treat, we grabbed an ice cream cone from nearby Bi-Rite Creamery. Organic, select ingredients, and big flavors — YUM.
That same day, our new friends Jim and Kathy invited us to a bathhouse in Japantown. They explained that we all had to go on a Tuesday, as that was the only co-ed, family friendly day where swimsuits weren’t optional. We were a little hesitant but our curiosity won us over. What an experience it was! The wide open room had access to open-air seated showers, a cold and hot tub, a dry sauna and a steam room. A table in the corner held water cups, lemons, cucumbers, washcloths soaked in ice water and bath salts. Talking was not permitted, and there was no time limit set; once you paid your $25 entry, you could stay in as long as you pleased. We stayed for nearly two hours—relaxing, scrubbing and soaking. As an overactive person who has a hard time sitting still (or not talking), I was pleasantly surprised that the experience was calming and rejuvenating. I would highly suggest checking out Kabuki Springs and Spa for an unconventional San Francisco experience.
Our trip was coming to a close, and I still didn’t feel like I had crossed off all of my “to-do’s” from my list, so we made reservations to tour Alcatraz. We didn’t quite make it to the tour before a very irritated RV park employees called and informed us that I had mixed up our departure dates. I wrote about that mix up in greater detail here, but long story short, we didn’t get to participate in our “touristy” final day in the bay area.
San Francisco was not at all what I had expected, but everything I could have hoped for. I didn’t get my “cute picture in front of Golden Gate,” or our Alcatraz cruise. We didn’t stop by Ghirardelli Square, ride on a cable car, or peruse China Town. And frankly, that isn’t a problem at all. San Francisco—or any place that we travel to—doesn’t just consist of it’s tourist hot spots. If I would have stuck to the plan of everything that I “needed” to see, I could have missed out on meeting new friends, watching the incredible sunsets from our home, or experiencing a Japanese bathhouse.
Each city we stay in offers some kind of personal metamorphosis; I never leave the same as I arrived. The cities, people, culture, diversity, beauty, atmosphere — these elements seem to mesh together and modify my life story, adding a chapter, a twist or a turn that I never expected. I have said before that I believe we all have the power to write our own stories, and I still believe that. But as we continue to travel, I so strongly believe that new places and people and experiences all act as editors, revamping our story and adding meaning that we never saw ourselves. I love this beautiful adventure; I am so excited to write (and edit) the next chapter.