Touring Silicon Valley, California

Arial view of San Francisco from an airplane
San Francisco, here we come!

What can I say? Going abroad always feels good but going to America, especially to California, on top of it for pleasure, is especially special. The reputation for open-mindedness and advancement California’s acquired are great magnets, despite all the negative, mostly political, campaigns, so sure I was looking forward to flying over the ocean and almost two continents to see for myself how the Golden State copes with it all.

First things first: California is huge, California is diverse. California is only one part of the USA, 1/50 to be precise, albeit the third largest within the union (by area). It extends almost 800 miles in length and has it all: ocean coast, snow-capped mountains, deserts, dense redwood forests.

Secondly, California is an economic powerhouse on the world scale. Think Hollywood, think Apple, think Internet, to list only the obvious determinants. This means there’s wealth and knowledge galore. Both are quite obvious. There are several super mega universities that make themselves known and heard, whereas money, well, the money is an absolutely private affair. It is evidently not spent on roads (really bad) or public transport (public what?).

For the citrus lover that I am this was a make-my-day kind of thing: Meyer lemons are at home in California and they even make Meyer lemon ice-cream 🙂
Bagels in Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in Mission District, SF
A delicious pastrami, coleslaw and fries (plus mimosa) at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in Mission District, SF
San Francisco Chinatown
Fantastic dim sum at China Live just on the rim of San Francisco’s Chinatown

Then, California has always been not only a trendsetter state but also one of the most progressive ones. Especially San Francisco, a city with wonderful both position and layout: just remember the hippies and later the LGBT movement.

Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco as a backdrop. Photo taken from Marin Headlands where slopes are covered with wonderful shrubs, many flowering too.
Just to make sure everybody gets the enormousness of this spectacular construction – the cars down there are literally dwarfed by it, let alone the pedestrians (on one side there’s sidewalk, on the other the bicycle lane)
The great construction of the Golden Gate Bridge
The great construction of the Golden Gate Bridge

Speaking of San Francisco, it is a marvellous city. It’s built on countless hills, some quite steep, others longish and flat, so it’s visually impressive. It’s also quite colourful. The houses come painted in many different shades and there are numerous murals, particularly in the Mission district. People of San Francisco seem to be opinionated and expressive which I dare say only as a mere passer-by.

If you’re going to San Francisco … make sure to bring comfortable shoes. In a day we walked the equivalent of 47 floors.

All of the buildings you have seen in Clint Eastwood movies are for real, see?!

Silicon Valley, as notorious as it may be, is a quiet flatness caught between the mountains and San Francisco Bay Area. Here, it’s all about business, hi-tech business, and it seems to be on steroids.

Ladies and gents, please meet Silicon Valley. It is practically completely urbanised although from afar it resembles one big green patch only occasionally interrupted by a building or two. (Those trees are huge.) For those interested, roughly in the centre of this photo there’s a giant circle building that is Apple HQ (no, no, it’s not Colosseum, that would be Rome, Italy)

As a tourist, you’re not bothered here. Everybody minds his or her business. You find yourself surrounded by super humans, developing whatnot, knowing a hell of a lot more about almost everything than your average smarty, or dispensing a hell of a lot more money than you can grasp. Truth be told, there are not only super smart people nor only super rich but the idea that the world’s future is going on here is persistingly alive.

We visited Ridge Montebello Estate Winery unannounced and tasted some of their great wines (Montebello included) which was a real treat. I enjoy Ridge wines very much and wanted to visit for a long time.
We visited Ridge Montebello Estate around noon when the Santa Clara Hills, atop which lie the vineyards, bathed in the sun. When we drove by in the afternoon returning to Palo Alto from Santa Cruz the fog was spread over the hill tops.
Palm Drive (what a lovely name for a road, no?) leading to Stanford University in Palo Alto
Santa Cruz is very laid back and has a reputation for quirkiness. It also has this wonderful, very long wharf and a real amusement park on the beach.

As far as stereotypes go, I found the following to be true: car dependent urban sprawl is more than evident  and nobody wears proper shoes. But, mercifully, it’s not anymore impossible to get a (relatively) good and regular-sized cup of coffee.

Still, what I found to be different from my last visit is the lack of the contagious enthusiasm and proverbial American optimism that were intense and palpable a few years ago. You don’t see many happy faces on commuters or shop assistants. They even sometimes appear as if they couldn’t be bothered which I never expected to happen in high performing America. There are a lot of the homeless too. Last but not least there are a lot of (heavily) overweight people as well.

Environmentalists of San Francisco, unite!
Pacific coast somewhere between Capitola and Santa Cruz
San Francisco

It used to be much easier when we were younger, I guess, to roam around the world unburdened with the gloomy state of the world. With age and experience one gains a more sober approach. The world out there is huge, it is a jungle, and for many, life is a struggle. You pay attention and it doesn’t feel comfortable seeing it for real. I couldn’t help being occupied with Mr President’s political promise to “make America great again”. The line resonated with me often during my short stay in Silicon Valley because from what I saw, oh man, it’ll be hard work.

We walked the steep streets and roads of San Francisco this time while we rode the mandatory old tram a couple of years ago. It is a very attractive and photogenic form of transport and makes itself heard by ringing the old-school bell.
I thought this photo was a sentimental confirmation of many beliefs we, Europeans, have about America: wide roads, cars, Coca-Cola.


To make you think:

If California’s the future, why are so many leaving? (to Texas apparently) via

Why San Francisco is a nightmare, according to science via

The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life via


To make you smile:

Coming to America (so very much 80s)

If you’re going to San Francisco by Scott McKenzie

California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas (check out the hair, THE hair!)