The benefit and the beauty, in returning to places you’ve already been is that you get to see them anew, and view the familiar with fresh perspectives.
So when we had the opportunity to visit friends working and living in the Silicon Valley, we jumped at the chance to return to San Francisco to visit sights we have seen and to explore ones we had missed in past visits.
Our flight to San Francisco had to transit through Seattle since we used Alaska Airline points for our tickets. So by the time we picked up our rental car and drove to our friend’s home located in Mountain View, California, it was already early evening.
Situated in the southern end of the peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mountain View is home to many high technology companies, the most famous being Google. Our friends, high technology workers that have lived and worked in the Silicon Valley since the 1980’s would be the perfect host to explain the transformation of this area.
Our time together started out with a healthy evening meal in their sunny, artistic, quintessence California home. Then we went for a stroll down the main streets of Mountain View, which they explained has transformed from a quiet suburb with apricots orchards to a vibrant city with one of the highest median income in the country. We walked down Castro Street, packed with bars and restaurants of every cuisine in abundance; they all seems to be busy with young patrons.
The next morning we headed into San Francisco city. We started at Lands End, a park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is a rocky and windswept shoreline at the mouth to the Golden Gate. We walked to the Seal Rock Beach near Lands End. The Bay area is noted for almost always being windy, and a warm jacket is always required. But on this particular day, we
were presented with blue sky and minimal wind. To add to our good fortune, the U. S. Navy’s elite Blue Angels happened to be performing demonstration flights over the Bay area. Many boats were out on the Bay to watch this exciting event.
Then we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to the other side to explore Marin Headland and the Point Bonita Lighthouse area. This side of the Bay provides a great vantage point for the classic picture of San Francisco and its iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
The third day we spent hiking at Pinnacles National Park, a 90-minutes drive southeast from Mountain View. We hiked one of the most popular trail, the
Bear Gulch Trail. The entire trail is 3 kilometers long, begins at 1,268 feet attitude with a total elevation gain of 332 feet. This popular loop hike is the easiest and shortest hike in Pinnacles National Monument, yet it is fascinating and diverse. The winding cave passage, which can be walked from one end to the other, is pitch black in places, spooky, and can induce claustrophobia.
The cave is home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats. The trail emerges from the cave at Bear Gulch Reservoir, a man-made reservoir in a boulder-filled gorge on Bear Creek. We turned around at this point and hiked back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area for our lunch. After lunch we hike the Condor Gulch Trail to the Lookout point. The trail is 1.7 kilometer uphill that ends with a seasonal creek that drapes over the rocks at the overlook.
Our fourth day began with yet more hiking but of a vastly different landscape. We met up with another old school mate who relocated to the Silicon Valley after university graduation. He introduced us to Mission Peak, a local popular hike that rises 2,517 feet above the San
Francisco Bay, with views that extend from San Jose to Mount Tamalpais on a clear day. On a really clear day, one can even see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the east.
We hiked steadily on a well-graded dirt road in the sun as the trail is very exposed. This hike is very busy on the weekend but on this particular weekday, we only met a handful of other hikers. Besides covering up to protect ourselves from the hot sun, our friend warned us to be mindful of the cows beside the hiking paths. He told a story of being chased by a cow without any provocation on his part. We reached the top where it was indeed windy as expected but the view was sure fantastic.
Next day, we rode bikes through the Mountain View neighborhood to the Google Campus. No Googleplex tour was needed, as our friends got us through security to inside Google Campus to see the buildings, cafeteria, and the many young multi-national technology employees on the campus. There were multi-colored bicycles that Googlers used to get between campus buildings and many interesting works of art. Next we drove to Cupertino for a quick look at the extravagant, multi-billion dollar new Apple headquarters nearing completion. The complex is so massive it spans several large city blocks and more. At certain angle it looks like a spaceship but at another angle, it looks like a modern gigantic colosseum.
On our last day, we bidded farewell to our hosts. On route back to San Francisco, we stopped by Stanford University (our hosts being Alumni), known for its academic strength, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world’s top university.
Back in San Francisco, we visited the Mosaic Steps neighborhood where the community create a “sea to stars” themed mosaic flowing up a 163-step stairway.
This hidden gem in the city is quickly becoming well known so we were pleasantly surprise to find only a few other tourists there admiring the steps and clear views of the city at the top of the steps. For a final overview of the City, we drove up to Bernal Heights Park, a large rock outcrop in the southeastern part of the City. Bernal Hill has a breathtaking 360-degree panorama and clear views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, San Bruno Mountain, and the hills of the East Bay. This was a fitting end to our visit to this beautiful city to re-live treasured memories, and to discover new places.