As part of living in America I partook of a number of weekend adventures in the second half of 2015. New places and new people and lots of fun. I've gathered all the experiences up into a single journal here.
Various Weekend Adventures -- H2 2015
In July Sarah changed jobs and took a week of vacation between the two. We decided to go camping for a night in Big Basin State Park. All of the campgrounds in California book up very quickly, but we snagged a site for a Sunday night and I took the day off on Monday to allow for a relaxing trip.
So we packed up some gear (some borrowed from Sarah's brother) and some food and drove down to Big Basin early Sunday morning. It was a beautiful drive through the redwoods on twisty mountain roads. We arrived before check-in time for our site so we left our stuff in the car and proceeded to do the "Buzzard's Roost" hike. It was five miles with 1200 feet of elevation gain to a panoramic view of the entire park. We ate our packed lunch at the top and relaxed for a while in complete solitude. No other hikers appeared until we started heading back down! Very nice indeed!
After the hike we checked in to our camp-site, pitched the tent and relaxed for a little while. Our site had road access but was back over a hill so it felt very secluded while being easy to get at.
Before dinner we did another short hike past Sempervirens Falls to Slippery Rock and back. The water at the falls was pretty low given the drought but it was nice to lay out in the sun on "Slippery Rock." Unlike Buzzard's Roost this hike was entirely in among the massive redwoods so it was suitably atmospheric with the approaching dusk.
Back at the site we built up a nice fire to grill some steaks and cook potatoes+onions+carrots in tin foil. We also did a couple small apple crisps in foil tins on the fire. A bottle of red wine rounded out this excellent meal. We made s'mores and spent the rest of the evening sitting by the fire.
In the morning after a pretty good sleep we had some oatmeal and coffee for breakfast before packing up the site and checking out. We then did another short hike to the Maddock Cabin Site, a spot where once stood a cabin build by an early pioneer in the region. Satisfied with our exploration of the park given our limited time we then drove out to Santa Cruz to get some lunch and beers at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing company. We also dropped in at the Quinta Cruz tasting room to do a wine tasting. It was pretty good and we bought a small bottle of really delicious port to take home and share!
After lunch and drinks we went to a cafe for coffee and baked good before heading to the beach for a short walk. Finally we headed back to San Francisco. This was a most excellent and relaxing trip!
One of the perks of working for ILM is that as a part of Disney I am bestowed with a Silver Pass, allowing myself and three guests free entry to Disney theme parks at any time. I had never been to Disneyland in Anaheim before and as an expert visitor Sarah was eager to show it to me. It was also a great opportunity to meet Andrea and Max, two of Sarah's friends from LA. Finally, by coincidence, the trip aligned with Sarah and my six month anniversary.
So on Friday night after work Sarah and I caught a flight to LA and checked in to a hotel within walking distance of the main entrance to the park. We had hoped to be able to pop in to the park that evening but our flight was delayed and the shuttle to the hotel was slow so we didn't have enough time.
Saturday morning Andrea and Max met us at the hotel and we all walked over to the main entrance. Showing my Disney ID and silver pass was a pretty great experience. We were immediately welcomed in and I felt very fancy. The pass also gives me 35% discount on merchandise and 20% discount on food so it turns what is normally a stupidly expensive venture into something extremely affordable.
We started in the California Adventure park and immediately headed for the Cars ride to get on it before the line got too big. We also used the singles line so it only took a couple minutes to get on. Cars Land is amazing and actually looks and feels exactly like the movie! I loved it.
Next we walked over to Toy Story Mania which was like a moving video game and we followed that up with a ride on California Screamin', the big roller coaster at the park. Then we did Soarin' Over California which was really fun and cool. Over the course of the rest of the day we also did Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain (twice), the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones, the Jungle Cruise, the Animation Studio, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Space Mountain, Astro Blasters, and the Matterhorn (twice). Through a combination of fast passes and the Disneyland iPhone app we were able to really maximize our time and do so many rides. It was tiring but also a ton of fun. Tower of Terror was by far my favourite.
For lunch Saturday we took a break and had sit down food at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ. It's an all-you-can eat BBQ place that serves the food family style. As long as you keep asking they will keep bringing chicken, ribs, cornbread, coleslaw and beans. It was delicious and a great deal (with my discount). In the late afternoon we took a break for beer (served only in California Adventure) and for dinner we had Mexican food. We left the park shortly before midnight thoroughly exhausted.
On Sunday Sarah and I returned to the park on our own and proceeded at a more leisurely pace. We still managed to do the Tower of Terror, Cars, Toy Story Mania, California Screamin', Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Matterhorn and the Haunted Mansion though. For lunch Sarah had made reservations at Carthay Circle, a fancy sit-down restaurant that is a reproduction of the theatre of the same name where Walt Disney premiered his first film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was an amazing experience and the food was delicious. We also had a couple glasses of delicious wine from John Lasseter's vineyards.
We left the park mid-afternoon to gather our bags at the hotel and catch a flight back to San Francisco. It was a fantastic trip and I will definitely return to Disneyland in the future. What a fun benefit!
In May Patrick started a new job at Google in Zurich. He spent the month of August in the Bay Area to connect with his team here and during that time he stayed with me at my apartment. Google would have paid for his accommodations but Patrick likes to stay with people and I was super happy to have such a long visit with a good friend.
As part of our time together we went to visit Big Sur with Matt and Adrienne. On a Friday I took the Caltrain to Mountain View to meet up with Patrick and get a tour of the main Google campus. We had lunch at the fancy on-site Indian restaurant and also grabbed some snacks from one of the many snack areas. It's a pretty fancy place! Then we drove to Cupertino to pick up Matt and Adrienne and from there we continued on our way south to our Airbnb.
Our Airbnb was amazing. It was located two miles inland from the coastal highway 1 along a single track road through the redwoods. The house itself was a geodesic dome nestled in the trees and filled with art and reclaimed wood furniture. There was a raised platform in the middle for the master bedroom (Matt and Adrienne) and a tiny little bed space under the stairs for Patrick (like Harry Potter, but nicer). I slept on the futon in the living room. The house was on a huge property full of trees and we explored the surroundings a bit after arriving. It was a really fantastic spot! For dinner we ate some salad and some delicious food Adrienne had prepared in advance.
Saturday morning we got up and ate breakfast, baked oatmeal made by Adrienne! Then we set out to explore. We drove south along the coastal highway stopping at various scenic lookouts and spots to do a bit of hiking. We had a packed lunch of sandwiches and snacks which we ate after our hike to some waterfalls. In the afternoon we drove down to Jade Cove where Patrick and I scrambled down a cliff face to search for Jade at the water's edge. We found tons! All we had to do was scoop our hands into the pebbles in the surf and sure enough one or two pebbles in each handful would be jade. It was pretty cool! We also chatted with some people who were down there in what seemed like a more professional manner (i.e. they were prepared with buckets and a rope which we also used to aid our ascent/descent). It was lots of fun. After the jade we drove back in time to see the sunset over Bixby bridge.
Back at the house we chatted and ate another glorious meal cooked by Adrienne (veggie sloppy joes) with more salad and beers. On Sunday morning we checked out of the Airbnb and decided to try driving further along the single track windy road up into the mountains. It was an exciting and pretty drive which ended at a small public campground and an access point to a Boy Scouts campgroud. Both spots appeared to be jumping off points for hike-in camping in the massive Los Padres National Forest. Definitely something to check out in the future!
We drove back out and made our way slowly back to San Francisco stopping in Carmel and Monterey on the way back. It was a fantastic weekend with good friends and amazing scenery.
For our fourth date Sarah invited me to join her and some of her friends at their weekly "Disney Night" where the host cooks for the group and screens a Disney animated movie. The group is moving through the entire collection in chronological order with a few non-Disney animated movies thrown in for good measure. Since that first evening I've participated dozens of times (including hosting) and so I've grown to be friends with the people in the group as well. When fellow members Kara and Elaine announced their marriage in Seattle on a Sunday afternoon I was also invited to join as Sarah's date!
Sarah and I caught a late flight on Friday evening and picked up a rental car at the airport. We then drove to Riley's mom's house. She lives in the area and graciously offered to host a bunch of the Disney Night people so that we didn't need to pay for a hotel. We arrived and chatted with everyone for a while and eventually went to bed.
In the morning we all got up and ate a quick breakfast before heading out for a hike with Kara and Elaine and many of the other wedding guests. The area around Seattle is beautiful and we had a great time tramping through the woods. Afterwards a few of us went to Bahama Breeze for lunch, a classy chain of Caribbean restaurants that I'd never heard of before. It was pretty good! Then we hit up a BevMo for drinks for the evening.
For dinner the Disney people worked together to cook a meal of pasta, salad and fruit crisp for ourselves and Riley's family. It was a fun chaotic time which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.
The next morning we all got up and made ourselves spiffy for the wedding. The ceremony was in the morning with lunch after so that people who had travelled would have plenty of time to fly back home before Monday morning.
The wedding was at a really nice lodge-type place on a lake with a view of Mount Rainier. Everything was lovely and after the meal there were all kinds of fun lawn games to play. Sarah knew a number of people there from frisbee back in the day so it was fun to meet some more of the people in her life. We had a great time, but eventually it was time to head to the airport and back to San Francisco. I didn't take many photos, but it was still a very good trip.
Sarah's family has a tradition of renting a house in Mammoth Lakes each year to do some hiking together in the mountains. This year I got to join them and it was fantastic. Mammoth Lakes is situated at approximately 8000' above sea level and the peak of Mammoth Mountain is just over 11,000'. The whole area is super scenic and has tons of hiking.
On Friday after work Sarah and I headed out from San Francisco. It's a bit tricky to drive to Mammoth from SF, you have to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains and there are only a few passes. We took Tioga Pass through Yosemite, but it was dark by the time we reached the pass so we missed out on all the beauty. The pass was still exciting though, very twisty and it tops out at just under 10,000'. We took it very slowly in the dark, especially given all the wildlife we encountered on the road. We saw many coyotes and deer and even a large brown bear!
Eventually we made it to the house in Mammoth Lakes where we ate a late dinner and drank some beer with Sarah's family. The house is really nice and it was great to see everyone after a long and difficult drive.
On Saturday morning we got up and had a nice breakfast of bacon and pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice (Sarah's parents have an orange tree and they brought a huge bag full of fresh picked oranges). We then went out to do a hike around a lake. Originally we were going to do a longer hike with a lot of elevation gain, but a few people were feeling a bit under the weather so we opted for a flat hike instead. It was still very fun and there were even some pretty fall colours.
After the hike we returned to the house for some lunch (sandwiches) and to rest for a while. Everything here is at 8000' feet or higher which is high enough to notice the thinner atmosphere. So just walking up a flight of stairs can leave you a bit winded. Eventually Sarah and I went out again to go see the Devil's Postpile National Monument (an awesome basalt column formation) and also to take in some views of the surrounding mountains. Mammoth is really a gorgeous region!
Back at the house we all had dinner (pasta and salad and cake) and then we chatted for a while and looked at the photos from the day. We also spent some time outside looking at the stars which were very very bright. I've never seen a sky so clear and free of light pollution, including my time in the Outback of Australia.
Sunday morning we went out for breakfast at a really nice local restaurant and then we packed up and left Mammoth. Sarah and I had intended to drive back across Tioga Pass to see it in the day, but a storm had blown in overnight and it was snowing heavily in the pass so it was closed. We had to drive two more passes further north before we could cross the mountains! The pass we took (highway 4) was still very pretty. Along the way we stopped to check out Mono Lake (a salt water lake) with lots of crazy pillars and formations. It was raining quite heavily while we walked around the lake but it was still super fun.
Eventually we got back to San Francisco safely. Mammoth Lakes is amazing and I really would like to return in the winter to check out the snowboarding.
For American Thanksgiving this year I had the opportunity to join Sarah and her family for a true American Thanksgiving experience (it's very similar to Canadian Thanksgiving). Sarah's brother Chris hosted at his house down in Santa Barbara.
To avoid traffic we left San Francisco very very early in the morning on the Thursday (around 5am) so we arrived in Santa Barbara well before noon. This gave us time to rest and also to help with the final preparations for dinner. The rest of Sarah's family arrived over the next few hours and we all had a great time chatting and snacking and drinking. We also took a walk to see the Monarch butterflies resting in the trees as part of their migration. Dinner was turkey with all the fixings and three different kinds of pie for dessert. It was all super delicious!
On Friday we had cêpes for breakfast and then some of us went to downtown Santa Barbara to explore. For dinner we had delicious leftovers and then a few of us played Puerto Rico before bed.
On Saturday Sarah and I drove to Thousand Oaks so she could show me where she grew up and so that we could visit more with her parents and her grandmother. Sarah's dad drove us all over town and through the mountains and down to the ocean. It's a very beautiful area; California continues to amaze me. In the evening back at Chris's house we played another round of Puerto Rico and also a game of Ticket to Ride.
On Sunday Sarah and I headed out in good time to drive back to San Francisco. Along the way we stopped at Barrelworks, which is an offshoot of the delicious Firestone Brewery. We looked around and picked up a few bottles before continuing on to our next stop, Pismo Beach. We walked for more than an hour on the beach and saw many birds and crazy sand critters. Then we got some food at a taco stand before getting back on the road to home.