Last week, between April 20 and May 7, I took a long vacation in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a full week: I caught up with
- Day One: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Day Two: Wine Tasting in Sonoma County
- Days Three and Four: Maker Faire
- Day Five: San Francisco and Golden Gate Park
- Day Six: San Francisco Waterfront
I have wanted to revisit the Bay Area since interning in Mountain View last summer. I fell in love with Silicon Valley's pervasive geek culture, perfect climate, beautiful mountain parks, and vibrant urban areas. This summer I accepted a great opportunity with a company in UIUC's research park. That meant I would not have to move across the country, but I would need to find another excuse to go to California. The excuse came when I learned that this year's Maker Faire fell much earlier than last year, perfectly positioned between a paper deadline and the start of my summer job.
I booked plane tickets a month in advance and asked several friends if they wanted to join me for part of the trip. That week worked perfectly for me but was terrible for almost everyone else thanks to final exams and term projects. Fortunately, Eric was very interested in the Maker Faire, so he and his girlfriend Shannon decided to meet me in San Francisco.
I also emailed my housemates from last summer, asking if I could stay in the house during my visit.
They said I could and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Joseph picked me up from the airport on the day I arrived, Sarah set up a couch in the garage with an incredibly comfortable sleeping bag and let me use her bike for the entire trip, Laura gave me a ride to the second day of the Maker Faire and let me use her laptop when my wireless connection didn't work, and they even had a barbecue and took me to see
Day One: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
I spend the first morning of my vacation biking around Mountain View, Los Altos, and Palo Alto. The entire area is crisscrossed with bike paths.
That afternoon, Eric and Shannon picked me up in their rental car, and we drove to Big Basin Redwoods State Park southwest of Mountain View.
We hiked one of the shorter trails through the towering redwoods. We did not see the largest trees in the park, but the ones we passed were still very impressive.
Day Two: Wine Tasting in Sonoma County
On the second day of the trip, the three of us sampled wines from several wineries in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. For me, the day began with a train ride into San Francisco where I met Eric and Shannon at their hotel overlooking Telegraph Hill.
From there, we drove about an hour north to wine country.
The four wineries could not have been more different. Kendall Jackson looked like a French mansion complete with manicured garden. Martinelli appeared more rustic, offering wine samples at a rough-hewn wooden counter in the back of a dimly-lit barn. Hook & Ladder was much more industrial with stainless steel tanks behind a prefabricated building. The fourth looked like an Italian villa with olive trees lining the building and a mural behind the wine rack.
Eric was the most well-informed judge of the wine since he took a wine-tasting class during his senior year. Shannon and I just enjoyed trying the different varieties.
We returned to San Francisco for dinner in Chinatown. I have never seen a more frenzied staff than at the restaurant where we ate. The hostess ran full-tilt down the main aisle several times, and I cringed when she brushed inches away from fully-loaded waiters speedwalking in the opposite direction.
Days Three and Four: Maker Faire
Maker Faire provided the initial motivation for my trip, and the two-day celebration of technological creativity did not disappoint. The theme of the weekend remained unchanged from last year: to show off a huge variety of interesting gadgets, artwork, robots, and tools. However, I was impressed at how different it was from last year's event and that the two days had different exhibits and talks.
There were too many amazing creations to describe individually, but I particularly liked seeing several items in person that I had only seen online. For example, I got to try on
...and watch the motion of
I also took many more pictures.
Eric and Shannon joined me for part of the afternoon. They had an epic journey to the event center. First they had to return the rental car through San Francisco's rush hour traffic. Then, they had to take two trains: one to get out of the city and another to get to the event center. For some reason, the Maker Faire organizers did not advertise the train stop from which people could walk to the gate. Instead, they shuttled people from a more distant stop. So Eric and Shannon had to wait on the shuttle, then wait in a blocks-long line to get tickets. By the time they got in, they could only spend about two hours browsing the exhibits. Because of that, I don't think they enjoyed the event as much as they could have. Fortunately, they both live in Austin, Texas, so they can attend the Austin Maker Faire in October.
I spent most of the second day listening to talks.
The headliner was definitely
His talk culminated in a description of the process he followed to create a replica
All of the talks—and Maker Faire in general—have inspired me to build something.
Day Five: San Francisco and Golden Gate Park
I regretted going to San Francisco only once last summer, so I spent the last two days of my vacation biking around the city. On day five I
I started from the train station, then traveled roughly west on 4th, Market, and Haight streets. I passed the capitol building (with homeless people sleeping on its lawn) and the famous intersection of
Haight dropped me into the eastern entrance of Golden Gate Park. I passed more sleeping homeless people and was offered drugs three times. I walked the paths, passing the Conservatory of Flowers, then headed into the neighborhoods north of the park.
I resumed my westward journey, ending when I met the cliffs at the edge of the ocean. There, I got an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach.
I reentered Golden Gate Park from the west.
I biked about halfway through the park, then decided to get lunch in a neighborhood to the south. I returned to the park after eating and walked through the
After leaving the garden, I biked the rest of the way through the park and along a winding path through the panhandle. I zigzagged back to San Francisco's eastern shore at the Ferry Building where I turned south to follow the Embarcadero back to the train station. I had traveled almost 20 miles by the time I collapsed into the train seat.
When I got back to Mountain View, I went to see Iron Man with Feddy and Laura. Finally, a good superhero movie! I thought it appropriate that I watched a movie about a robotic suit of armor a day after going to the Maker Faire.
Day Six: San Francisco Waterfront
On my sixth day, I met my former coworker and collaborator
The Cartoon Art Museum had some interesting original artworks—including an original Calvin and Hobbes—and a good collection of cell animation. A TV on one wall played old Popeye cartoons in a loop. The museum was smaller than I had expected, only filling a normal-sized retail space.
I circled the dock around Pier 39. Like when I saw Alcatraz, I could not shake images of the Pier 39 course in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game. I saw Pier 39's famous sea lions lounging in the sun.
Fishermans Wharf was teeming with people.
I passed quickly through the crowd to get to the Musee Mechanique hidden behind the main shops. The Musee Mechanique contained dozens of ingenious coin-operated machines. I particularly liked the player pianos with their punched scores and pneumatic tubes. Unfortunately I was unable to get any pictures since the light was terrible.
The WWII-era USS Pampanito submarine was tied to the dock behind the Musee Mechanique.
I took a walking tour through the ship. I found it amazing that submariners lived in its cramped hull for weeks at a time. I took many pictures, but cannot explain much of what they show.
After that, I returned to the train station and Mountain View to prepare for my flight back to Illinois the following day.
I visited California to capture some of what I missed last summer. I feel I got everything I needed and wanted out of the trip and did enough in just six days to fill a summer. Thanks again to Eric and Shannon for meeting me in San Francisco and to my Mountain View housemates for their hospitality.
Now I need to find another excuse to visit.
You can find all of my pictures in my California Vacation Gallery.