There is no snow in the mountains around Lake Tahoe. It’s eerie, driving around up there in what should be a winter wonderland, knowing it’s January, but looking out on a perfect spring landscape. People walking around in hats and gloves seem like they just don’t want to give up their cool weather fashion and are suffering for it. This is not the ideal time to be planning your Northern California ski trip.
Skiing, though, is not the only reason to head to Tahoe. It’s pretty much an out door adventurer’s paradise, whether your idea of an outdoor adventure is a gentle stroll through outlandishly beautiful scenery, or a punishing backcountry trek. Right now, in fact, is kind of a rare and wonderful moment to go for a hike up there because you don’t need to take all the gear and precautions that winter normally demands, but neither do you have to deal with the heat of summer. Plus there’s a little dab of snow here and there to slide around in, the odd snow man standing his ground, and even an occasional frozen lake to tiptoe a few disbelieving steps out onto. We all are, and should be, very concerned by this drought, but so should we allow ourselves to delight in the strange little bits of magic it delivers us. The Tahoe area, in this moment, is one of those.
The other reason to head to Tahoe in these next weeks, if you find yourself with a weekend to explore California, is that they kind of need you up there. More than maybe anyplace else in the state, their economy is driven by the yearly influx of snow sports enthusiasts and so they suffer the most when we get into one of these drought years. That said, don’t go because you feel guilty. Go because it’s an extraordinary place that’s probably on your list of California destinations, or at least should be, and this just happens to be a great moment to do it.
The strangest story I heard during the government shutdown came from a friend who happened to be visiting Washington DC just as everything was boarded up. The Smithsonians were all closed, which bummed her out, but was not unexpected. Still, she thought, it was warm and sunny and DC is full of iconic monuments to finally get to see up close. She headed out first in search of President Lincoln and found that a barricade had been set up and was being actively guarded against visitors. Did you follow that? The government shutdown, according to my understanding of it, was all about not paying workers’ salaries and yet in this case workers were actually brought in to do a job that does not normally exist, specifically for the purpose of punishing the public. Very strange, in my opinion.
Next in line for bizarre punishments meted out in those days had to do with the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco. It sits on government land, but it’s privately owned and run and so did not shut down when the government did. At least not at first. A couple of days into the ordeal, the Cliff House, which, I repeat, is a privately owned small business, requiring no funding from the federal government to maintain its day-to-day operation, was ordered to shut down because it sits on government land.
If you’ve never been to the Cliff House, you should put it high on your list. There aren’t many views in the world like the one it’s got. It’s the kind of place that normally gets ignored by this little newsletter because it’s so ubiquitous on everyone else’s San Francisco list. But with the next government shutdown scheduled for January, maybe you’d better try to get out there sooner rather than later.
In line with the exceptionally popular and fun Nerd Night series, I’ve recently discovered a whole other realm of organized adventures to have with a cocktail in one hand and a teacher in front of you. This one is called Paint Nite and it’s a series of painting lessons held in bars and restaurants. Like Nerd Night, these events are being duplicated in cities all around the country and, also like Nerd Night, the Bay Area being as rich as it is, has two cities running Paint Nites within an hour of one another, whereas, for example, there’s only one in the whole state of Arizona.
What’s fun about Paint Nite is that, rather than making you start at the very beginning and go through the rigors of learning technique, not to mention the trials and confusion of personal creativity, they just pick a painting someone’s already done and teach the assembled crowd how to replicate the exact same thing. It’s genius. And so gratifying.
The other cool thing about Paint Nite that’s way more gratifying than Nerd Night, is it that it happens really often. With Nerd Night, the monthly thing can be kind of a bummer. It’s easy to get really excited about going the night after it just happened, be determined to go to the next one, and then not remember it until it’s just passed yet again. It’s even worse for you, the travelers, who either will or will not be in town when it’s on, end of story. Paint Nite, in contrast, happens at different venues around both San Jose and San Francisco three or four nights a week. The particular night you want might sell out, it’s true, but chances are you can just go the next night instead. So, the next time you run out of things to talk about with the coworkers you’re somehow stuck living with too, keep Paint Nite in mind!
I made a great discovery this last weekend that I’d like to share with you. About a year ago, apparently, a cavernous old building in downtown San Jose that, over the years, tried to be many different versions of a nightclub but could never quite figure out a consistent crowd, finally gave up and decided to be a climbing gym instead. The thing is, it seems that this poor building must be cursed because although it’s been turned into a fine example of a climbing gym, and although I was in there at a time that every other climbing gym I’ve ever been to has been stuffed to the gills, the place was nearly empty.
Climbing gyms are great. Whoever invented the idea of bolting fake stones onto the sides of warehouses so that people could have a place where they could climb the walls was a genius. But they can be a little intimidating. There are far too many young men who have nothing better to do than get better and better at climbing walls, and the scrutiny of young men can be harsh. Especially when all the time you’re spending on the wall is taking away from their time on it. The unpopularity, then, of this place downtown, The Studio, it’s called, is a huge blessing. It’s a place to go and be awkward and take too much time and screw up and have fun being a total beginner. If you’re someone who’s always wanted to go give climbing a try, but shied away because of social fears, this is a place you want to know about.
It seems safe to say that this little hotel can boast of a pretty intelligent clientele. You all, our guests, are bright people doing the work that’s bringing us into the future, so there’s no doubt that you’ve got some intellectual strength. Still, though, do you ever wonder just how smart you are? You know, like in comparison to everyone else milling around the Silicon Valley? Well, if so, I have a way to satisfy your curiosity. Every Monday night at the San Pedro Square Market, there’s a pub quiz. Topics vary, so you can go online and be sure to only go on a night you can dominate, or just show up, secure in your mastery of all knowledge everywhere. It’s up to you.
A pub quiz is a great thing, too, because if you find that, say, everyone around is, surprisingly, just as sharp, or even sharper than you are and your whole world view is suddenly crumbling around you, consolation is immediately on hand. Not to be too big an advocate for drinking away your pain, but if you were so inclined it’s right there for you. Likewise, if you sweep through and take out all opponents without breaking a sweat, buying a round of drinks for the room is a very neat little way to both boast and console in a single gesture.
If you do decide to go, let us know how it goes. We’re also a little interested in how our guests stack up against the rest of the valley’s brainiacs.
One of the nicest things to do, if you find yourself in a big city in the summertime, is to find an open-air cinema. In New York it’s at Bryant Park, it’s free and people come hours early to stake their claims, bringing picnic dinners along with them. In Berlin you will most likely pay a few Euros, but there’re several throughout the week, sometimes more than one a night. Paris, I believe, has a free one too. The list goes on and on, but not quite all the way on. Poor San Francisco has failed, again and again, to get a thing like this going. Why? Because San Francisco has a dirty little secret: It’s never, ever warm enough, in the summer in San Francisco, to sit outside and watch a movie.
But never fear! San Jose has got what you’re looking for, if you happen to be looking for an open-air cinema. Starting June 12th, the city of San Jose screens a series of classic family favorites, starting with The Princess Bride and including one of my all time favorites, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, every Wednesday night, for free, outside. Notice I haven’t named a venue? That’s because San Jose’s unique take on this summertime tradition is to rotate it around the city. Every week you have to check to see where it’s going to be, the idea being that this way the different parks, neighborhoods and local businesses all get their turn to show off.
This does, of course, coincide with our Wednesday night BBQ, which is in accordance with Murphy’s Law. Still, an outdoor movie can’t start until it’s dark out, which is not happening very early these days. And, actually, starting with our BBQ and then moving on to sit under the stars and watch Ferris Bueller on his joy ride would not be a bad night at all.
The weather, lately, has turned almost sickeningly beautiful. The hills are green and kind of glowing, the sky is a perfect, uninterrupted blue, any flower planted anywhere is practically jumping up and down, screaming for attention. California is, at this moment, a cliché of itself. It is time, friends, to get outside.
But what if you’re not the outdoorsy type? I know there are those of you who would not dream of a hike and yet feel guilty for staying inside when all of nature is flaunting herself so wildly. Sure, there’s the pool, but what if you want a little adventure? Where is your middle ground?
I’m not sure, but it’s possible that what you’re looking for can be found at the Pruneridge Golf Course. California is known for its spectacular, world-class golf courses and this is not one of them, but it’s nearby and everyone is welcome. It’s only nine holes, so you won’t be stuck forever and ever out there, but, still, you’ll have a guided walk through a well-manicured park, with a semi-interesting project to occupy yourself with along the way. And drinking beer as you go seems to be not just permitted but encouraged.
Obviously, this could be mildly offensive to any serious golfers and I apologize if I’ve just casually degraded something you love. Golf, I know, can be an intricate game of precision and balance. But it can also be a relaxing way for laypeople to traipse through an afternoon of sunshine and, if I may, the Pruneridge Golf Course is more for those of us who fall into the latter category.
On a recent blustery afternoon, as our plans for outdoor adventuring were being washed away by the rain, a friend and I decided to drive up through the North Bay for a bit. We took Highway 1, passing through Fairfax and San Anselmo and a couple of other absurdly cute little towns, with no particular destination in mind. We got to Point Reyes and talked about stopping. Because Point Reyes is such a destination spot, and because we had accidentally arrived there, it seemed like a fine enough communal idea to fall into. But we weren’t quite ready, so we drove on a little bit further, really just about ten minutes more, and came upon a place called Nick’s Cove.
Maybe we only stopped because after Point Reyes it seemed like stopping was the thing to do, because there was nothing in particular about Nick’s Cove that was so very different from any of the other roadside places we had been seeing. But it was perfect; a lonely little wooden restaurant, surrounded by an inn and a few vacation homes, with windows overlooking the northern end of the bay. It felt like we had gone back in time. It felt like we were on some remote edge of the eastern seaboard, which we both agreed on even though, admittedly, neither of us knows anything about the east coast except what we’ve learned from literature and movies. We ate fish and chips and drank rose and walked out on a rickety old pier and felt like we were standing on a far corner of the earth. All that and we were home before it was dark.
If we’re lucky, which it seems like we might be, it’ll be raining for the next few weeks. April showers and all that. If you find yourself here on a rainy weekend looking for something to do, give Nick’s Cove a try. Come to think of it, it might even be nice without the rain.
Someone asked me recently where to go on a nighttime picnic and, though I never, ever, ever go on nighttime picnics, I surprised myself by coming up with the perfect answer. Are any of you out there more romantic than I am? Looking for a nice spot to go howl at the moon when you have the misfortune of being on unfamiliar ground when it gets full? Well, friends, if you answered yes to either question, I’ve got just the spot for you.
The Lawrence Hall of Science is a great place in it’s own right, an interactive science museum for kids, affiliated with UC Berkeley. It doesn’t deserve to just be the setting for the romantic night I’m creating for you, but life’s not fair and it happens that it’s sitting on some amazing real estate with a very particular attraction. Perched in the Berkeley hills, it’s got a view of the bay that, to quote a friend’s mother, almost makes you believe in god. Not that this is the only place in those hills to get that view, but it is the only place you can get it while sitting on the back of a whale. I guess it’s a great whale, anyway it’s a big whale, built to scale, well worn by years of scampering kids, living in the courtyard in front of the museum. Sitting on it, you are both perched above crazy, surreal beauty, and also a safe 10 feet from a protective wall. During the day it’s amazing and/but you compete with kids for the space. At night, though, and this was my revelation, confirmed by the friend I sent up there, it’s completely un-treacherous access to natural wonderment by moonlight. I might even go check it out myself sometime, if I can be bothered.
Finally, after all these years, I’m remembering to write about Dia de los Muertos in time to tell you to go to it! This has been a huge failure on my part, so, now that I’ve remembered, I need all of you to pay attention because I’m sending you to one of the best things that happens in San Francisco. But it’s a one-day-only thing, though, so you’ve got to get it together and go, OK?
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, for those of you who don’t know, is a smashing together of ancient Aztec practice and All Soul’s Day. It’s meant both to remember friends and relatives who have passed away and also to illuminate the link between life and death. In Mexico it’s a two-day celebration that includes picnics in graveyards and plenty of mescal.
San Francisco’s Dia de los Muertos is a carriage of old tradition into the modern world. Every year, a park in the Mission, the city’s Latino neighborhood, is filled with altars made by local artists, and this collection of altars becomes the starting point of a giant procession. Everyone is welcome and many come painted as skeletons, wearing vivid colors, and carrying the mementos of their beloved dead, to parade all night through the city streets. It’s ghostly and celebratory and deeply peaceful. This parade is one of the things that San Francisco comes together to do that shows its eccentric, loving nature in the fullest light. This city this is a place unlike any other, and Dia de los Muertos is a great way to see exactly what that means. It’s on November 2nd this year, and the parade starts at 7pm. Please come out for it!