Bay Area – off the beaten track

The Bay Area has without any doubts a lot of absolutely beautiful and stunning sights. San Francisco for example has the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, Pier 49 or whichever it is, Coit Tower, Alcatraz. It is probably quite arrogant to get a “been there, done that” attitude about a city like San Francisco. But I just did not feel like seeing those places again so I was more than happy to talk to my hosts in San Francisco about some other places in the city and around it. I figured I could share some photos and experience about these places. Mind you, the Golden Gate Bridge just kept drawing me towards it. While not a natural thing, it is really beautiful.

On my first Saturday off in San Francisco I went to Pinnacles National Park.

This is the newest National Park in the USA, up until 2012 this was a National Monument. While it might not look at as spectacular as Yosemite or Yellowstone (or my secret favorite, Bryce Canyon) it is nevertheless beautiful and has a lot of interesting sites. There are caves with bats (I didn’t see any bats, though) that you can crawl through, there is that strange mixture of Mediterranean and high desert flora, there are beautiful rock formations and the very rare Condor. I came on Friday, checked out the place and drove a little further south to find a spot to camp in the car. Early next morning I drove back into the park, secured a camp site and went hiking. Something that’s very satisfying: within two days you can hike all the major trails in this park. The trails in the center of this park are in my opinion the more exciting ones. High elevation, steep steps cut deep into the rock, a lot of vertigo. The campground is pretty nice and even though it was early in the year, it was quite packed. The night ranger talk about the geolgy of that place is highly interesting. It was held right after sunset in the outside amphitheater under the stars and trees. Part of Pinnacle’s geological formation is more than a hundred miles South and Pinnacles National Park moved North through the eons along the San Andreas fault. You could say that “the rest of Pinnacles” just stayed further South. I really enjoyed the relative loneliness of Pinnacle National Monument. If you look on a map, you might think that it is not too far away from San Francisco. But you’d be surprised how far out in the wild it feels. My car couldn’t even get any radio in. I hiked here all Saturday and half of Sunday until I drove up to Salinas, to pay the John Steinbeck Center a visit.

Maybe some of you know that John Steinbeck is my favorite writer (of the US ones). It was basically a no-brainer to check out his home-town and the museum about him. When I came to the states I started reading “East of Eden”. The opening of that book is just epic:

“The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.”

John Steinbeck – East of Eden

I was not even aware that I spent my first night in the Salinas Valley. I was next to King City which is mentioned quite often in the book. However, since I was low on gas, I decided to not drive through the Valley but rather to Salinas directly (I did have a pretty good view of the Valley from Pinnacles and honestly, it was not that spectacular as it is one huge agriculturally used valley). Salinas itself is also not a very spectacular town, either. But the exhibit about his work and life is quite interesting. I wish it had a little more information about Steinbeck’s private life but after all, it was his private life and is thus probably none of my business anyway. At the end of the day I drove up Highway 101 back towards San Francisco. I was so close to Apple’s, Google’s, Intel’s, Opera’s and so many more companies’ headquarters that the area outside of the Silicon Valley feels quite backwards and old-fashioned to me now. This weekend was quiet, exhausting and refreshing and educating. I liked it a lot and it felt good to be in Steinbeck Country.

One week later I went to see Lands end and the Presidio, two sites located in San Francisco. Starting at the ruins of Sutro Baths where there is a very interesting cave, I hiked from Lands end along the coast, enjoying the sights of the Golden Gate Bridge and the North Side of the Bay. I ended the day with a hike along Baker Beach and the gay-nude beach right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. I walked underneath the bridge, watching big waves crush against its pillars. Through a hole in the fence you can walk into San Francisco and watch the surfers taking advantage of the huge waves passing the bridge. After climbing the rocks and cliffs of the Pacific Coast, the view of San Francisco felt inviting.

The next day I set out to visit Bobbi, an old friend of mine for who I still have deep feelings of gratitude and affection. She is a great woman and makes one fantastic chicken salad. 🙂 She lives in Fairfax which is a beautiful town in its own right. It is built in a small valley and up the hills and mountains that cover the area North of the Bay. It is remarkable how close to a gigantic urban center such a wild and impenetrable area can be. No big roads, just chaparral and trees.  In the early afternoon I went on to Muir Woods National Monument, which I have never visited before. It contains a big amount of Redwood trees, giants even taller than the Mammoth Trees everybody in Europe likes so much. While the admission to this place is fairly high (7 Dollars) it is absolutely beautiful, serene and quiet. It is good for the soul. One thing I cannot understand though is that people come out into the middle of tranquility just to talk and chatter loudly rather than just enjoy the beauty that lies in the stillness of this place. But those people are usually too fat to walk the upper trails so I stayed to them and all was fine. One thing to consider: the free map you can get at the entrance is hardly exact and parking is almost impossible to find on a Sunday afternoon.

If you have any questions about these places, let me know. The photos apparently are in reverse order.


Just a pretty flower.


Redwood giants in Muir Woods.


Muir Woods.


Golden Gate Bridge. Covered by fog.


All of a sudden, the famous fog crawled in from the Ocean.


Golden Gate Bridge. It attracted me like a light attracts a moth.


Golden Gate Bridge.


Back towards San Francisco.


You might be able to see people up there.


The bridge from below.


Just imagine the sheer size of that bridge and how loud this place is with the waves crushing in.


My feet in the Pacific.


Another view of the Bridge.


Marshall’s beach (gay/nude beach). Golden Gate Bridge in the Background.


Bunkers and the Golden Gate Bridge, packed with cars.


The Golden Gate Bridge and me.


Shady area near the trailhead at Lands End.


Lands End.


Lands End.


Cave entrance and the mighty Pacific.


At the end of a small caves. The waves were pretty intense that day, there even was a warning on the Weather Service website.


Sutro Baths ruins. Restaurant in the background.


Lands End. Sutro Baths to the right, restaurant and visitor center to the left.


Ocean beach, near Lands End. This is San Francisco.


The Steinbeck house!


… and the inside.


Rocinante from the outside….


He really was… 🙂


These are some of Steinbeck’s original books.


The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Ca.


Morning view on my last day in Pinnacles.


The creek right behind my real camp site in Pinnacles National Park.


On this side, Pinnacles almost looks like Portugal or Italy (which is not too surprising, I guess). The wind definitely shaped those trees!


Towards the East, Pinnacles looks a lot more Mediterranean.


Wind in my hair and sun in my eyes. It’s a good life. In the back you can see the Gabilan Mountains.


Hiking higher and higher up towards the peaks of Pinnacles National Park.


A lizard.


Bear Gulch Reservoir.


Steps towards Bear Gulch Reservoir in Pinnacles.


“I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.” – John Steinbeck


View towards the Salinas Valley from my “campsite” on the first night. Yes campsite = road side.

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