Our post-chemo trip was postponed a few months, but we made up for it in October during an epic ten day Southern and Northern California road trip exploring new places and visiting familiar stomping grounds for this California native. I chronicle the trip in these blog posts. Check out the post chemo road trip tag for all of the posts!
When Dara was ending chemo we were supposed to celebrate with a family vacation to Southern California in June. It happened that her family was going to be staying in the same Southern California town that my family immigrated to from Canada in 1962 (how random/fated that they picked Oxnard for their trip, though technically my family is in Camarillo, too) and we were going to maybe get them to meet. We had enough airline miles to make the trip free. All the plans were set and we were traveling just as soon as we possibly could after Dara’s last chemo treatment.
Except that post-chemo trip got canceled because Dara’s father passed away very suddenly and we went to Las Vegas instead. The miles tickets were able to be postponed, but we couldn’t change the destination. We had a trip via LAX to take within the next year, and decided that in the Fall we would finally take that post-chemo trip, only by now Dara would have hair and we wouldn’t need to obsessively clean the airplane seats and tray tables with antibacterial wipes. (Chemo would make her immune-compromised for at least a month following her last infusion.)
When we conceived the new incarnation of this trip we decided that Dara would buy a cheap ticket to Las Vegas a couple of days before I left in order to get her dad’s car so we could save on a rental car. Mercury was retrograde, so our trip was really difficult to pin down. We adjusted dates of where we were going to be a few different times as curve balls came at us and hoped we didn’t annoy our friends too much with furtive texts like, “Oh shit, our cabin trip got changed to Big Bear so now we’re moving things forward two days.” Camping became cabin, destinations were shifted, etc…
The thing about being from California and knowing lots of people from my adult life in California, is that anytime I am there I can see about 2% of the amount of people I want to see. And if I’m there for a holiday, which I usually am, it’s even more difficult to see friends since they tend to be out of town or busy. I try to trust my gut about who is on my mind and hope everyone understands.
Dara had a few work meetings (she’s a consultant in education research, action planning and grant writing) we had to schedule around, and I wanted to make sure we squeezed in as much adventure and relaxation as possible. We’re never going to have a post-chemo road trip again and I wanted it to be fun and meaningful.
Our first stop after my 11PM arrival to LAX was to Lebec, CA—we were driving up to San Francisco for Dara to have a work meeting early the next evening so we needed to get out of the way of LA traffic. We stayed in a kind of crappy Motel 6 with weird tasting water and had a Denny’s kind of breakfast. A true road trip meal.
I deeply wanted to stop at Harris Ranch for steak but there wasn’t time. I love that place and recall fondly many trips with my mom driving down I-5 to visit my Southern CA family and stopping at Harris Ranch for her to get steak and eggs. (I never liked steak until my late twenties.)
This time around Dara and I also postponed a trip to the Madonna Inn, which I used to stare at longingly when mom and I would take the 101. I didn’t even know what that gorgeous, huge, white building was on the inside until I was an adult. Staying at one of Madonna Inn‘s gorgeous theme rooms is on my bucket list and I was really sad when timing meant we had to drop it from the itinerary.
Making very swift trips from Southern to Northern CA was a trade-off for how much fun we had in both places. We drove through the East Bay from I-5. We were in a rush, but since Dara got confused by my mention of my home town, Castro Valley, and the neighborhood we were staying in San Francisco, The Castro, I decided she needed to have a trip down the main drag. I’ll save the distinctions for another blog post, but trust me. Castro Valley is not The Castro.
We were in San Francisco for a day and a half and hit up some of my favorite haunts and explored a few new spots.
While Dara was at her work meeting, I went to Burma Superstar with my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography. Shamless just turned five years old! My shoot was one of her first. I adore her and really appreciate friendships where not seeing one another for months or years you still pick back up where you left off.
Burma Superstar has incredible food. Their Tea Leaf Salad is so savory and delicious–it won an award in Sunset Magazine which says a lot. I also had the Basil Chili Pork Belly at the recommendation of the super helpful waiter. FYI they will absolutely lie to you about the wait, though. When they said 20 minutes they should have said an hour or more. But the extra time with Sophie was so wonderful.
The next morning I headed out solo to meet up with my friend Megan Beene at Tartine, my favorite bakery in the whole world. Their croissants are magnificent and totally worth the stomach ache for this gluten intolerant fat femme. Megan got stuck in Bay Bridge traffic so we had fifteen minutes to catch-up before work but the hug was worth it! The Tartine line is always out the door because it is no secret to tourists.
I met back up with Jess and Dara (we were staying with Jess and Claire in the Mistro, the area above Dolores Park that is both the Mission and Castro) and we went exploring. I fell so in love with Best in Show a newish pet store with a very well curated selection of dog outfits and accessories. Macy would love this owl sweater.
I also fell in love with Wilbur Milli, their adorable rescue pup who is blind and bumps into a lot of things with his nose. This could also be the trip called other people’s puppies as we hung out with lots of dogs everywhere we went.
Jess introduced us to her favorite store, Local Take. What a treasure trove! Another well-curated store of local artists’ wares, from home goods to clothing. Dara bought a wooden tie that has received much acclaim. I checked in on Yelp and scored us a free stainless steel water bottle which we take everywhere now.
Dara’s wooden tie!
We had lunch at Orphan Andy’s, a charming super gay diner where I tried a pork belly omelette. It was pretty good pork belly, but kind of a weird flavor combination within the omelette.
That afternoon Dara and I took off solo to Twin Peaks to catch the view. I love it up there. Another place that is tourist-central for a reason. So many good photo opportunities.
We stopped at Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream and since it was a cold cold day in San Francisco it was deserted and we got to try many of their flavors without the pressure of the typical line behind us.
That night I stayed in to play Settlers of Catan with Jess and Claire while Dara had another work meeting.
We hit the road pretty early the next day to have lunch with my mom and see her classroom (she is a high school teacher and changed schools within the last couple of years) on the way to another of Dara’s work connections in Santa Cruz. Mom took us to the best Mexican place ever, La Piñata in Hayward near the San Lorenzo border. If you’re ever in the East Bay I highly recommend it.
I basically never eat Mexican on the East Coast because the food at La Piñata is what I think of when I think of Mexican and nothing holds a candle to the delicious soupy refried beans covered in cheese and perfect enchiladas I remember from my youth. If any ex-Californians have restaurants they recommend in NYC for Mexican, let me know.
Dara was meeting my mom for the first time, which meant I picked her outfit. I needn’t have feared, though, since Mom and Dara basically talked education policy the whole time and got along famously.
In Santa Cruz, Dara had an afternoon meeting with a former work colleague and I was going to meet up with a friend of mine at the beach. We could have taken 280 but I am definitely a backroads kind of girl and knew I had to defy google’s directions to sit in traffic on a boring suburban freeway and head through the mountains and to the Pacific Coast Highway. Basically, when in doubt, I take the scenic route and it makes life infinitely better.
I met up with Jen Hollywood at Rio Del Mar State Beach. We spent forever trying to find each other because we each went to different spots but it was a wonderful hour long catch-up. We even saw a seal pop its head out of the water! California magic!
That evening we stayed with Dara’s lovely former boss and her husband and had an amazing conversation. Their house is gorgeous and basically straight out of a renovation photo from Sunset Magazine, my favorite CA travel and lifestyle magazine. As someone who aspires to be a late in life minimalist, I had to resist the urge to take a ton of photos to put in my vision book. (I try not to scare people I’ve just met by introducing them to my tendency to relentlessly document everything.) Imagine having enough kitchen cabinets that everything goes away and you just have acres of counter space? I am a total city dweller that dreams of pantry space and walk-in closets. Also there is a backyard writer’s house. Dream home!
When I was a teenager I had a couple of friends who lived in Santa Cruz and I have always adored staying there… this just made me even more set on coming back. The forest and the ocean meet-up in this beautiful, peaceful, hippie, woo, place full of birds, hybrid cars and great coffee.
I’ll continue our journey in another blog post about our post-cancer cabin trip to Big Bear!