The ‘Other’ California

When I meet new people on my travels, a common question asked is “where are you from?”  My answer is Northern California.  For those that have never been to California, a common perception is that California is sun, beach, surf boards, and palm trees.  These things do exist in California, but predominantly in Southern California.  The Northern part of the state has beaches but the coastline is much colder and more rugged than in the Southern end of the state.IMG_9452

There is a lot more to California than the Pacific Coast.  When questioned in detail about my origins, my response is that I am from a small town in the northeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains; a town called Truckee.  Truckee’s current population is about 17,000.  The town was much smaller 30 years ago, when I was growing up; the population was around 3000.

Since Truckee is located in the high mountains (it sits at an elevation of about 6000 feet), there is quite a lot of snow in the winter.  Yes!  There is snow in California, a lot of snow.  Located on a major interstate highway (80), the town is the gateway to many well-known ski resorts – Northstar at Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Soda Springs….to name a few.  Beyond the snow, Truckee is also one of the coldest places in the United States, especially during the summer months.  It is not uncommon to have a day time temperature of around 80 F and the night time temperature (on the same day) at or below 32 F!

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The many train tracks that go through Truckee

Truckee holds an important place in California history.  It grew as a lumber and railroad town, with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  At one point, the town was home to a large population of Chinese laborers working to build the railroad connecting the East and West of the United States.  Today, the train goes right threw the downtown area of Truckee numerous times a day

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Donner Lake

There is a beautiful alpine lake, Donner Lake, located on the West side of Truckee. This lake is named after a well known group of people known as The Donner Party.  Throughout my childhood, I was enthralled by the story of The Donner Party, as the story took place in what felt like my back yard.  During the 1840’s, there was an increase of pioneers from the East that wanted to settle in the new territories of Oregon and California.  The Donner Party was one such group of 87 people.  The party was given advice to follow a new route to California.  As a result, they found themselves in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains when a particularly harsh winter began.  The group ended up at what is now Donner Lake, for almost 4 months.  In the end, 48 of the original 87 pioneers survived their ordeal.

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The rugged Donner Summit

Today, Donner Lake is an amazingly beautiful place, surrounded by homes and activity. It is the place that I see first when I visit Truckee.  It is the place that reminds me of my childhood and the incredibly beautiful area of California I call home.  It is the place that holds special memories of my lifelong friends.

The part of Truckee that I carry with me through life are the friendships that were made and have lasted 35+ years.  For some reason, unbeknownst to me, small-town childhood friends are the long-lasting kind of friends.  They are the thick and thin friendships that don’t need nurturing anymore; they are infinite.  They are the kind where your friends are able to complete memories of events that you can’t remember, but were part of.

Last weekend, my son and I attended a family memorial service in Truckee.  Typical of the weather in Truckee, Saturday was a beautiful, clear Fall day.  Sunday, the weather changed quickly.  By 2 pm, chains were required on 2 wheel drive cars traveling over Donner Summit-the high pass we needed to cross in order to return home.

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Highway 70, Beckwourth Pass

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Belden Town on Highway 70, Feather River Canyon

I do not enjoy putting chains on; I don’t think anyone does!  Luckily for me, there is another route I was able to take to get home.  The route, highway 70,  is through Sierra County and quite rural.  Driving through the high Sierra Valley, I found myself reflecting on the diversity of California which prompted this blog post.  I drove through areas along the highway where the population of cattle is much higher than the population of people!  I feel very fortunate to live in an area of extreme beauty and diversity.  In a 4 hour drive, I can go from the dense, urban setting of San Francisco to the sparsely populated High Sierras.

For further reading:

Truckee, California

Truckee Historical Society

Trip Advisor: Truckee

Truckee Chamber of Commerce

 

A Weekend in the City

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I am one lucky girl.  I don’t work in the summer.  I get to spend time with my kids having some summer fun; my husband and I try and squeeze in some time for the two of us.  A few weeks ago, we had a weekend together in San Francisco.  San Francisco is not a new place for us.  It is a short 2.5 hour drive for us to get to the City.  So, we find ourselves going there often.  Fortunately for me, I also have family living in the City and have spent time there since I was a young child.

When arriving in San Francisco,  I always park my car in the Sutter-Stockton parking garage, and I leave it there for the duration of my stay;  parking is a premium in SFO, and I have found this garage to be one of the best deals in town.  One of the fun things about San Francisco is that it is a very walkable city.  Yes, there are the famous hills that you have to go up and then down, but the hills are part of the charm of the city.

On some visits, I stay with family or friends; on this trip, we decided to stay in Union Square.  I have stayed in numerous hotels in this area.  It is a nice, central place to be.  As usual, we parked our car and left it until Sunday.  Upon arrival, we decided to walk to Valencia Street, in the Mission. My husband and I weren’t very familiar with this area and we wanted to experience something new; I had been there once before and liked the feel of  it.  I  recently read that this area hasn’t been gentrified, but hipsterfied.  There are a wide array of restaurants and cafes to choose from and interesting boutiques to browse.

To get to Valencia from Union Square, we found ourselves walking through the Tenderloin.  This area is well known for its crime and drug problems, but it also has an interesting history of art, music, and culture.  It is home to amazing street art, numerous theaters, and wide array of restaurants.

Another fun adventure we had was the Union Street Festival.  We hadn’t planned on attending this event, and it turned out to be a great time…..especially for people and puppy watching.  Of course, we didn’t drive, but walked to Union Street, from Union Square.  This was a fun walk, as we found ourselves going up and down the famous hills of SFO, through the Russian Hill neighborhood.  It was a particularly beautiful, clear day and we could see the entire bay and Coit Tower, fog-free.  We stumbled upon a mini-neighborhood park, called Molinari Mana Park.  Typical of our adventures, we stopped and chatted with a man that was tending the gardens of this little gem of a park.  He told us to walk down the steep stairs for an amazing view of the bay…..and what a view it was…….

A fun time is had by all at the Union Street Festival.  The festival has been going strong for almost 40 years.  The street is closed off for about 6-8 blocks, with tents set up.  There are many different vendors, selling their wares and numerous places to taste wine and beer and eat a multitude of different foods.  All the bars and restaurants on the street are in full swing.  It seemed like an excuse for many to have some drinks; every bar had a long line going out the door.  My husband and I found ourselves at one such establishment, watching people.  It was great, as this is one of my all time favorite past times.

We ended our day with dinner in the North Beach neighborhood.  This neighborhood is historically the Little Italy of San Francisco.  This is also the area where I have many fond memories of my childhood; my great aunt and uncle lived here and were part of a big Sicilian family.  One of the many interesting things about the North Beach is that you can go from Italy to China in a few footsteps, as the two areas overlap.  You can have great Dim Sum for lunch, walk a few blocks, and have amazing Italian food for dinner.  The North Beach is also the area where some of the famous characters of the Beat Generation hung out in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Vesuvio’s Cafe and City Lights Books were the places to find them.

Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest and largest in the country.  It dates back to the Gold Rush era in California.  When walking through the streets of Chinatown, I feel as if I am in Hong Kong (where I have spent a lot of time). Every time I am in Chinatown, I have to go to the Eastern Bakery to buy Char Sui Bow(steamed pork buns) for my kids.  On this particular visit,  there was Mexican music playing loudly and the usual Chinese lady was there to help customers.  She doesn’t speak much English and she is often a bit grumpy.  I think that she is starting to recognize me and we had a little chat.  I even got her to smile….

Next time, I need to take my husband to the great cinnamon toast/coffee shop my daughter and I found last year.  The nice thing is that I know the next time is soon and there are so many new places to explore in San Francisco.