NearandFarAZ

You know that feeling you get when you return to a place you love? You know exactly what you want to do, and you’re excited to get started? That’s how I felt on my most recent trip to San Francisco.

I arrived on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t wait to hit the streets. Just one little problem, however: Rain. The online forecast for the weekend was all clouds, umbrellas, and raindrops.

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View from under the umbrella

Still, as I checked into my hotel on that slightly dreary Friday morning, I was encouraged by the attitude of the hotel concierge. “We’ve had worse,” he said when I asked him about the weather. With that, I tucked an umbrella into my tote and headed off.

Although I’ve visited San Francisco a number of times over the past eight years and experienced all types of weather, this trip was unique in one way: It was the first time I was completely on my own. When none of my friends or family members could get away to join me, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to come up a personalized agenda of favorites.

So here goes – my very own list of San Francisco treats:

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It’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Hundreds of thousands of baseball spring-training fans already know it. Winter-weary residents of Northern Arizona know it. And sun-seeking spring-breakers from throughout the Midwest know it: Phoenix, Arizona in the springtime is hard to beat.

 

Unlike other parts of the country, where March and April can be a slushy, windy slog, Phoenix is at its best in the spring (in my opinion), with its warm breezes, sunny skies, and blooming wildflowers.

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So, it was with anticipation that I looked ahead to a Saturday trip to the Valley of the Sun in early March. To take full advantage of the season, I decided to put together a little itinerary of some of my favorite activities – hiking, sightseeing, eating, and shopping. In my mind, the perfect Phoenix day!

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Let me start by saying that I realize Canadians don’t live on a daily diet of poutine and Caesar cocktails. Any more than Arizonans have a chimichanga and margarita for lunch every day, or San Franciscans, sourdough bread and cioppino.

 

Admittedly, they all sound lovely. But my point is they’re mostly restaurant and/or tourist foods – the images that come to mind when people think about visiting places like Canada, Arizona, or San Francisco.

 

Still, I feel like these types of foods offer a glimpse into the culinary heart of a region. So, when I say “how to eat and drink like a Canadian,” I know I’m not an expert after my brief stay in Vancouver. But I did get a little insight into the appetites of Canadians!

 

First, let me mention the poutine. We had been on the lookout for this distinctly Canadian creation ever since we crossed the border from Washington to British Columbia. Finally, on a Saturday evening in Vancouver’s Gastown, before a big Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames hockey game, we decided to check out a quintessential hockey hangout, The Pint Public House and Sports Bar.

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The stereotype is that Canadians overuse the word “eh” – you know, as in “We are all Canucks, eh?”

 

But while I don’t think I heard a single “eh” on my recent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, I did hear plenty of “rights” – similar to my own overuse of the words, “you know” (see above).

 

In fact, on our first afternoon in Vancouver, our waiter tended to string the words together in a quick “right, right, right.”

 

Like so many of my observations about Vancouver, I found it charming. Without exception, the locals we dealt with in the restaurants, hotels, bars, and markets were friendly, pleasant, and straightforward.

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“Are you traveling alone?” the Canadian customs agent asked me sternly. “No, I’m traveling with my son and daughter-in-law,” I answered, pointing to the young couple talking to a nearby agent.

 

Looking at my passport, he asked, “What brings you all the way from Arizona?”

 

At that point, I decided to play what I’ve come to think of as my “birthday card.”

 

“Well, it’s my birthday,” I said, “and I’m on a weekend trip to celebrate it.”

 

Another quick peek at my passport, and the agent smiled, “Otherwise known as Super Bowl weekend, right?” he asked, (wink, wink). “Happy Birthday,” he said, and waved me on.

 

It was an exchange typical of the responses I get when I take my annual February trip to celebrate my birthday. Through the years, I’ve discovered that the perks of being on the road for your birthday are plentiful. Here are a few of them:

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We’re sitting at a cozy booth, polishing off the last of a skillet-full of gooey pimento mac-and-cheese, and balsamic collard greens, when the server stops by and hands us a stuffed paper bag, folded over at the top.

 

It seems that the restaurant, The Wandering Goose, was getting ready to close for the day. “We had some extras; hope you enjoy them,” the server told us. I had seen her give a similarly bulging bag to the guy sitting next to us, but had assumed it was a take-out order.

 

Cool gesture, and so typical of the day we were having crawling through Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Occupying a steep incline just east of Seattle’s downtown district, Capitol Hill is home to countless cafés, bars, and pizzerias. On my visit over the Christmas weekend, I was determined to visit as many as possible. That Saturday, my son, who lives in the neighborhood, agreed to take me on a tour of some of his favorite spots.

 

The Wandering Goose, located on the trendy/quirky 15th Avenue, was the spot we had decided to have a late lunch. It definitely had a Seattle feel, with its slogan, “I’m a wandering kind of goose” burned into the surface of the wood tables, and the wall of vintage leaded-glass separating it from the restaurant next door.

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I freely and unabashedly admit: I enjoy being a tourist.

 

On my first trip to Seattle a year ago, I happily joined the throngs taking the elevator ride up the iconic Space Needle, and I braved the cold wind to take in the views of the city from the outdoor observation area. Afterward, I roamed the adjoining Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit, completely absorbed in the graceful glass art. It didn’t bother me one bit that the attractions are considered by some to be tourist traps. I thought they were fabulous.

 

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Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit

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I’ve also been known to go a little crazy over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan, the Panama Canal in Panama City, and the Grand Canyon in my home state of Arizona. All tourist attractions, to be sure, but still amazing sights.

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I recently entered the wonderful, wandering world of travel blogging. Over the past six months, I’ve immersed myself in hundreds of travel blogs – many of them authored by adventurous young people who have thrown in the towel on their conventional American lives, and hit the road.

I applaud them! I love to read about their travels and their enthusiastic attitudes. There’s really nothing like traveling when you’re young. That feeling of invincibility! That sense of awe on your first international trip. That youthful stamina that allows you to sleep on a train overnight and then hit the ground running the next morning in Rome, Athens, Lisbon …

Still, I sometimes wonder about the blogs’ subtle message that you must travel in your 20s, or you’ll become so bogged down in the grind that you’ll never have the opportunity again. I know from experience that it just isn’t so.

As a 50-something who has loved to travel all of my life, I know that you can fit travel into your life, regardless of age, income, or circumstance.

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If variety is, indeed, the spice of life, then my recent accommodations on a road trip through Arizona, Nevada, and California were as “spicy” as an order of jerk-chicken wings and a side of flash-fried shishito peppers (I really did have these tasty appetizers at Bartlett Hall in San Francisco’s Union Square, but that’s another blog!).

As I was planning the road trip that would take me to such diverse stops as Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Sonoma wine country, and Big Sur, I decided that I didn’t want my overnight stays to be a string of homogeneous chain hotels. Rather, I wanted the places to reflect their surroundings.

The result: An eclectic collection of charming/luxurious/quirky abodes that were all delightful in their own ways.

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Over the years, I’ve had plenty of infatuations with beautiful cities. I fell hard for Amsterdam, with its lovely canals and spirited street scene. I loved the energy and air of self-importance of New York City. Rome took me by surprise, with its awe-inspiring antiquities, bordered by narrow, shady alleys. And New Orleans – what can I say? It was like the bad boy I knew wasn’t that good for me, but couldn’t resist.

All of them were short-lived flings, though, involving quick visits. I definitely would like to return some day, but I no longer harbor dreams of living in any of them.

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San Francisco was different. Probably because I’ve been able to return again and again to visit my son, who lived there for years, I feel like I forged a bond with San Francisco and understand its rhythm and soul. So much so, in fact, that it has become my metropolitan measuring stick.

San Francisco, you’ve spoiled me for every other city! Here’s why:

 

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