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Top Ten Things To Do in California!

Top Ten Things To Do in California!

(If you like fun and food and other cool stuff)

Part 1

Two weeks ago my family went on a vacation to California! The entire trip was a blast, but here are the top ten activities you MUST DO next time you’re on the west coast.

#10. Ghirardelli Square/Fisherman’s Wharf
If you like shopping and ice cream, this is the place for you! It’s located in San Francisco with a beautiful view of the bay. You can see Alcatraz from the boardwalk and they have tours of the island, but make sure to book them in advance because they were completely full when we looked into it. While we were there we did go to this amazing bread shop called Boudin Bakery. They turn sourdough into all kinds of shapes and animals, me and my mom split the cutest baby turtle, it was almost too adorable to eat. Almost. They have lots of fun touristy shops if you’re into that, but some cute original ones too. The one store I couldn’t get enough of was Jackson and Polk, everything was very urban and chic, it was perfect. Eventually my family had to pull me away so we could pick up our delicious Ghirardelli sundaes. I would basically recommend everything on the menu, let’s get real, ice cream is the best!!

Sourdough turtle!

Sourdough turtle!

Happy brother with bread :)

Happy brother with bread :)

 

 At Ghirardelli on a chilly day!

At Ghirardelli on a chilly day!

 

#9. Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway (PHC)
This drive was unlike any other. You go right along the coast through gorgeous mountains that suddenly drop off into a crystal blue ocean. We saw loads of kiteboaders, which made me really curious about how to make that adaptive because it looks like it would be absolutely amazing to learn! There were also giant elephant seals basking on the shore, you definitely don’t get to see wildlife like that every day! Along the drive we stopped at a beautiful restaurant called Nepenthe. The view from our table was incredible, and I had one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve ever tasted. Also the berry pie, out of this world! And that’s a pretty big compliment coming from a girl who doesn’t usually like fruity desserts.

Along the PCH

Along the PCH

Kite boarders!

Kite boarders!

 

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals

 

Family at Nepenthe

Family at Nepenthe

 

#8. The Mission and Haight Districts
These were two places I wish I would have had more time in. The thing I love most about these two San Francisco boroughs was probably the uniqueness that was all contained within a few blocks. The mission district had these amazing murals on the walls of their buildings, and this part of the city just had this indescribable charisma to it. There were tons of little book stores and we had some amazing Mexican food at this unexpected “hole in the wall” kind of place, but I couldn’t have asked for better. The Haight district was filled with the chilliest most down to Earth people. There was a giant Amoeba Records there which I could have spent hours perusing, but once again my family literally dragged me out, but not before buying Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication (had to), and a Cold War Kids CD. After leaving the records we went to The Ice Cream Bar, a 1930’s style vintage soda fountain, with some of the coolest drinks around the block. I was brave and had a Bonne Vie No. 2 containing “Fresh pink grapefruit, turbinado syrup, citric acid, basil ice cream, and fresh basil”. It was weird, but in an unexpectedly very very good way!

Menu at The Ice Cream Bar

Menu at The Ice Cream Bar

My super weird delicious drink!

My super weird delicious drink!

Wall art in the Mission District!

 

#7. Japanese Tea Garden
Located in Golden Gate Park, this garden was perfect for a chilly day (especially when paired with a cup of jasmine tea). Not only was it gorgeous and relaxing, it was also very accessible and I was able to get around easily over the paved pathways and bridges. There were Koi fish in the pond, and statues everywhere that really made you feel like you stepped into Japan for a couple hours.

My tea getting photo bombed

My tea getting photo bombed

Buddha!

Buddha!

Almost* Accessible

Almost* Accessible

 

#6. Santa Monica Beach
Growing up in Florida I was practically raised on the beach, but this one was especially beautiful. Although the pier was not very accessible due to the bumpy wooden planks it was built on, the beach itself was wonderful, filled with stands selling everything you could want on a sunny day. What I thought was really cool was all of the workout equipment that was permanently built into the sand, and bike paths for days! There were beams and bars and giant rings that a talented few could swing from without falling. There was a small group of boys that were the most amazing slack liners I had ever seen. If you haven’t heard of it, slack lining is similar to tight roping, but usually 2-5 feet off the ground and the “rope” is a fabric strap that is purposely loose so it gives under your weight. I see them all the time on my college campus, but these young kids were flipping and doing stunts that I couldn’t believe, it was so cool. It looked a lot like this…

Slacklining

Slacklining



 

The only thing that was a little disappointing was there was no path for wheelchairs to get right down to the shore line. Sand can be a b!tch to get a manual wheelchair through, I sink and sink to the point where my wheels are so stuck they can’t spin. This is a pretty big bummer because I love the beach so much, but I also love my independence and having someone drag my chair through the sand isn’t fun for anybody. In Barcelona a few summers ago I saw the perfect solution! Right there on the beach was a smooth wooden path that went from the street to the water, once there I could either swim or push myself on the hard packed sand. I didn’t expect anything like it to be in Florida, but California, one of the most accessible states in the country, I thought for sure they would have it. Sadly they didn’t, and there was so much beach before you hit the water, it would have taken days to get me there. I still had a fabulous time, but by just simply adding one path, they would have made this Cali girl very happy.

 

Scuba Stung

 Scuba Stung

Awkward scuba selfie

Awkward scuba selfie

So a little less than a month ago I had, hands down, one of the best weeks of my life! I was chosen, along with five other kids, to take a seven day trip through an amazing organization called Stay Focused. Their mission is to “offer a unique, transformational learning experience to teens and young adults with disabilities through a SCUBA certification program.” In other words, I flew down to the Cayman Islands for a week and earned my scuba diving license! I was all kinds of nervous prior to the trip because I didn’t know a single person going, and although I was very comfortable in the water, I figured scuba diving would be a whole new experience. Boy was I right, but I definitely made memories and friends that will last a life time.

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The divers!

The first two days of our excursion were spent in the classroom and in the pool. I had sorta kinda read the PADI scuba manual that we were all sent months before the trip (about as well as any college student reads assigned texts) … but thank goodness we had an amazing instructor who was able to teach us the entire textbook in two days, not to mention my group’s two mentors who kept us well entertained during the process! Putting on all of the gear for the first time in the pool was a little nerve-wracking, the jacket felt heavy with the weights and because I couldn’t use my legs to stabilize myself, I felt a tad bit like a Weeble. But once I had my regulator in my mouth and took my first breath underwater, I knew I would soon fall in love with the sport.

 

Right before our first dive

Right before our first dive

The next three days flew by so fast I have to keep looking at pictures I took with my GoPro to remind myself it really happened! My absolute favorite dive was on the last day, when we explored a shipwreck. The USS Kittiwake was a submarine rescue vessel (a whopping 251ft long) that was first commissioned in 1946. In 2011 she was sunk in the Cayman Islands to serve as an artificial reef, and we were lucky enough to get to look around. Before the dive, our instructor warned us that we wouldn’t go into any tight, claustrophobic spaces (thank god), we were just going to explore the deck. So my buddy and I were casually looking around about 40ft under, when I suddenly see our instructor start swimming into a giant, pitch black hole going deeper and deeper into the boat. Now I never considered myself to be afraid of the dark or small spaces for that matter, but my heart was definitely pounding out of my chest those first couple of minutes. We climbed up narrow ladders, and dove around her steel frame, going in and out of engine and propulsion rooms, ammunition lockers, crew’s quarters, and a bathroom where I caught a glimpse of myself swimming by in the rusty but functional mirrors. I think I loved the boat so much because if it was not 60 feet under water, I would have never been able to explore it. As much as I love the ocean and boating and everything beach related in general, boats are about as inaccessible as you can get, especially ones built in the forties. That’s one of the things I love about diving so much is it opens up so many new possibilities. You learn something new on every dive, whether it’s about the creatures living on the ocean floor, or something new about yourself. You also learn very quickly that taking pictures underwater is quite a daunting task so excuse my personal photography, these were sadly the best out of hundreds. (Thanks to https://www.facebook.com/pages/JenFu-Cheng-Photography/139533845037 for the beautiful ones!) But that just gives me an excuse to get back in the water as soon as I can to keep practicing. 😉

DCIM101GOPRO

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At the end of our trip( which I’m still trying to process actually happened) we were asked to create a “legacy log” which was simply a single sheet of paper that we decorated in some way to commemorate our time on the island. Since my artistic abilities are about that of an ape, I decided to write something. I’ve wrote little poems in the past but never really shared them, needless to say I was embarrassed as hell to read this out loud in a room full of people, even if they were some of the nicest and most generous people I have ever met. Since our departure, a few members of my diving team asked me to send them a copy of this said poem and I’ve been putting it off, until now. I am still trying to get used to the idea of putting my writing out there so everyone can see, so I figured why not just dive in right? (haha pun unintended) Here it is…

Scuba Stung

Most people think that a sting is a bad thing
but when it shocks your body and electrifies your mind
How can something so beautiful be bad?
The magnificent feeling of floating in space
Awestruck as creatures glide in front of your face
no fins
for these feet have spent more time in sea than on land
extra weight
how else could this light hearted fool sink to the sand?
The kind of sting I have cannot be undone
sun on mask, wind in hair
It won’t go unsung
Seasons will pass, but I’ll never fear
thanks to Stay Focused I’ll be back here next year!

stung

Yes, I know it’s incredibly cheesy, but I just wanted to let the fantastic people of Stay Focused know how much I appreciate all they have given me, and how blessed I am to have taken part insuch an amazing organization. You can learn more about them here, http://www.stay-focused.org/index.php

stayfocused