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San Francisco: There and Back Again

Three surfers walking into the sunset on Ocean Beach.
Sun setting over Ocean Beach.

For the final leg of my North American tour I transcended the west coast on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Getting to San Francisco wouldn’t be much fun, boarding a coach in Vancouver at a ridiculous hour in the morning and dealing with an offensive US border guard before arriving at a closed King Street station in Seattle sounding its fire alarm. Only once I’d boarded the train could I sit back and relax. Upon leaving Seattle, a low lying sun bathed the carriage with the soft morning light. Bliss.

Food, glorious food

Arriving in San Francisco 22 hours later, I headed straight to the Ferry Building, where I grabbed a coffee from Blue Bottle and a breakfast roll from a stall whose name I’ve forgotten. There was just enough time for a brief stroll along Market Street before I headed to Potrero Hill for lunch with David at Plow. Now working at Nest, I briefly got to play with one of their intelligent thermostats, unveiled to the world just days earlier.

Shortly after returning to my hotel, I was back out again, this time to Palo Alto to have dinner with Steve at Gravity. I’ve always admired his perspective on situations, and this time he imparted some valuable advice worth paraphrasing here for future reference:

Assume success. The problem with you Brits is that you are such Debbie Downers; you always think you know the outcome and that it’s unlikely to be what you hoped for. Truth is you won’t know unless you try.

See also: Stay hungry, stay foolish. We talked a lot about the other Steve.

The gluttony of food (and friends) continued the next day, as I joined Tom for brunch at Universal Cafe. Yet the main event would be the wedding of Dan and Liz. They were getting married in Haas-Lilienthal, a beautiful victorian house that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. A small intimate affair, I was offered yet more wonderful food, which I enjoyed in the company of David and Athena.

Three photos from my trip to San Francisco.
Scenes from San Francisco: The Raygun Gothic Rocket, a Blue Bottle coffee and the Shell Building from Market Street.

My last day in San Francisco was also the last of this trip. With my flight departing later that evening, I spent the afternoon on Ocean Beach, where gusty winds were proving useful to those flying their kites. I headed up to the Cliff House, visiting the camera obscura before enjoying some clam chowder and miserable waitressing in the bistro. With time being called on my holiday, I headed back to the Muni stop, leaving enough time to watch the sun set over the sand dunes. A fitting end to a fantastic trip.


In March I wondered if I could ever call San Francisco home again. Yet as I enjoyed these two short days in the company of old friends, witnessing their positivity and optimism, I left questioning the validity of my earlier position. Maybe I did leave a little part of my heart in San Francisco, after all.

  • Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park.

    Vibrant Vancouver

    In the front seat of a float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.

  • Looking across the Salish Sea.

    Across the Salish Sea

    After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit its more westerly extremities, starting with Saltspring Island.

  • Toronto’s skyline, as seen from Casa Loma.

    A taste of Toronto

    Some cities are best arrived at by air, while some are best approached by car. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.