You Know You’re in California When

San Francisco streets

The streets of San Francisco

We’ve been in California for about a week now, after spending 10 days in Oregon, and while there wasn’t a hugely noticeable difference the moment we crossed the states’ borders, it has now become distinctly apparent that we’re not in “Kansas” anymore. We have only been in San Francisco for 48 hours, and it’s hard to tell which states border California – that’s how much we’re in the thick of the California lifestyles here in the city, and how little I hear about stuff going on in the surrounding states. After a few days in CA, I started noticing quite a few distinct characteristics that separate much of California from its Pacific Northwest neighboring states of Oregon and Washington.

While I have no allegiance to any of the states out here on the West Coast, I have a strong affinity towards the West coast in general because of the scenery, the weather, and the vast amount of activities to do and food to eat. In these past few weeks of bicycling down the coast, I have been reminded on a daily, if not hourly basis, of the many reasons why I chose to live out here in the first place and why I could see myself making that choice again.

So here goes, some distinctly California stuff, which also says a bit about distinctly Oregon stuff…

-Even the smallest grocery store has a wine selection that constitutes at least a third of the store’s stock. We have passed through some tiny towns so far in Northern California, yet all of them are well stocked with wine, liquor and beer. The first day we bought a few groceries in San Francisco, we stopped at a local Safeway in the Marina district, and while they didn’t have any fresh fruit, they had plenty of vino! Californians sure do like to get their drink on, mainly with wine, and all the stores are well aware of that.

-Avocado is in everything, and rightly so. I love avocado, so keep the green topping coming! On salads, sandwiches, in omelets, on burgers…it’s certainly present in Oregon and Washington, but feels more like a staple here in CA.

-There is no such thing as a free shower…we had no idea how good we had it at the Oregon state parks, where showers were always free, full of hot water, and never had a time limit. Now we come to the California campgrounds armed with quarters and have paid as much as $1.50 for a 5 minute shower. I’ll admit, I’ve chosen to not shower a couple of nights in protest of the costly showers… which only hurts Matt in the end when he has to share a small tent with me and my stinky self.

-I cannot spare any change. The further South we have travelled, the nicer the weather is year round, and therefore the higher the number of homeless people…at least that is how it feels. Either they haven’t yet found Oregon, or they know how rainy the winters get, because a lot of them are in CA, and a lot of them need spare change. I even got in a tussle with one in a 7-11 because I wouldn’t let him cut in line ahead of me. This is probably my least favorite part of CA, because we are always on our guard with our stuff, and they tend to hang around campgrounds because they are cheap or free since no one really checks for payment.

-There are no public restrooms. This also stems from the vast amount of homeless, that businesses require you to buy something to use their restroom, which ultimately makes sense, but man, is it a bummer to walk around the city all day and have to purchase something before being able to pee. Oregon is more generous in its offering of a public restroom, and I do miss that.

-Not only are there vegetarian options, but there are vegetarian restaurants. One of the highlights of the Bay Area for Matt and I is the food…so many choices, so many ethnic restaurants, so many great vegetarian options, and at surprisingly good prices. We’d been hankering for a good burrito and some good Indian dosa, and have already fulfilled those cravings here in SF, along with a few other indulgences while walking around the city all day. Portland, Oregon certainly holds its own with vegetarian options, but nothing can beat San Francisco when it comes to food, at least for what we have experienced thus far. All down the Oregon and California coast we lived off grocery store food, using their microwaves to heat up frozen burritos and canned soup, or buying pre-made pastries, so we are loving the freshly made options just outside our door here in SF.

-I am now a tourist. And there are lots of other tourists out here too. I find myself taking a lot of pictures, walking up the famous streets of the city, eating at the restaurants that all the other tourists have tagged on their “must try” list, but absolutely loving it. I imagine even a resident would take months or even years to truly get to know the city, the Bay Area, and all their different neighborhoods, all the restaurants, and the general pulse of each piece. I am amazed on a daily basis just how many people from around the world make the city of San Francisco and the state of California a destination vacation, and it’s completely justified for all it has to offer to tourists. It’s just strange being one of them.

I’m sure as we make our way down the coast, there will be so many more “distinctly California” things that we encounter that separate itself from the Pacific Northwest. This is just a tiny sampling after spending a week in the state and a couple of days in the city. Since leaving Portland, I have felt very lucky to even be in the position to get to see and experience these differences from the perspective of a bicycle, up close and personal.

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