Our Week in California

I spent a couple hours writing a detailed blog post about all the cool stuff Katie and I did while spending time in Aptos and San Francisco last week – only to accidentally delete it with a misguided keystroke. The last time I did this was when I was writing the last entry of my walk across Oregon. And though I cussed myself out and regretted all the time lost, there’s no doubt that the second draft was a far better one. I am actively learning from that experience and thus changing the direction of this travel post. Fact is, Katie and I had a freaking blast. We did a ton of cool stuff – more than I could say without it sounding exaggerated. To put it all in a laundry list format would be boring, both for me and for you. It wouldn’t matter how well I write it, a journal entry of our travels could never convey the dreaminess that is still resonating in my soul.

On my favorite day we rode bikes for like 10 hours. Ten hours! What I remember most is trying to catch my breath as I muscled up amazingly steep hills followed by the thrill of pressing the brakes as I tried to stay in control during the wicked-steep downs. I can’t even elaborate on this. I don’t want to. I just want to close my eyes and remember how good it felt.

My second favorite memory is stopping at Sun Maxim Dim Sum Bakery at 2034 Irving Street in the Sunset District. Why? Because for more than forty years it was the site of my Great Grandfather’s bakery, The Golden Brown. As a kid I remember that the place was huge (it’s actually tiny), covered in flour dust and billowing with pastry smells that likely were the culprit for my life-long, ravaging sweet tooth. It’s where my Grandma worked and from where she retired. As kids we called her “Cookie Grandma” because she always had a treat for us, usually in a pink box. Even when she flew 3000+ miles to visit us in Rochester, NY she had a stack of pink cardboard boxes that made her arrival that much sweeter. The Golden Brown was where we always found Great Gramps sitting in his dimly lit office counting the day’s money. Great Gramps had a reputation for being a German hard-ass. But nobody was ever turned away from the Golden Brown. Homeless folks on the street knew they could score a brochen or some sweet bread with whatever they could spare – foreign coins, chump change, tokens, whatever. Great Gramps used to save these strange coins in a jelly jar and at Christmas he’d send it my way. He was the reason I turned into a nerdy coin collector as a kid. Probably also why I still geek out on numismatics. After Great Gramps passed away, the Golden Brown was handed down to his son who owned it for another decade or so before somebody’s wife embezzled a bunch of money until the bakery was in unrecoverable arrears. The building, the memories and even some of Great Gramps’ kitchy ceramic decor still exists. But nobody anywhere makes coffee cakes like he did. Seriously, nobody.

My third favorite memory is of Aptos. It was the first time Katie and I visited there together. And though I had some truly life-changing events happen there over a short period of time (2007-09), it was the time on the trails of Nisene Marks State Park that stand out as the highlight of our visit. A couple miles up the fire road from Sand Point, a popular destination runners and cyclists alike, is a giant redwood tree. It’s at least 3x bigger than the rest of the trees in the area which hints to it having survived the original clear-cutting in the early 1900’s. For some reason this tree has always been a spiritual magnet for me. None of my previous trips to Aptos have been without a visit to my tree. There have been times when merely being in its presence has caused me to cry. The visit to it with Katie was not one of those times, but it still was as overwhelming and fantastic as it always is and Katie appreciated it as much as I do. Twenty miles on the trails that day was worth it even though my body was likely best-suited for less than ten.

We visited many places and chose to forego making this trip a “visiting friends” sort of trip. We needed this time to reconnect and to show some of our most favorite places to each other.

Katie’s trip ended with a weekend gathering of her Arizona high school pals while mine concluded in Orange County visiting some of the people I love the most. One thing’s for sure, we both left California with a deeper sense of certainty that we’ll be back there soon. And most likely on a different kind of (one-way) long-term adventure.


  1. Irving Street! You were in the neighbor where my husband grew up, the neighborhood where we courted. I know that bakery as the place my Mother-law- stopped in after Mass to bring us special treats and 5th and Irving as the sight of the little chapel where my husband and I married! I’m giddy thinking of you and Katie there and hoping your love will last as long as ours (26 years and counting!)

    1. PS. Our wedding cake was made at the Golden Brown Bakery. Mrs. Gallo, the mother of my sister-in-law’s best friend, took our order.

      1. Very cool! Thanks for the comments! -tg

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