“So you’re not one of those Bay Area converts,” Angela, our Uber driver asks me when I tell her that after leaving the Bay Area I moved to Chicago before eventually moving back to L.A. and that I haven’t been to the Bay Area much since.
“No, no! I love the Bay,” I say. “I definitely prefer it to L.A., and knowing what I know now, I probably would’ve stayed right here after college,” I continue, feeling the need to defend my past decision to leave the Bay Area.
And I do love the Bay Area. I always have. My parents’ closest friends are San Franciscans, so trips to The City have been the norm since I was a kid. But when you’re young, you don’t view a destination through the same lens that you do as an adult.
Before my senior year of high school as I was starting to think about college applications, my dad decided to take me on a trip to the Bay Area to explore my options: Stanford and Berkeley. As we toured Stanford’s clean, green, and pristine campus, it had the look of a typical prestigious university – sterile, almost. My dad loved it. It looked like the perfect quiet, safe place to send his daughter away to for school.
“So, what do you think of Stanford?” my dad asked with a certain hopefulness in his tone.
“It’s nice,” I replied, not saying much else.
And then we got to Berkeley. As we walked down Telegraph Avenue towards the campus’ main entrance, I could hear drums in the distance. A few homeless people sat in front of quirky-looking boutique storefronts with money jars. There was a man singing while strumming away on his guitar in hopes of getting donations. There was an Amoeba Music store where a man wearing a dashiki and locks stood nearby vocally promoting a book about the African roots of the great Greek philosophers. Students decked out in Cal gear were dining al fresco with friends at a pizzeria while other backpack-toting students were rushing off to campus. Berkeley was abuzz with life.
“Now this is more my scene!” I told my dad. “I’d love to go to school here,” I continued. My dad didn’t seem too enthused.
Thus began my love for the Bay Area, and during my time as a student there, I even grew to love the Bay’s more sophisticated and posh atmosphere of Mountain View (Stanford territory) too. I remember one time some friends from Stanford came to visit, and as we drove down Telegraph Avenue, they asked whether there was some sort of street festival going on.
“No, this is everyday life here!” my Berkeley friends and I chimed in laughing.
But Telegraph Avenue and the Cal campus are just a small microcosm of the Bay Area and certainly not a full representation of all that the area has to offer.
What I love most about the Bay Area are the people. The down-to-earth, granola-eating, free-thinking hippies and descendants of hippies who, by and large, value diversity and differences. As one San Francisco tour guide explained during our trip, when an influx of people started moving to the Bay Area in 1849 as a result of the Gold Rush, there was no real infrastructure to support the population boom. As a result, the Bay Area was literally the Wild, Wild West – a pretty much anything goes kind of society. And that ethos has stuck, which is why it’s not surprising that the Bay Area is home to Silicon Valley and the hub of so many startups. Although I don’t politically label myself as a liberal, I love the anything is possible, against-the-grain culture that the Bay Area still fosters.
On top of the Bay Area’s hella cool peeps (you’ll hear “hella” a lot amongst Bay Area locals), the region itself is a stunningly beautiful slice of California. Despite the hilly, mumble-jumble of San Francisco, which is itself a gorgeous city, the Bay Area in general is full of redwoods and other coniferous trees, parks and wide open green spaces, and the frigid, wild waters of the Pacific. In terms of beauty, I personally think that the Bay Area has SoCal beat hands down.
Another great thing about the Bay Area is the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Unlike L.A., the Bay Area is the kind of place where you really don’t need a car – especially if you live in San Francisco where the cost of permits and parking garages can quickly deplete your budget. The BART is a reliable, affordable, and relatively clean way of traveling to just about anywhere you need to go in the Bay Area. And when you just want the convenience of riding in a car, there’s Uber which is a surprisingly cheap way to get around The City compared to Uber’s rates in L.A.
Adding to all of that, the Bay Area is a foodie’s paradise. Unfortunately, given our short amount of time, we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Bay Area’s food scene. Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, Napa and the North Bay’s other wine regions, and San Francisco’s restaurant and food truck scene are all beckoning me back for a return trip dedicated solely to food.
I could go on and on about why, after all these years, the Bay Area is tugging at my heart strings again, but I think the main reason is because there are so many experiences that I never had the time or money to take advantage of during my college days. But I’m falling back in love with the Bay Area, and I won’t keep my old lover waiting for long.