Five Favorite Bay Area Activities

Big Sur
The coastline near Bixby Bridge.

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, then you may know that I was in California a few weeks ago. The trip was planned partly on a whim, but had good intentions: Darren and I wanted to make sure California was as good as we remembered, and that we were still set on moving back to the San Francisco Bay Area. The good news was that California completely exceeded my expectations; the bad news was that I had to come back at the end of it (which, hasn’t been bad at all–all that vitamin D cheered me right up!).

Today’s post is a run down of some of our favorite Bay Area activities.

1. Take a Drive Along Highway 1

I love long drives along Highway 1, and I don’t think it matters whether you start your drive in San Francisco and head north, or at Half Moon Bay and head south toward Santa Cruz. Either way, you will be guaranteed beautiful, lush scenery, beaches, and great places to stop and take photos along the way. On this trip, we drove south from Half Moon Bay, stopped for lunch in Santa Cruz, and kept driving to Bixby Bridge just before Big Sur. It was gorgeous. To get the best out of this trip, try to go on a day when the coast is clear–literally. We’ve taken a few trips along Highway 1 when it’s foggy at the coast, and while it is magical in a completely different way, it cannot beat the scenery in the sunshine.

2. Stuff Yourself Silly

The Bay Area has no shortage of restaurants, and compared to London prices, food is a bargain. Restaurants utilize their local food resources well, and take full advantage of all the fresh fruit and veg that is available. There also isn’t a shortage in different cuisines, so whether you like Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, or comfort food from the American South, the Bay Area has you covered.

3. Visit San Francisco

SF from Twin Peaks
The view from Twin Peaks.

Go to San Francisco. I don’t care where you go (as long as it isn’t Fisherman’s Warf or Pier 39–unless you’re going to Ghirardelli Square, I can forgive that one), just go. San Francisco has a certain je ne sais quoi about it. Sure, the people can be a bit different at times, but that’s what makes The City unique. If you’re dying for suggestions, take in the hippy spirit on the Haight (if you love music, you must visit Amoeba Records), see the beauty of San Francisco from the top of Twin Peaks, go shopping at Union Square, or have a meal in North Beach. Really, just walk around–you’ll get a great workout from all those hills, and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of fun along the way. Just beware that San Francisco can be shockingly cold in summertime. If you have flexibility in your planning, go in September! Otherwise, be sure to wear layers.

4. Grab Some Snaps in the Marin Headlands

Carrie at the Headlands
Posing in front of the Golden Gate at the Marin Headlands.

Want some photos of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge? The Marin Headlands are the best place to get these. The Headlands are a short jaunt over the bridge (which is totally worth driving over–the scale of it makes you appreciate what an engineering feat it must have been). Take the first exit, and follow the signs. There are designated parking places along the way–if the first lot is full, there is another one that’s just a five minute’s walk further up the hill. But make sure you go to the viewing area where the first parking lot is–that’s where you’ll get the best photos of the Golden Gate’s glory, and get spectacular views of San Francisco. Instead of driving back to Highway 101 the way you went, keep driving along the road toward the coast. At the summit, it becomes a one-way road that spirals down the hillside and gives some beautiful views of the coast line.

5. Go to a Farmer’s Market

Tulips

One of the best things about California is the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables available all year round. When I moved to California in 2005, farmer’s markets were one of my favorite things from the outset. They were a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, and a great way to get the freshest produce California had to offer, all at a bargain price. But it wasn’t until 2008, when I moved to Mountain View, that I discovered my favorite market. Mountain View’s market is held each Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Caltrain Parking lot. They have a huge selection of not only fresh produce, but vibrant flowers, fresh eggs and meats, coffee and honey. After you’ve finished at the market, there are plenty of brunch options just a short walk away. Even if you’re just visiting, it’s worth a stop for a quart of fresh strawberries, or a fresh apple cider.

I hope you enjoy some of these activities as much as we do, and please share your favorites!

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This is Why I Love San Francisco

Isn’t San Francisco and the Bay Area coastline beautiful? Does this video make you want to take a helicopter ride around San Francisco, too? I better start saving my pennies!

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Five Reasons I’m Excited about March

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Twin Peaks in San Francisco.

Spring is just around the corner, and I am stoked. Here’s a short list of what’s getting me excited this month:

  1. Darren and I are going to California!

    This is just a visit to make sure that we are absolutely certain that moving is what we want to do. After a few disasters in our flat’s building this month, we can hardly think of a reason not to start running for California now, but you know, we don’t want to rush into things, and make rash decisions!

  2. Sigor Ros at the Brixton Academy

    OK, so this Icelandic band may not be your thing, but Darren and I went to one of their concerts at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA in 2008, and it was amazing. Seriously, it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life–and I’ve been to a number of great ones.

  3. Blogcademy meet-up in Cambridge

    I’ve taken pretty much every opportunity to surround myself with the sparkly Blogcademy graduates (chocolate meet-ups, dinners in Central London, etc.). Seeing my fellow Blogcadette’s blogs evolve, is inspiring, but hanging out with them is an entirely different matter. It’s a pity that Blogcademy came along so late in my stay in London–it’s been a fantastic opportunity to make new friends!

  4. Easter!

    Not only does this holiday come with a four-day weekend in Britain, but my trip to California is timed such that I will be able to pick up my most favorite Easter candy while I’m in America. Does anyone else think Easter has the best candy? Last year I stocked up on coconut Hersey’s Kisses, and had my parents bring me some Whopper Eggs when they came over last April (how I forgot these the when I was there in the US last March is beyond me). I am looking forward to that sugar high in a few weeks time!

  5. Daylight saving time begins

    Right, so losing an hour of sleep is most definitely not something to get excited about, but that extra hour of daylight gained is totally worth the excitement. If the weather hasn’t already improved by then, the fact that it will still be light at 7:30 p.m. will make things more bearable.

Are you excited about anything happening in March? Tell me in the comments!

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A Love Letter to California

Darren and I busy beavering away on my new site.

Welcome to California Love Letters! This is the new home for my blog, and will completely replace Becoming British, so please, please, please bookmark and/or update your RSS feed with this site!

After The Blogcademy, I’d been inspired to really rethink my blog–design, content, everything, really. I’d been churning ideas over in my head for a number of weeks, and inspiration finally struck this past Thursday: why not make my blog a love letter to my favorite place in the world (or at least my favorite place in America)?

Switching from Blogger to WordPress was a bit daunting at first, but once I’d decided upon a theme that served as a good skeleton, my husband, Darren, and I got stuck in to make it my own. In true nerd fashion, we both had [probably too much] fun trying to figure out how php and css work, and I am truly proud of what we’ve accomplished. Darren, I cannot thank you enough!!!

You’ll still be able to find the posts from my Blogger site here, and of course, I’ll be adding new bits as I go along.

Let me know what you think of the new design. I’d love to hear from you!

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Five Reasons I’m Excited about 2013

One of many lovely vistas in San Francisco on a sunny day.
1. I’m moving back to California come Hell or high water, earthquakes or wildfires

This has been a long time coming. I’ve been unsettled in London for most of the time I’ve lived here, and have decided upon returning from my most recent trip to America that I do not need to deal with this anymore. Maybe it’s homesickness, or maybe my heart never left (the reason I like to believe). Often shrouded in fog, and surprisingly chilly in summer, San Francisco is my favorite city in America, if not the world. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the sunshine (if you find yourself there on a sunny day, admire the views from Twin Peaks or Buena Vista Park), is awesomely diverse, and has some of the best shopping and food the West Coast has to offer.

San Francisco isn’t my only draw back to the Bay Area. I loved driving in the hills surrounding the bay, going to the beaches (even if they were a bit foggy and cold sometimes!) driving along Highway 1, and drinking in all the amazing scenery (and wine) the area had to offer.

I’ve only been back once since I moved to London, but it’s the only place that’s felt like home in the past three years.

2. I am going to find a job/career about which I am truly passionate

I have been in a rut. While moving to London to work was an amazing opportunity, the mistake I ultimately made was making a completely lateral move that offered no significant opportunities to challenge myself and really push me out of my comfort zone. By which I mean, my job was almost the same, but working with a European team rather than an American team. Hence, I’ve been in a rut.

Over the past few months, I’ve been chatting with colleagues, and networking in attempts to find a new job here in London. That, in itself, has been challenging, but also a bit suffocating. Yes, the people I’ve talked to have been lovely, especially the colleagues who have suggested exercises to structure my job search, but as an expat on a Tier 2 visa, I’m limited to looking for jobs within my current company. Opportunities in Europe are few and far between, and those that do exist either don’t match my interests, or I don’t fit the qualifications. It’s quite unfortunate, really as I am truly excited about the tech industry and what it has to offer, and I really felt I could have picked up some excellent experience and skills more quickly if I stayed in London.

I know that there is still a long road ahead to achieving this, but I do hope that moving to back to America, reconnecting with former colleagues and friends, and getting back to Silicon Valley will help me find something that ticks all the boxes.

3. This blog is getting a makeover!

Before I went back to the US for Thanksgiving, I was surfing the Internet, and came across what I thought would be an amazing opportunity: to attend one of the Blogcademy workshops in London. In early November 2012, I attended a professional development workshop, the Women in Business Superconference, and found it really motivating and inspiring. It was a group of about 100 women networking, learning strategies to improve networking skills (I’m looking forward to trying my 60-Second pitch at the Blogcademy), finding new opportunities internally, and generally moves to boost one’s career.

I’m hoping Blogcademy will be equally inspiring, and will finally give me the tools and motivation I need to take my blog more seriously. Blogcademy was set up by Gala Darling, Kat Williams (Rock n Roll Bride) and Sauna Haider (Nubby Twiglet)–each truly talented in their respective fields–to inspire bloggers, increase readership and develop a blogging brand among other things. All are elements I’m interested in and excited to learn about in the next few weeks.

In excitement and anticipation, I’ve already set a goal to post at least once a week, and I’ve got ideas for a blog redesign and content overhaul in the coming months–writing about expat life after I’ve moved back to the US might be a bit silly. Hell, if this all goes swimmingly, I might achieve that dream of finding a job I love, or using new skills to find a job I love!

4. Europe is my oyster, and I plan on seeing more of it before I leave

While moving back to California doesn’t mean that I will no longer venture this side of the Atlantic, it does mean it will be a bit trickier to plan trips to other countries and cities here. Even though the year has just begun, I’m already heading to Dublin next weekend, hopefully to Edinburgh in February and Prague anytime between now and my move back to America.

The first year I was in London, I was incredibly cash-strapped. I had my suitcases packed to the brim, enough money in my US bank account to get me by for a month, and just enough money to cover my expenses after that. It was rough, and meant that I was limited in travel options. However, I did manage to visit my husband when he was working at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Amsterdam (I still don’t know what all the fuss is about) and Brussels, Belgium (for work, but ended up being good fun as I was there over a warm, sunny weekend). The second year here, I ended up falling terribly ill, and this past year felt I’d spent enough money on a wedding and had ventured to Australia for the honeymoon (not to mention this past summer was the one to be in London).

Excuses for previous years aside, I will see more of Europe before I move to America.

5. I’m going to become a “badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody”

The last few years, and the last year especially, have been a real chink in my armor. Before I moved to London, I saw myself as quite confident and self-assured. But over the last year, I’ve really felt my confidence wain. Maybe it’s because I’m not nearly as fashionable as the other girls walking down the high street, or maybe it’s because I’ve been looking for a job for months with no success, but I don’t feel I have the confidence I once had, and as a result, I’ve become less and less happy with my life.

So this year it ends. I think one massive change that will make a difference is getting back to California where I hope I can reconnect with friends and former colleagues. One thing that’s made London incredibly difficult for me is how difficult it is to make new friends here. The best chance most expats have at making new friends is befriending fellow expats, but as it’s an ever-changing community, one quickly finds all her friends are gone in the blink of an eye.

Another way I’m attacking confidence issues is to continue giving my wardrobe an overhaul. London is most definitely a fashion city, and I’ve felt pretty out of place for a long time. After being well and outgrowing must of my old clothes, I decided it was time to start dressing more like the woman I want to be, but still being true to myself. I’ve not gotten too far in this mission, and after spending many consecutive weekends on Oxford Street, Chelsea high street and in Westfield White City, I decided it was time for a break (not to mention that shopping areas are mad between mid-November to early February).

Really, this one is all about restoring my confidence and remembering, I AM a “badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody!”

If you’ve not seen Cool Runnings, you should–it’s totally badass.
 
So that’s it–five reasons why I’m excited for 2013. Anyone else excited for the year ahead?

 

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