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Hang Gliding in San Francisco

Hang Gliding in San Francisco

(This is actually terrible advice for a post about running off cliffs.
Make sure you’re attached to something that can fly when you do so.)

For Donovan’s 28th birthday, we happened to be in San Francisco and I wanted to do an experience instead of a physical present. I’m not a super brave or adventurous person. There are plenty of adventure sports that I wouldn’t consider doing. When I was researching adventure sports to do in the San Francisco area, I found out that hang gliding is popular

After researching it, I was nervous, but decided I could handle it. I booked tandem flights through Big Air Hang Gliding. It was definitely a splurge.

The instructor met us at Fort Funston. The location made a huge impact. I can’t describe the feeling of soaring over the cliffs with the ocean below us. From their website, I don’t think they do tandem flights here anymore.

If you don’t know much about hang gliding, it’s a triangle shaped sail and you get strapped into by a harness. You are hanging face down with your feet up behind you. Hang gliding works when there is a strong upward wind that catches the sail. It can happen in a couple of situations; in this case the wind coming off the ocean hit the cliffs and creates the upward force. You start on the top of the cliff and run off the edge with the wind catching and lifting the sail.

Mike, our instructor, gave us directions and a safety talk. I went first, so I couldn’t talk myself out of it. Mike said that some of the people stop running before they leave the cliff. He told me to keep running until he said to stop. After running, you tuck your feet into a harness that helps keep your body straight. Donovan took a video of us taking off. In it I’m running on the ground, then we leave, but my feet keep running for a long time. It’s pretty funny.

    

I will say that I felt completely safe while hang gliding. The wind is so strong coming up from below you that you feel held. It was a great experience and I’m so glad we did it!

   

Fort Funston itself is gorgeous too. It’s a very dog friendly park. We were almost the only people we saw there without a dog. There are succulents growing all over and paths to wander along the top of the cliffs. You can also get down to the sand below, but we didn’t go down there.

  

 

  

View of San Francisco from Fort Funston

San Francisco

San Francisco

In 2014, Donovan and I took what still remains my favorite trip of ours. We flew to San Francisco and stayed with a family friend of his for a few days exploring the town. Then we rented a convertable and drove up Highway 101. We were introduced to the redwoods, beautiful rocky coastlines, and sea glass beached. Finally we ended with a few days in Portland before flying home.

This post has what we did while in San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park:

We could have honestly spent a ton more time here. I love parks, but here the few things we did do:

Japanese Tea Garden – We took advantage of their free morning entry on Mon, Wed, and Fri. The garden was very lovely and peaceful. The grounds are impeccably kept. I would recommend, especially if you get in for free.

     

Stow Lake – we walked around the lake after the Japanese Tea Garden. It was peaceful and lovely.

   

de Young Museum – there are beautiful 360 views from the top floor, Harmon Observation Tower, and entrance is free! We didn’t actually go in the museum.

    

Bison Paddock – We drove past the bison paddock and saw the herd from the street.

Ocean Beach State Park:

This was a quick stop for us to see the ocean. We didn’t spend much time here as we knew we’d see the ocean constantly on our road trip up 101. It was a nice pit stop and we ate dinner at Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant, which you could skip.

Haight & Ashbury:

This was another quick stop to see the historic corner. We popped into a few shops and had lunch at Street Taco on Haight. Interesting if you’re into the hippie movement and singers like Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin; otherwise it’s just a street corner.

Painted Ladies:

Row of Victorian houses, known for their appearance on Full House and other TV shows. The Full House house is a different color now. This was just a quick stop. It’s a must do because it’s so iconic, but it wasn’t really that thrilling.

Lombard Street:

Famous street for its 8 hairpin turns and pretty flowerbeds. The view is gorgeous from here, definitely worth doing.

  

Ferry Plaza:

We came here for the farmers market. It was enjoyable just walking around and we bought a few pieces of fruit for our upcoming road trip. We also ate lunch here. Easily the biggest farmers market I had seen. It was very very crowded.

   

   

From here we actually walked up the embarcadero to the piers and San Francisco Fishermans Wharf. It’s less than two miles, but it felt really really long. Probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Chinatown:

The streets are beautifully decorated with hanging lanterns and pennants. We wandered through shops and the streets; looking at street art. We ate lunch at Hang Ah Dim Sum, the first Dim Sum restaurant in the USA.

      

   

 

Golden Gate Bridge:

We stopped headed back into town from Muir Woods and found a spot to pull over at the northern Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. Obviously a must do!

        

We took public transportation almost our whole time in San Francisco. The parking rate is very high. We rode on ferrys, buses, trolleys, and trains. We also did a ton of walking. The city is of course famously hilly, so look at where you’re going before hand.

There’s great street art in San Francisco, so I would look it up and seek it out while you’re there. We spent time walking around neighborhoods to find street art.

  

If we ever go back to San Francisco there are other places I’d like to see such as Presidio, Angel Island State Park, Alcatraz, the 16th Ave. Tiled Steps, Lands End Lookout, maybe a museum or the zoo. Several redwood preserves exist south of town that would be exciting to explore. There are so many things to do and we really enjoyed our time in San Francisco.

Places we ate:

Street Taco – a fun small restaurant with tacos and other Mexican street food on Haight St. It was good.
Hang Ah Dim Sum – the first Dim Sum Restaurant in the USA, opened in 1920, delicious and not too expensive
Bi-Rite Creamery – hand made ice cream. The line was around the block, but next door was a Bi-Rite Market and we bought ice cream out of their freezer section. Good ice cream, but I wouldn’t recommend standing in a long line for it.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – Farmers market that’s open Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays. There are tons of vendors with fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, meats etc. and different food vendors selling ready to eat foods.
Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant – a pricier option with ocean views from their floor to ceiling windows. The food was honestly just “eh”.

We also explored Fort Funston where we went hang gliding and Muir Woods, redwoods park about a 40 minute drive north from San Francisco.

After we were done in San Francisco we rented a convertible and road tripped up Highway 101.

Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

I’ll take about any excuse I have to travel. When my childhood friend invited me to her wedding by Atlanta, Georgia, we decided to road trip down through Tennessee and Georgia. If I had it my way, we would have spent four days in the Smokey Mountains hiking and maybe doing some white water rafting. Donovan, however, was coming too and he loves exploring new cities. So we compromised, two days hiking, two days in the city.

Click on the links to read more about each adventure!

Day 1: Waterfall Chasing in Central Tennessee

We drove from Southern Illinois to an area just East of Nashville that features several waterfalls. You could easily spend a few days here. Not only are there several state parks featuring waterfalls, there are also several featuring caves and caverns! We spent our time at Cummins Falls State Park and Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The extra perk about hiking vacation days: all you have to pay for is a place to sleep, gas, and food. The entertainment is free!

Day 2: Smokey Mountains

This was our day actually in the Smokey Mountains. Although I had planned on going to Grotto Falls and Chimney Tops, the travel time took longer than we thought and we only did Chimney Tops. This trail, however, killed us, so it was really for the best. Chimney Trails is only 4 miles round trip, but it’s 2 miles straight up and 2 miles straight down. One of the more difficult trails I’ve done and our legs were burning the next day!

The views when you’re literally on top of a mountain are SO worth it. The last part of the trail, you are actually climbing the rocky summit and no longer on a trail. If heights scare you, don’t do this trail! I don’t think it would have been worth it without that final climb.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were pretty much exactly as I imagined them, over priced and extremely touristy. Maybe if I had a week in the area, I’d come down from the mountains for a dinner show, but nature is definitely my priority. There was also an Apple Barn winery that looked delicious. Just gives us something to go back for!

Day 3: Helen, Georgia and Little Five Points, Atlanta

On our way to Atlanta, we stopped by Helen, Georgia. This city is a replica of a Bavarian alpine town. It was a little touristy and most of the other visitors were older couples, but a fun stop that wasn’t too far out of the way. We ate some German food, walked around, went into a fudge shop and a jerky shop (something for me… something for Donovan!). Donovan lived in Germany several years back, so he was a great tour guide. 🙂

We stayed in Roswell, Georgia where the wedding was going to be. It was a half hour drive to Downtown Atlanta, when you aren’t battling rush hour traffic.

Our first evening in Atlanta we explored the off-beat neighborhood Little Five Points and ate pierogies at Joystick Gamebar.

Day 4: Atlanta, Georgia

I really wanted to visit a farmers market, one of my favorite things to do in cities, but many of them were only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We did find the Atlanta State Farmers Market, which may have Farmers Market in the name, but was really more of a distribution center for farms across the state and nation! The Mexican restaurant, Don Burrito Grill, was very fresh and delicious.

We also explored Westside Provisions District, Oakland Cemetery, some local game/comic shops, ate dinner at the Fickle Pickle, Donovan played Magic the Gathering at a card shop in Atlanta. A great perk about exploring neighborhoods is you get a feel for the city, not just the touristy parts and window shopping is free!

Finally, we picked up my best friend Kathleen and her boyfriend Matt from the airport, and stuffed ourselves with cheese fries at The Varsity. It was a full day.

Day 5: Aquarium and High Museum, Atlanta

This was wedding day! But the ceremony didn’t start until 6 PM and it was Kathleen & Matt’s only day in Atlanta, so we made the most of it! The morning was spent at High Museum of Arts, lunch was served up at the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market, and the afternoon was spent under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium!

Our evening was spent watching my wonderful friends, Olivia, marry her dream guy. It was a beautiful ceremony at the Founders Hall in Roswell, Georgia.

Day 6:

All too soon, we dropped Kathleen and Matt off at the airport, and made the 6.5 hour drive home. It was a great trip, but as always too short for me! I’m already planning our next adventures.

Chimney Tops Tennessee

Chimney Tops Tennessee

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The Smokey Mountains have been on my to-see list for quite a while now. They’re just far enough away that I haven’t made it there. Our road trip through Tennessee and Georgia only included one day in the Gatlinburg area, but the Smokeys definitely left an impression!

There are so many different trails in the Smokey Mountains that choosing was difficult. When it came down to it, I decided I wanted a hike with a view, since we had seen several waterfalls the day before. Chimney Tops did not disappoint!

 

Even the drive up to the trail was beautiful. There are many areas to pull off and take in the view. We stopped at quite a few! Build in a little extra time to your day for this.

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The round trip length for Chimney Tops is only 3.8 miles, but the difference in elevation is 1487 feet! That means hiking straight up on the way there & straight down on the way back. My legs were shaking by the end!

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The first part of the trail meanders through woods, following Road Prong Creek and crossing it on several occasions via bridges. The creek is really beautiful and I loved constantly hearing the roar of the water.

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Then the “fun” begins. There are stairs cut into the trail with wooden beams and stones to help, but it’s difficult either way as you climb up, up, up.

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Once you’ve been hiking for 1.5 hours (we stopped a lot for rests and pictures), you start to see beautiful views of the other mountain tops.

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Finally, you reach the end of the trail. This is NOT a hike I would recommend for anyone with a fear of heights. Beyond the trail head 50 feet is the mountain summit. To reach the summit, you actually climb hands and feet up the rock face. The website warns that there have been injuries and you are climbing at your own risk. While it wasn’t quite narrow enough or steep enough for me to feel like I was going to fall to my death at any second, it definitely got my heart pounding. I stopped maybe 40 feet up, because the final 10 feet were a little to steep for me.

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The website says the rock climbing summit part is optional and that you still get decent views with out it. I suppose it’s true, but you can bet that since I climbed 1437 feet, I was going to try for the final 50. If you aren’t going to attempt the final bit, I would say pick another hike. The views are OK without it, but not worth that amount of vertical hiking to me.

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The trip down was quicker at about 45 minutes. Round trip we spent about 3 hours on the trail. My legs were sore for two days after this hike. With these views though, I never once had to ask myself if it was worth it.

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Calla Lily Valley is an area on top of bluffs along Highway 1 in Big Sur.

Big Sur doesn’t have the best cell phone reception and therefore following our phone’s GPS was somewhat difficult. I had printed information and maps on “Calla Lily Valley” that included the highway marker, but we still drove up and down this area of the coast not finding it. It didn’t help that we were visiting in 2016, in the height of the California drought. There were no calla lily’s to be seen. We eventually gave up and decided to get out at a place that looked pretty and had flowers.

We started out hiking a trail that was cut in the brush/flowers/grasses. It soon narrowed, but we still blindly followed it. Even though Donovan said “uh Lindsay, this isn’t a trail. This is just from water run-off.”

   

     

 I’m SO glad we did. We ended up on the edge of the cliff and could see the coast stretching out in both directions. The water crashed below us and there were greenery, succulents and flowers everywhere. The cliffside was covered in these tiny white and purple flowers, perhaps a type of wild morning glory?

      

    

  

If you’re looking for the actual Calla Lily Valley, here’s some articles by people who made it there.

Back Country Cow

Adventurer of the West