Friday, August 31, 2007

Thoughts before the big journey begins...

It's Friday afternoon, August 31 -- later tonight, we'll be on a plane to Buenos Aires. I'm excited for the big trip to finally begin... I feel like we've been planning and shopping constantly and I'm ready to finally get into the trip. Before we leave, a few parting thoughts:

- It looks like when we return, we'll be moving to the Bay Area. After our California trip, we were having a really hard time deciding, because both cities were really great. When Carrie went back to Chicago, we had a conversation with people at work and it seemed like the Bay Area was what more people were leaning towards. While I feel bad about not going to San Diego, I'm excited about the Bay Area and I'm looking forward to being able to visit Dave and Brodie in San Diego much easier.

- This month has flown by... I had initially envisioned it as us doing some trip preparation, but mostly spending time exploring New England and relaxing. Instead, somehow things just flew by and we're leaving tonight!

- If you ever have the time and the logistics make sense, I highly recommend getting "sleeper" accomodations on an Amtrak train at least once in your life.

- The JD Drew era for the Boston Red Sox is not going over well.

- The new Miss Fairchild album is fantastic. Look to www.missfairchild.com for tour dates in your area!

Hopefully Carrie and I will be able to check in on the blog semi-regularly when we're in South America. From what we've been reading, most hotels / hostels have computers with internet access, and even smaller towns have internet cafes. Remember to enter your email address in the upper-right hand corner of the blog main page so that you receive notices whenever we update the blog. And feel free to email us personally -- It will be good to hear from people back home while we're so far away.

Hasta luego!

Dan

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

San Diego and Getting There

After our stay in the Bay Area, we took an Amtrak train to Santa Barbara. Driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara takes about 5 hours, but Amtrak takes at least 9 hours, and often more due to delays. Since it was such a long ride, we decided to upgrade to a 2 person room. The room consisted of two easy chairs facing each other with a small fold out table in the middle. The chairs can slide out to form a twin-sized bed, and above that another bed can fold down from the ceiling. Most importantly, upgrading to the suite meant we had access to all meals being served in the dining car (yay free food!). Since trains are often delayed, they couldn’t say for sure which meals we would get. We were supposed to get breakfast and lunch, but due to an hour delay, got lunch and dinner instead.

I spent the first few hours of the ride sleeping off the effects of the previous night’s baseball game and then it was time for lunch. Space is at a premium on the train so we were seated with another couple. This arrangement was actually really nice because everyone was very nice and it was fun to hear other people’s stories. For lunch we sat with a retired couple from Oklahoma who were taking trains literally all over the US. When we told them we were from Chicago, the husband told us he didn’t like Chicago. I asked why, and he said because it has a lot of low-clearance roads (he used to be a truck driver). He also asked Dan and me how long we’d been married, and we told him we weren’t. He said that if we liked, he could marry us right on the train!

That afternoon there was a wine and cheese tasting in the parlour car (lounge only accessible to people who had a reserved room). The things we tasted weren’t that exciting, but it was fun chatting with more people, and watching the train curve around the countryside.

The last few hours of the trip were the most scenic, with most of the tracks on a cliff overlooking untouched beaches. Before we knew it, we were in Santa Barbara. Train travel is very relaxing and if you have the time and are okay with delays that may double the length of the trip, I highly recommend it.

We had one day in Santa Barbara to hang out with my parents and take care of a couple things. Sadly my camera lens stopped functioning towards the end of the train ride, but miraculously, I had bought my camera exactly 355 days before it broke so the one year warranty was still good! Even more miraculously, with all the chaos of leaving Chicago, I just happened to put my camera warranty and receipt in a box we shipped to Santa Barbara (I had originally put it in a bag for the car ride to Groton, MA but remember incorrectly thinking that the warranty was up, so I may as well ship the instructions/warranty/etc to SB since there is no way I’d need it before getting back from South America). The camera was successfully fixed (yay for Panasonic for holding true on their warranty) and is currently being shipped back to Groton, MA.

The next morning we were back on an Amtrak train headed for San Diego. This was only a 5 hour ride (driving is about 3 hours). We took the 7 am train, so it was pretty empty and I could lounge out and take a nap. Around LA I woke up because the train started filling up with LA-types. However, I passed the time by making friends with a little inch worm we found crawling on the window. I put him in my leftover carrot bag, intending to let him out when we got to San Diego. However, I put him in my purse and forgot about him until a few days later. Fortunately, there had been a few droplets of water in the bag, so he managed to survive, and I found him a new home a safe distance away from Dave and Brodie’s house.

I had intended to write about our San Diego trip in this post, but I got a little carried away with Amtrak tales. I guess I’ll have to save San Diego for my next post.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dan's Guide to San Diego!

Hello again! After a pleasant stay with Carrie's parents in Santa Barbara, it was off to San Diego. We had a really great time staying with my good friend Dave and his wife Brodie, and last night we finally got back to Massachusetts. Carrie and I haven't yet made our final decision on where we're going to live next... The good news is that we've confirmed that we really can't go wrong with this decision -- both places were great.

Carrie will once again cover the fun stuff of what we did each day in San Diego, but I get the task of providing the San Diego guide, using the more analytical approach. My Bay Area post was pretty long, so I tried to shorten this one, but it still came out pretty thorough.

BASIC GEOGRAPHY OF SAN DIEGO

San Diego is somewhat unique in that the downtown is not at the center of the city in terms of north / south. Once you go south of downtown, you are very close to Mexico. The airport is right downtown, with beaches west and northwest of downtown. If you head inland and north, you hit neighborhoods like Hillcrest (the "Boystown" of San Diego), and then further north into vast residential neighborhoods, in addition to office parks. One thing I noticed about San Diego is that it really seems small geographically -- nothing is that far from anything else, and since there are lots of freeways, you can get from place to place fairly quickly and without too much traffic. OK - Let's get into the neighborhoods.

THE BEACHES (Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla)

GEOGRAPHY
Along the West Coast, from south to north, the beaches go Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla. There are more beaches to the north, but we did not make it up that far. Ocean Beach is basically west of downtown, whereas the rest are northwest of downtown. Mission Beach is a narrow strip of land bordered by the ocean to the west and Mission Bay to the east. The larger Pacific Beach has more land east of the Ocean, as Mission Bay and Mission Beach border it to the South. North of Pacific Beach is La Jolla, which has beaches and some cliffs on the ocean.

PEOPLE
The people you find at the beaches are different for each area. Ocean Beach was described to us as being the more "hippie" beach neighborhood, and we did observe that to an extent. Our friends also warned us that there were more homeless in Ocean Beach. The ages were quite varied. Once you move into Mission and Pacific Beaches, you run into a younger, party oriented crowd. Carrie and I felt that we might be a little bit too old for the neighborhood, and we became turned off by the constant catcalls from drunk guys driving by in pickup trucks. As you head into the more upscale La Jolla, we found more tourists and older, wealthier residents. My thought was that this neighborhood was a little too ritzy for my taste.

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
In the beach neighborhoods, when the weather is always perfect, the beach is definitely the place to be. The ocean is great for swimming (although a little cold in the winter, we hear), and the sand at the beach is fantastic. Alcohol is allowed at beaches, which appears to be quite popular in Pacific Beach especially. Assuming your apartment has a balcony or a yard, you can barbecue every day, 365 days a year. There are also restaurants and bars. The Pacific Beach bars are similar to Wrigleyville after Cubs games, except people are wearing bathing suits and there is more outdoor seating. The restaurants vary from cheap fast food to upscale. There are some hotel / beach club type places that have live music, but we didn't check those out as much.

WEATHER
After hearing so much about the "perfect" San Diego weather, I was curious to see if it could live up to the hype. It did. Every single day, there is a blue sky with some occasional floating clouds. The beaches get a few more clouds, but they quickly burn off. The temperature during the day is always in the 70s, but could occasionally float into the 80s on "hot" days. At night, the weather cools into the 60s, and is comfortable for sleeping. I've been told that it can occasionally get into the 50s in the winter, and it even rains for a few days in January.

GETTING AROUND
This is Southern California, so cars are the primary mode of transportation. However, if you live in the beach neighborhood and want to go to the beach, walking is usually doable, and riding a bike is easy. There does appear to be a bus system that accesses the beaches, but we did not try it, and it does not seem heavily used. For getting to Downtown and other neighborhoods, the I-5 is the westernmost freeway and basically your primary option from the Beaches.

SPORTS
I guess there could be Frisbee on the beach -- but the pro sports teams are inland. Since one can get around San Diego pretty quickly, the sports teams are not all that far away.

OVERALL
San Diego's beaches are beautiful, and well worth going to. However, I'm not sure that I'd want to live in the beach towns themselves. Pacific Beach is too "frat party" like, and La Jolla is too ritzy. Ocean Beach might be a possibility, but we'd need to spend a little more time there to know for sure.

DOWNTOWN / LITTLE ITALY / HILLCREST / BANKER'S HILL

GEOGRAPHY
From the beaches, head inland and a little south, and you'll hit the more "urban" San Diego. Downtown is south and west, and has the airport, tall buildings, and the like. Little Italy is basically part of downtown. Banker's Hill is just north of downtown, and is a fairly residential neighborhood with a canyon running through it. Hillcrest is also north of downtown and inland from Banker's Hill. Downtown is generally east of the I-5 and south of the I-8. The very large and pretty Balboa Park borders nearly all of these neighborhoods to the east.

PEOPLE
These neighborhoods are more urban, so you'll find a more diverse crowd here. This is also a somewhat more intellectual crowd than the beaches. Downtown is primarily the financial / big business / hotel district, so you'll see plenty of tourists and business people here. Hillcrest is the openly gay-friendly neighborhood. Banker's Hill seemed like it would be home to professionals, but we didn't really get a sense of the people there.

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
Downtown has the Gaslamp District, which is full of restaurants and bars. There is also live music downtown. Little Italy obviously has tons of Italian restaurants. Balboa Park is nearby, which contains lots of open green space. Hillcrest contains plenty of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

WEATHER
Same as the beaches, except even fewer clouds.

GETTING AROUND

Downtown has a trolley system (pictured above), but its scope is fairly limited. We rode the trolley from the Amtrak station to the airport Enterprise rent-a-car location, and the ride was pleasant enough. The fare varies depending on how far you go, and what's interesting is that paying the fare is based on the honors system. We were told that occasionally attendants will randomly come on a trolley and check for tickets, and if you don't have a ticket, you pay an enormous fine (~$80-$100). Within Hillcrest, things are very walkable. One can also walk from Banker's Hill to Downtown or Hillcrest, or Little Italy to Downtown, etc, although the walking distances are longer. Since the weather is always nice, long walks aren't necessarily a bad thing. Biking also seems like it could work, although you're often sharing the road with cars. If you are more pressed for time, the car is certainly the primary method of transportation.

SPORTS
The Padres (baseball) play downtown in the brand new Petco Park. Unfortunately they were on the road while we were visiting, so we didn't get a chance to enter the park. The Chargers (football) play in Qualcomm Stadium, which is north and east of downtown, but is easily accessible by many freeways. Unfortunately, there is no pro basketball in San Diego.

OVERALL
Provided appropriate housing options were available, I could definitely see myself living in these parts. Little Italy and Downtown are fairly expensive and more "high-rise" like, so those might not be good options. Hillcrest and Banker's Hill seem like better and more affordable options.

UTC / CLAREMONT / TIERRASANTA

GEOGRAPHY
Head north of downtown, and more inland from the beaches. UTC is just east of La Jolla, Claremont is a little more east of Pacific Beach, and Tierrasanta is further east. The Beaches are anywhere from 3-10 miles away from these areas. Things become a little more spread out and suburban here. The residential neighborhoods tend to be more subdivision like, and there are more office parks. In terms of residential areas, Tierrasanta seemed very appealing with more green / tree-lined streets and more space for your money. UTC tends to have more condo-like units that are parts of larger communities that share pools / health clubs, etc. Claremont has more typical small houses. There are some large canyons that go through Claremont. All of these areas are close to multiple freeways, making the rest of San Diego fairly easily accessible.

PEOPLE
These areas appear to have your standard family / middle class housing. This is definitely a more suburban crowd.

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
Some residential complexes have their own pools and gym, and they may have events going on. In terms of restaurants / bars / shops, there tend to be more strip-malls and fewer dense streets. We'd no longer be able to leave the apartment and walk to a restaurant. However, since these areas are very centrally located, it wouldn't be difficult to drive downtown or to the beaches, where there are more entertainment options available.

WEATHER
It's still San Diego, so nothing to complain about here.

GETTING AROUND
Here, it's almost exclusively the car. Biking is possible, but the area is fairly hilly, so we'd certainly get in shape.

SPORTS
These areas are probably closest to the football stadium, although with all of the freeways near here, getting to Petco Park can't be too hard.

OVERALL
It would be an adjustment, but I think this area could work, especially if the new office were to be in the area. We'd need to find the right type of apartment, but it's possible.

That's all for now. We really enjoyed San Diego, but we also enjoyed the Bay Area, so Carrie and I have some thinking to do. We may need to do what we do best -- make a spreadsheet and start figuring things out. Once we get this California decision settled, I'll post more about the other fun California things like the Amtrak... and then we'll be in full scale South America prep-mode! I can't believe it's only a couple weeks away.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bay Area Adventures!

After a quick stop in Groton, MA, it was on to California to determine where we should live when our travels are over. We took car to commuter rail, commuter rail to the T, the T to the silver line (an underground bus that Boston likes to pretend is a train), silver line to airplane, airplane to airport shuttle in SFO, shuttle to BART, and BART to my brother’s apartment!

Chris very nicely let us borrow his car, so our first day in San Francisco, we decided to explore the East Bay (Berkley, Oakland, etc). We looked up a couple apartment listings on Craigslist and entered them into Dan’s GPS navigator. However, we kept ending up in “not so nice” parts of town, so instead, Dan came up with the idea of looking for interesting neighborhoods online and then using Google Earth to locate which streets looked like main drags. After driving down the main drag, if it looked like someplace we’d consider living, we would park and take a closer look. If we still liked what we saw, we’d also check out the nearby residential area. We found that looking at the cars in the neighborhood was a good way to determine if it is in our price range. Check out Dan’s blog to see a very thorough analysis of what we thought of the bay area.

In addition, to researching the Bay Area, we managed to squeeze in some entertainment as well. On Thursday we visited my Grandpa in Lafayette. He is 94, but still lives in the same house my Mom grew up in and is doing very well. He has a magic peach tree that grows 2 varieties of plums (he actually grafted the plum branches onto the tree). Thursday evening Chris’ friends, Sam and Katie, showed us around Oakland and Berkley. The highlight of the evening was going to this amazing dive bar tucked away in the back of a strip mall in El Cerrito. In addition to surprisingly cheap drinks, they had old fashioned d├ęcor with velvet wall paper!

Friday we explored San Jose and the Peninsula (south of San Francisco). In addition to exploring neihborhoods (see Dan’s blog), we decided to check out three of our favorite investments; Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), and Spongecell (privately held). We knew we were at Apple headquarters when everyone we saw were nerds, wearing jeans, either listening to their iPods and/or playing with their iPhones. We drove around Infinite Loop (name of the street) and then went to their visitor center. We asked for a tour and they very nicely told us that if we don’t have an appointment, we must leave. We asked if they had a museum of old Apple products and they said they had closed it because they needed the space, but that they had a visitor store that we were welcome to check out. We skipped the store and headed for Google.

After walking past the beach volley ball court and a security guard on a Segway, we made our way to Google’s visitor center. We told them we were investors and that we would like a tour. They also very nicely told us that unless we had an appointment, we must leave immediately, but unlike Apple, they gave us free juice on our way out! Next we headed to Spongecell’s headquarters, where they not only gave us a full tour, but they also gave us free pizza and booze!

On Saturday my brother hosted a BBQ. His backyard has a nice big deck and we lucked out and had amazingly sunny day. Chris bought several pounds of sausage from Costco and we made super fresh screwdrivers from oranges we squeezed ourselves (the vodka was store bought). That evening we met up with Dan’s friend Scott and his wife Jen, and we went to another party. The apartment was on a hill overlooking the city and as the fog thinned out towards the end of the party, we had a perfect view of Alcatraz.

Sunday we were back to work investigating the Bay Area, this time touring San Francisco on foot with my brother. San Francisco is extremely hilly, which made for a perfect opportunity to test out my new hiking boots for the hike to Machu Picchu. They definitely need some more breaking in. Sunday evening we went to a jazz club in Oakland called Yoshi’s. We happened to catch the last night of the Pete Escovedo Orchestra. They’re from Oakland and had a lot of friends and family there that night, so they really let loose! In addition to his usual group Pete brought up 2 sons and a daughter and in addition to ragging on each other, they played some great Latin jazz.

Monday evening my brother’s company, Spongecell, took everyone to the Giants game. We all wore Spongecell T-shirts, and it was Irsh heritage day so we also got free hats! AT&T Park has an amazing view and our upper deck seats had a very nice view of the field. However, the $8 beers and lack of beer vendors were a little disappointing. It just so happened that Barry Bonds had recently tied for most career home runs, and he could potentially have broken the record at that game. Everyone has very excited! However, after several failed at bats, they took Barry out. Despite the tie score, at least half the fans left! I was very disappointed in the Giants fans. I was also disappointed to see Barry Bonds beat the home run record at the very next game! At least we got to see it on my parents fancy TV in Santa Barbara.

After nine innings the score was still tied, and all but 5 of the Spongecell group remained. Fortunately, the Giants managed to pull out a win after only a few additional innings! We went out to a bar to celebrate, and when we left, this random dude came up and asked if we wanted to
ride a tractor with him. I thought I had left behind all my tractor riding oppurtunites in the Midwest, so I was curious to find out what he meant. We followed him around the corner, and he told us he had noticed a construction site where they had left the keys in one of the machines! He got in, turned it on, and started moving the arm up and down. A night watchman came over and fairly quickly put his antics to an end. The next morning we woke up at 5:20 AM to take the train to Santa Barbara. I'll write more later, but for now I'm heading to the beach!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Bay Area (and more!)

Hello again... It's been a little while since we last posted, so to make up for it, this one will be really long. Carrie and I are doing really well. Right now, we're at Carrie's parents' house in Santa Barbara, and shortly we will be boarding the Amtrak for San Diego.

Speaking for myself, I've begun getting used to our new lifestyle. It's certainly a change. We don't really have homes anymore. It will be a long time before I sleep in my own bed again, and when that happens, it will be a new bed in California. It's nice not having tight schedules, and not working certainly frees up some time, but the new stresses come from traveling in unfamiliar territory all the time, and trying to make enough sense out of new places to be able to decide, "could I live here and enjoy it?"

We're also spending time with lots of new people. Whether it was my family in Hanford Bay, my parents, Carrie's brother and friends, or Carrie's parents, it's been really neat getting to spend time with people we only get to see a few times a year. I've gotten to see some old friends who I probably haven't seen in 10+ years. I'm looking forward to continuing this for the rest of August.

I'm also getting used to not being fully in touch with the world at all times. I didn't find out about the Minnesota bridge collapse until a day or two later (while Carrie and I drove all over the Bay Area on giant bridges). I didn't realize Barry Bonds had tied Hank Aaron's record until I learned that I would be at the game when he could potentially break the record (more on that later). As we spent a day in Groton MA, I learned that the Celtics had gotten Kevin Garnett on the same day that the Red Sox got Eric Gagne. The notoriously skeptical Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column in the Boston Globe that now was the best time ever to be a New England sports fan. Then I packed up and got ready to check out my new home state of California, on the opposite coast from New England. In away, it's been refreshing to get away from the 24-7 news coverage that the internet, CNN, ESPN, and the like make available.

OK - Enough deep thoughts for now... let's get to what we've seen over the past week or so. Specifically, THE BAY AREA.

I've decided to break this down into different regions of the Bay Area, and then describe our impressions of different factors for each region.

The Bay Area can be broken down to 5 parts: San Francisco, north of San Francisco, East Bay, San Jose, and Silicon Valley / The Peninsula.

NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO

Carrie and I didn't go north of San Francisco. It's extremely expensive, even by Bay Area standards, and it's only connected to the rest of the Bay Area by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. For those reasons, we ruled that area out.

SAN FRANCISCO




GEOGRAPHY
San Francisco is surrounded by water to the west, north, and east. With so much water surrounding it, San Francisco is not especially large from a geography perspective. The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to the north, and the Bay Bridge connects it to the East Bay. Both bridges area really pretty, and the views are beautiful on a clear day. San Francisco itself is made of many small neighborhoods, each with their own "micro-climates" and unique characteristics. Most of San Francisco is very hilly... it amazes me that they decided to build a city on such hilly land. That said, the topography of San Francisco is a lot of fun. If you live on a hill, you can get some amazing views of the city and water below. The picture above is from an apartment in the Russian Hill neighborhood.

PEOPLE
Carrie and I met a bunch of neat people in San Francisco. Very generally speaking, people in San Francisco are very intelligent and friendly. People like to have fun like anywhere else. What I noticed that was different was that people in San Francisco are really into things like recycling, riding bikes to work, stopping their cars for people in the crosswalk, and the like. People are very open -- at one bar, we witnessed a lesbian strip poker game!

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
San Francisco is a major city, and arguably the most culturally active city on the west coast. There is plenty of music of all types. Bars are plentiful and diverse. We ate lots of good food. There are neat parks where you can go for hikes and climbs, right in the city. San Francisco needs no help in this area.

NEIGHBORHOODS / HOUSING
Due to its geographic restrictions, San Francisco is a pretty dense city. Some neighborhoods are quite crowded with lots of apartments, restaurants, shops, and bars right near each other. Since Carrie and I are looking for a slightly less urban environment than Lakeview in Chicago, this makes some San Francisco neighborhoods less desirable. Generally speaking, we liked places near the Panhandle, the Haight, or around Cole Valley. These neighborhoods were a little quieter and had a little bit less traffic. One neat thing we saw was that many apartments have nice back yards (pictured below)



GETTING AROUND
There are many, many ways to get around San Francisco. One can walk places, although this becomes more difficult in the really hilly neighborhoods. Biking is common, and they even have topographical maps for bikers. We also saw a lot of people riding motor scooters and motorcycles. In terms of public transportation, San Francisco has the MUNI system which goes through San Francisco itself and has good city coverage. The BART system is more well known, and it connects San Francisco to the East Bay, but it doesn't have great coverage in San Francisco itself. That said, in terms of speed and reliability, BART is like heaven compared to the CTA or the MBTA. The trains run on schedule, the stations tell you when the next trains are coming, the trains move quickly, and the seats are comfortable and clean. You do pay more for BART -- they charge by distance, and we always paid at least $2.90 for a one way fare (it was over $5 one way from the airport). For driving in San Francisco, it didn't seem that bad within the city. The hills get a little frightening with a manual transmission, but traffic isn't horrible. Getting across the bridges to other cities can be another story, especially during rush hour.

WEATHER
The weather in San Francisco is cold! A sweater and pants were basically mandatory at night. In some neighborhoods, fog hangs over the city most days. Other neighborhoods such as The Mission get more sun, but even they have a lot of fog. In our 5.5 days in the Bay Area, we got 1 really nice sunny day, and one other day where we got some sun. The rest of the days were largely foggy, and one day had a slow light drizzle for much of the day. To summarize -- you won't get a lot of really great weather days, but you won't get a lot of really bad days either. It never gets THAT cold, especially by Chicago or Boston standards.

SPORTS
The Giants play at AT&T Park, which is a beautiful park right on the bay. I must admit, this is a beautiful place to watch a game. While the atmosphere is nowhere even close to Fenway or Wrigley, the physical setting is spectacular. Unfortunately, the beers are $8+, and food is also expensive. The most popular food item appears to be garlic fries, which I tried and were very delicious, although it leaves you with some interesting breath for the rest of your night. I'll have more on the baseball game later.

For NFL, the 49ers are here, although we didn't check out their stadium. I can't say I feel much for the 49ers... I may need to look into sports bars with NFL Sunday Ticket if I live in San Francisco. There is no NBA in San Francisco... you have to go to Oakland for that.

OVERALL
I could possibly see myself living in San Francisco, but only in certain situations. If possible, I'd want to live somewhere that wasn't as dense, where the weather wasn't foggy all the time. Having access to MUNI or BART would be nice as well. So while San Francisco could work, I think there were parts of the Bay Area that Carrie and I liked better, such as the East Bay. Speaking of which...

EAST BAY

GEOGRAPHY
When we visited the East Bay, we spent much of our time in the Oakland and Berkeley areas, with a little time in Emeryville and Alameda. Generally, there is more space here, and the hills are a little less extreme than San Francisco.

PEOPLE
Oakland is an incredibly diverse and integrated city. Carrie and I were once again amazed as people always stopped their cars even as we approached a crosswalk! Very generally speaking, people in Oakland seemed down to earth and smart, although we didn't really have a large sample size.

NEIGHBORHOODS / HOUSING
Much like the South Side of Chicago, the East Bay has kind of a tough reputation. While one can find neighborhoods that are pretty scary, there are a lot of really beautiful, vibrant, and safe neighborhoods as well. Carrie and I liked the Rockridge area, as well as Piedmont Avenue, and some areas surrounding Lake Merritt. Generally speaking, housing in Oakland is more house-based, as opposed to apartment buildings in San Francisco. People looking to rent could live in one floor of a large house, or possibly even get a small cottage for themselves. One Oakland resident told us that if you live in Oakland, you get views of San Francisco, which is really pretty, whereas if you live in San Francisco, you get views of Oakland. Parts of Downtown Oakland and Emeryville are growing, and they are attempting to lure small businesses. The key is being very selective in exactly where you locate... as there are some parts of town that are not so attractive.

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
While there is probably more going on in San Francisco, Oakland does have its own scene. One night, Carrie and I went to Yoshi's, which is a big name jazz club and sushi restaurant (what a great combination!) Oakland is a little bit more up and coming... While Yoshi's was nice, there really wasn't much else going on in the area surrounding the jazz club. Each of our favorite neighborhoods did have plenty of restaurants, and while the number of bars isn't at Chicago levels, it appears to be enough.

GETTING AROUND
BART goes to the East Bay, and it is a great way to get across the Bay. You could also use BART to an extent within Oakland, depending on where you live. Oakland also appears to have its own bus system. Biking seems doable, although Oakland is a little more spread out, so you may go for longer distances. To go far in the East Bay, you'd almost definitely need a car.

WEATHER
The East Bay still has its share of fog. However, it appears to get a little more sun than San Francisco, and it is a few degrees warmer every day.

SPORTS
The Oakland A's play at the Coloseum, which I understand is a pretty lousy baseball stadium. We met one Oakland A's fan, who basically said that people who go to A's game are there for the baseball, and the baseball alone. This actually sounds more like my style of baseball. The A's share the Coloseum with the Raiders, who are fairly famous for their fans and antics. I could see myself becoming a closet Raiders fan, unless they faced the Patriots (and maybe the Bears). The Golden State Warriors play in the same sports complex. ESPN's Bill Simmons has written extensively about how Golden State gets great home crowds, so this could be another good option.

OVERALL
Carrie and I liked the East Bay a lot. It is a little calmer than San Francisco, and more up and coming. As long as you are selective with locations, it seems like you could get more for your money, both in terms of housing and office space. I could definitely see myself living here.

SAN JOSE

GEOGRAPHY
San Jose is located South of San Francisco and Oakland, at the bottom of the bay. In terms of population, it is actually the largest city in the Bay Area. CalTrain (the commuter rail) can get you to San Francisco, or you can drive on the 101 or 280 freeways. Oakland is accessible via freeway as well.

WEATHER
San Jose gets much, much more sun than San Francisco and Oakland. It's also warmer here. You can't argue with that.

CULTURE / THINGS TO DO
It appears that there are ample things to do in San Jose, although we didn't stick around long enough to sample them. We basically got our information from newspaper listings. Driving around, it did appear that there were plenty of restaurants, shops, and bars, and there were lots of signs advertising the upcoming San Jose Jazz Festival.

NEIGHBORHOODS / HOUSING
Downtown looked nice. It was very clean and had lots of trees. Once we got a few blocks out of downtown, it got more residential, with plenty of nice areas. A renter could live in part of a house or in a smaller cottage. The Willow Glen neighborhood was pleasant, with its own commercial district. Japantown left something to be desired, only because it was really small and didn't have a whole lot of variety. Below are a couple pictures from Downtown.





GETTING AROUND
San Jose appears to have some light rail, and possibly some buses. Driving most likely is the most common mode of transportation, although bike riding could probably work as well.

SPORTS
San Jose is home to hockey's Sharks, and that's about it for professional sports. I believe they have minor league baseball though.

OVERALL
Carrie and I liked San Jose, and I could maybe, maybe see myself living there. To me, things felt a little bit too new and clean... the whole place felt a little sterile. The other issue is that we don't really know anyone down here. So it's possible, but not my first preference.

SILICON VALLEY / THE PENINSULA

I won't get into too much here. Yes, the weather is nicer here. The city of Mountain View did have a pretty downtown commercial strip of restaurants with lots of outdoor seating (pictured below), and Google gives the entire city free wireless internet.



Cities like Cupertino and Sunnyvale left much to be desired. Redwood City wasn't too bad, but I think we'd end up making lots of trips into San Francisco when we wanted to do anything cultural. It was fun going to Apple HQ and Google HQ and being promptly asked to leave immediately though.

In conclusion -- Our trip definitely gave me some clarity as to what the options were within the Bay Area. I could definitely see myself living there, provided I choose carefully.

COMING SOON: The 9.5 hour Amtrak experience, and what it was like to be at AT&T Park for a game when Barry Bonds was going for 756.