Things to do in San Francisco, CA

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San Francisco is a city of color. The streets are lined with buildings and houses painted all sorts of pigments; pastel pinks, yellows, blues, greens. It isn’t tacky, it’s enchanting. There are flowers growing on every other building, purples and hot pinks scaling the pastel walls. The people here aren’t one color either (a symptom of small cities like Springfield) they are black, caramel, ivory, tan, all sorts. There is a grey fog that engulfs the coast often, but when it floats away it reveals a red bridge, lush trees and aqua waters.

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We spent the majority of our time in the Mission District, known for its Latino roots. We ate delicious Mexican and Cuban food; meandered through unique shops that hosted things like organic foods, vintage jewelry, small batch chocolate, flower bouquets, botany books, dried butterflies, odds and ends; and soaked in the energy of so many people in one place.


Shops we visited:

Paxton Gate

Bi-Rite



Landmarks we walked:

Pier 39

Golden Gate Bridge

Lombard Street

Sutro Baths

Treasure Island

China Beach


We did typical tourist things as well: drove down Lombard Street and walked Pier 39. These things we did because it seemed a requirement of visiting the city for the first time, but really, I’d rather wander and explore the places the locals inhabit.

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We explored the sandy parts of San Francisco as well: China Beach and the Sutro Baths. We climbed on cliffs and massive rocks that sat on the edge of the waves, begging to be perched upon. We watched pups play in the cold, salty ocean; digging holes and catching tennis balls.

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The energy of the city was tangible, and the way the ocean mingled with the greasiness of the city was addicting. I had never been in a massive city that hosted hilly roads and such an earthy environment alongside the bustle of millions of people. San Francisco is unlike any other city I have been. I left hoping that we would someday be back, and hopefully for longer.

Things to do in Canyonlands National Park

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We fell asleep before sunset. We left the rainfly off of our tent so that we could see the wide open sky and the sun as it shined golden through the clouds. We had just filled our bellies with plates piled with cooked rice, beans, bell peppers and onions. We were exhausted from a full day of driving and hiking through Arches National Park. The next morning we would get up around sunrise to explore Canyonlands National Park.

I woke up about an hour after we had fallen asleep, the full moon was shining bright in our tent and lighting up the night. Though we were in the desert, the night was cool enough to use a light blanket. Perfect. I unzipped the tent and left the warmth of our bodies cuddled together to pee in the desert sand. I didn’t even need a flashlight.

At 3 A.M. I woke up again. My eyes opened to a dark sky filled with billions of stars and the Milky Way waterfalling right down the center. The moon had set and left the sky the darkest I had ever seen. I nudged Parker awake, pointed and we both sleepily stared in awe. How grand it was. With stars in our eyes, we drifted back to sleep till sunrise.


Travel Tip: Sleep with the rainfly off of your tent as much as possible. Not only does it create air flow, but it offers the best sky viewings. Watch the sunset as you fall asleep, wake up to the milky way in the middle of the night, watch the sunrise in the morning.


In the morning we packed up our camp and drove about 20 minutes to Canyonlands National Park. The sun was rising as we drove into the park, surrounding the orange rocks with a pink and purple sky. Canyonlands is smaller than Arches, so we were able to do two hikes and drive the entire park in just a few hours.

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As its name suggests, the park is a canyon that you drive around and hike the edges of. The first hike we did was to Mesa Arch, an arch that creates a peephole into the canyon (a very large peephole). The trail is only 0.7 miles round trip and is one of the most popular in the park, but the earlier you get there, the less people there are.

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The next hike we did was Grand View Point trail . And boy was it grand. This 1.9 mile round trip trail went along the edges of the canyon, making for breathtaking views every step of the way. There are no railings to keep you from getting too close to the edge, so you can go ahead and dangle your feet over the sides of the rocks. This was the first place where I stopped and painted. It seemed perfect, as the morning air was still cool and the colors of the canyons were at their richest.


Travel Tip: Stop and sit. Even if you’re not an artist, there’s so much value in stopping at the end of the trail to take everything in; to set down the camera and simply enjoy the earth beneath you and whatever is in front of you. Sit and stare. Sit and talk. Sit and laugh. Just take it in.


I pulled out my sketchbook and watercolors. I painted what laid in front of me, with no purpose except to create; something I hadn’t been able to do in months. Most days I am painting for other people, but on this trip I was able to paint with abandon, with no care as to how the pieces would turn out. It was a taste of freedom I hadn’t felt in awhile.

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After I finished, we headed back to our car, ran into someone from Missouri (he saw Parker’s Kansas City Royals hat), chatted a little, then headed to our next destination: Great Basin National Park. The excitement and inspiration was beginning to bubble up within me. Our first two national parks stirred something in me that I had been aching for.