California local, Michael, is a photographer, educator, and creative. After growing up in Southern California and graduating from UCLA, he moved to the Bay Area (Ohlone Territory) where he lives out his passions of storytelling, environmental justice, and documentary journalism. In today's Weekend Agenda, he invites us on a two-wheeled journey up and down the captivating hills of San Francisco.
The city can be a pleasant, surprising mix of dense population and open space. There are plenty of quiet pockets within to relax, as there are noisy avenues to get lost.
We started our day with the rough, usual plan in mind: breathe, explore, eat, drink something yummy, and read. When I haven’t been home for a while — usually due to work — I find that returning to small, familiar practices helps me regain energy, decompress, and find some peace. One such practice is walking or running up nearby Bernal Hill. We got up early and made our way up the fire road before it got too crowded. Mostly dog-walkers — or rather, dogs — abounded, and the moody weather kept the morning calm and quiet. Bernal Hill provides a vantage point over the whole city and, because you can’t simply drive to the top, it’s usually not as crowded as its other hilly SF counterparts.
As a young-ish adult living in a city, it’s been necessary for me to intentionally stay on top of these routines, or dare I say “comfort practices," especially when working as a freelancer is sporadic in nature. Since I moved here, these practices have become more or less established.
One of the first was biking: biking for fun. Biking to commute. Biking just to move my legs for a bit. Random jaunts on my bike quickly became a constant habit because it gets me both out of my head and where I need to go. By the time I get to my next destination, I always feel better.
Once the wind at Bernal Hill started to pick up, we decided to head out. We went back to the apartment, grabbed our bikes, and started pedaling toward the promise of food. While riding outside of the city is great, there’s a bit of a rush that comes with biking on traffic-laden roads. It could be the cars and swinging doors that almost hit you on the regular; or the random things that find their way directly in front of you (mattresses, anyone?); and yet, it’s also those moments when you get to coast and let the wind flow in and around you. It never fails to stimulate and, to be frank, provide internal peace as my shirt catches that downhill breeze after a long day.
Of course, once you start biking around enough, you start learning the best streets to go down and which to avoid entirely. In this case, going to Valencia Street and then up Market Street made the most sense. They’re two regularly navigated avenues for cyclists and commuters alike, and both have designated bike lanes.
And, when they don’t: sharrows on sharrows on sharrows everywhere.
We went to a new Scandinavian-inspired restaurant on Market by the name of Kantine. There’s always a bit of a risk when trying new places — and it kind of goes against my whole “return to the familiar” practice — but familiar people and familiar coffee go a long way.
Still, once I did start working freelance, it became necessary to plot ways that I could find peace and be cozy no matter where I went. Part of it is clothing: I wear hoodies on the regular because they create a portable nook and nest for me to stay comfy in. Add headphones to the situation and suddenly I’m in my own world.
The second part is books and hot drinks.
Bookstores, cafés, galleries that combine bookstores and café — better yet: bike shops that combine bookstores and cafés — are one way that I’ve tried to find solace in different cities where my work takes me. More than the bookstore or café itself, the books and hot drinks are what gives me a feeling of home no matter where I go.
The brunch place was packed. It seemed like we had traded spareness in one area — Bernal Hill — for density in another. A likely scenario. After we finished eating (overall A-), it was time to find the above: books and a café. So, it was back down Market Street again. A few turns later we were at Sightglass on 7th Street. After hanging up our bikes in the antechamber, the smell of roasted coffee welcomed us in.
We worked at Sightglass for a few hours and got some reading done. It’s been crucial for me to find small practices like these that I can take with me. If I can take tea with me on the go, I feel comforted through the small luxury. If I go to a friend’s in another state, I can likely count on a similar process that makes me feel at home.
Once the extra caffeine began to kick in, it was time to hop back on the bikes. Our last stop of the day was the bookstore. We were looking for two new books in particular but, when we asked, we were told they hadn’t arrived yet. So we browsed around the store, checked out my favorite section — the journals and magazines — and I tried to not look through every single one of them.
The same things that I do when I’m home can often be done when I’m traveling. I can find the quiet spaces in between the crowded ones.
Back at home, another quick ride from the bookstore, it was easy to reflect and be grateful. In a single day, I was able to hike up a hill and get the view of a city; bike across town to eat yummy food; choose from a few different bookstores and cafés to relax at; and, of course, coast around in optimal hoody weather.
A balanced adventure, accomplished.