From San Francisco to San Diego: A mini-West Coast guide

By Romina Cunanan

A young Filipina embraces the challenges of travelling amid pandemic restrictions and re-discovers the joys of adventure in the U.S. West Coast.

Travelling in these turbulent times is indeed a luxury to most, and definitely a crazy thought considering how the pandemic doesn’t look like it’s slowing down for us. But a few months ago, I decided to pursue that crazy thought inside and booked a flight to California (and decided to stay there for a long while.)

It was definitely exciting to do something I was truly passionate about pre-pandemic: that excitement of booking a flight and planning everything down from my meals to my outfits, that rush of coming to the airport with my cold weather coat in hand, ready for the next adventure; and just that chance to experience literally anything else outside the four walls of my household, which I’ve come to both love and loathe in the almost two years that have passed. 

I lived in California a few years ago. During those times I was still quite confused about what to do after graduating from university and what career I wanted to pursue. But as time passed and a lot of things have definitely changed, I always love coming back to the relaxed vibe and sunny shores of the West Coast. 

Here I share my thoughts and snippets on my favorite California cities, and how the West is living with our new reality in 2021: 

Santa Cruz

The central California coastline along West Cliff Drive

I lived in this lovely beach town of Santa Cruz, California in my early twenties. It’s a relatively unknown California destination for foreign tourists, especially compared to the behemoths Los Angeles and San Francisco. But it’s an idyllic retreat, only some 30-minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley.

This town is particularly known for its beautiful coastline beaches, heavy surfing culture and very laid-back lifestyle. I urge a lot of my friends who make their way up to the Bay Area to also put Santa Cruz on their itinerary.

Displays at Verve Coffee and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Enjoy a scenic walk along the California coast on West Cliff Drive, grab a cup of coffee at the proudly local Verve (which, fun fact, you can get a taste of at Farmacy in BGC through the Verve Coffee ice cream!), or go have a fun day in the sun at one of the many beaches within a close radius. 

San Francisco

The first time I stepped on the streets of San Francisco almost a decade ago, I knew it was a city I would always come to love. The popular SF sights are popular for a reason: every inch of this city is beautifully wrapped in a gritty glow. Even though it isn’t perfect, people always find a reason to come here (and stay here!) 

The Painted Ladies, night view of the Ferry Building, at the Palace of Fine Arts

Apart from the bucket list destinations of the Golden Gate Bridge, Painted Ladies and the Palace of Fine Arts, I personally love grabbing a cup of ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery (ice cream is BIG in the Bay Area), checking out the newest exhibits at SFMoMa, or hanging out around the lush greenery of the Golden Gate Park. Also grab a bite of a San Francisco burrito at a taqueria in the Mission. For my fellow Filipinos, Senor Sisig is definitely a must-try!

San Diego

From left: The Museum of Us at Balboa Park, Little Italy, sunset overlooking Del Mar beach

During this trip was my first time travelling to the very South of the state. I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never really felt a yearning to go to San Diego to explore. But I was pleasantly surprised at what the city had to offer. 

Drive down to Little Italy to taste some pasta and pizza comparable to a table in Rome (albeit the sizes are comparatively larger), take a relaxing stroll on the beaches of quaint Del Mar, admire the gorgeous architecture at Balboa Park, or bask in the history and life of the US Navy at the USS Midway Museum, wherein they transformed an old Navy ship into an immersive experience of life at sea for tourists and enthusiasts alike. 

San Jose (and all of Silicon Valley)

On the Google Campus in Mountain View and the Apple Visitor Center in Cupertino

Living in America back then, San Jose has become a familiar place – a.k.a. somewhere I can get a taste of home through food. There are countless Filipino restaurants here, with several Jollibee branches here and there. But what the city is most known for in the food scene is the wide selection of Vietnamese food. Whether you want Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh eats, you can definitely get it anywhere in San Jose. 

As the hub of the world’s leading tech companies, you can also do a mini field trip of the different tech offices around the area: Apple in Cupertino, Google in Mountain View, Netflix in Los Gatos, and Facebook in Menlo Park.

Carmel (and the central coast)

From left: Carmel Bakery, coffee outside the Carmel Valley Roasting Company, Bixby Creek Bridge

Carmel is another California destination not popular with foreign tourists, but it’s fast become one of my favorite places since I first travelled there some few years ago. It’s a charming town of manicured lawns, art galleries and many, many dogs. It was said American actress Doris Day can be credited for making the city pet-friendly, as most furry friends are welcome in any establishment (most times are welcomed more warmly than people.)

You can get lost for hours going around the picturesque streets, navigating through the cutely curated maze of cafes, local goods and art galleries. Grab a scrumptious pastry at the popular Carmel Bakery, or get a local brew at Carmel Valley Roasting Company. 

While already in the Central Coast, make the 20-minute drive out towards Big Sur to the Bixby Bridge, an architectural marvel seen in countless car commercials, earning its title of “Most Instagrammed Bridge in California.” Also visit neighboring Monterey to take a stroll on the strip of Cannery Row, or to immerse yourself in the marine life housed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For Forrest Gump fans, Monterey houses the first ever location of the brought-to-life restaurant, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

It was definitely a surreal treat to be able to travel to America in 2021, and I’m thankful I got the chance to see my family and spend some quality time with them. Masks are still definitely a thing, as most places require them for indoor locations, and most corners of public spaces have hand sanitizer or hand washing stations. Selectively, some establishments don’t require masks for the vaccinated, and the outdoors are fair game. But definitely no face shields in sight!

The top thing I realized during this trip is that the US is not afraid of COVID anymore (or appear to be blatantly lax about it), and that’s one thing I think they’re doing right. We may not find the cure soon, so we should stop living in fear and start responsibly co-existing with it. Life beyond the pandemic is possible, but it’s up to us to take those next big steps. I hope our country will see it that way soon, too. 

About the Writer
Romina Cunanan

Romina Cunanan is a twenty-something PR professional living in the nature sprawls south of Manila. Apart from her day job at an eCommerce firm, she keeps herself busy through exploring the Metro’s food and cafe scene, catching up on business and tech news, or finding avenues to contribute to her personal passions of environmentalism and sustainability.

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