A Day Exploring San Francisco’s Spectacular Coastline

Already spoiled with panoramic bay views, high hilltop outlooks, and charming natural oases, the downtown dwellers of San Francisco rarely make it all the way to the other side of the city. It’s a bit ridiculous given the 7×7 quaintness of San Francisco, but, hey, it’s quicker to cross the bay into Oakland then to journey all the way to the outer reaches of Fog City—a nickname that only becomes fully realized the more you venture west.

So, Big & I decided to take a day trip out to the coast, to nosh on some fancy toast, explore whimsical windmills, climb up sandy dunes, wander through ruins, hike the coast, and walk what has to be one of the most scenic labyrinths in the world. Here’s a look at our journey, with full details (and a handy walking map!) below—we recommend every part of it.


1. Trouble Coffee Co.: Grab a coffee, coconut, and slice of cinnamon toast

This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
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No complex menu here: just order the thick slice of cinnamon toast slathered in Grade AA butter and add a cup of joe and a fresh young coconut to wash it all down.

2. Cool Beach Bungalows: Strike a pose 

Feelin’ the colors…
Feelin’ the colors…

3. The South (Murphy) Windmill: See the largest of its kind in the world

The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.
The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.

4. The North (Dutch) Windmill: Frolic through the tulip gardens

The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the whimsical focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.
The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.

5. Sutro Heights Park: Get a bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
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The top of Sutro Heights Park offers sweeping views of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.
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Weave your way to the park’s peak and explore the area where Adolph Sutro’s luxurious, cliffside estate once sat above the original Cliff House.

6. Sutro Baths: Explore the abandoned ruins of what was once a world-famous pool

Sutro Baths
Sutro’s other local marvel has also been reduced to ruins, but these ones make for a pretty fun urban spelunking adventure. The Sutro Baths were once contained the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It’s now a spot to gawk at the sea, and get some pretty fantastic engagement photos!

7. Lands End Coastal Trail: Hike the well-trodden path

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At the top of Sutro Baths, take the Coastal Trail leading towards Mile Rock Beach and Eagle’s Point. This trail is fairly touristy—it’s mostly flat and grants nice views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge—but it’s easy enough to catch a moment or two of solitude, especially when you get to the big (hidden) attraction…
Mile Rock Beach Stairs
Follow the signs for Mile Rock Beach and descend the sandy stairs. Halfway down, you’ll see that the stairs continue to your left—this will take you to Mile Rock Beach. Don’t take those steps; instead, keep heading straight up to the small rocky cliff. And look down!

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Time to calm the mind and… handstand

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Go off trail for this manmade seaside wonder
This labyrinth was first created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. After a few jerks destroyed his artwork in 2013, a group of local volunteers rebuilt it in 2015.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.

9. The Golden Gate Bridge: The photo opps are endless

Can never get sick of this view...
Can never get sick of this view…

10. Lincoln Park Steps

Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.
Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.

Follow our path…

The entire 4-mile journey.
The entire 4-mile journey.

BONUS: Head into the Sea Cliff neighborhood and weave your way down to China Beach then Baker Beach. From there, you can take the Batteries to Bluffs trail to get even closer to the great Golden Gate. READ MORE HERE about that hike.

The Rich Beauty, Food, and History of Corsica, France

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This mountainous isle is a land of many contrasts. Corsica is full of natural beauty and incredible food, but it comes with quite a turbulent history. It’s home to Napoleon Bonaparte and (arguably) Christopher Columbus, two dominant figures whose widespread influence is still being felt around the world today. Despite this, present-day Corsica is a fairly sleepy island packed with fascinating historical attractions and driven by an independent spirit. Here, I’ll be featuring some of the beauty of this island in pictures, and best yet watch The Big and Small Travel Corsica Video below:

In the video above, we showcase the Citadel, beaches, historic sites, food, L’Île-Rousse, and even yoga from Handstand Steph. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the intimacy and splendor of the isle of fierce beauty.

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J-Crew overlooking the Ligurian Sea in Calvi.

The first thing we noticed on our trip to Corsica was the ubiquitous presence of the Corsican flag. The flag is bold and striking, and revealing in its black-and-white simplicity. Against a white backdrop, it depicts a Moor’s head in black with a white bandana above his eyes—a symbol of liberation, even though Corsica has mostly been under Italian or French rule.

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The Wild Boar of Corsica & the striking Corsican Flag.

This flag was everywhere, reminding us constantly of Corsica‘s strong independent spirit, which can be traced back through an interesting and significant history that includes connections to both Napoleon and Columbus. When in Calvi, I recommend exploring the citadel, which is open to the public and free to roam. It is filled with lots of small passageways, breathtaking lookouts, and interesting architecture. You’ll also notice a monument to Columbus, as well as churches and historical points that refer to the island’s existence under Genoese rule.

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Calvi Citadel – Palace of the Genovese, and reputed birthplace of Columbus. Hmm …

We present many visuals to document the citadel in Calvi, as well as the beauty and attractions at L’Île-Rousse (Red Island), named because of the color of the rocky islet that serves as a natural harbor.

You can get to L’Île-Rousse by train (which offers incredible views of the coast along the way). We recommend hiking up to the top of this part of L’Île-Rousse (just behind the train station) for great views of the Genoese tower and the vivid hills of Balagne in the background. This hike is short but intense and full of nooks and crannies that allow for great photo opps of the sea and beyond.

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Handstand Steph caught on camera at the red rocks of L’Ile-Rouse.

Overall, the food (especially the cheese and wild boar), wine, and striking landscapes are enough to make anyone swoon. But what most struck me most about Corsica was the relaxed sense of efficiency and an overall dedication to self-sufficiency. Corsica seemed to be running on its own watch, despite being part of France.  This made it feel like its own special little paradise.

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La Pietra Lighthouse in L’Ile Rouse, Corsica.
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Plage La Pinede (Calvi Beach) in Corsica.

 

I’m Afraid of the Internet: The Death of Bowie and Content as We Know It

Posing at the Berlin Wall
Posing at the Berlin Wall. Berlin inspired some of David Bowie’s most creative and productive years.

This post was originally meant to be a rumination on post-travel blues, but it has turned into something else entirely as I come to terms with settling in back home and working out my next big life step…

I’ve spent all of 2016 clicking on an endless amount of content telling me what to eat, what to do, what to be, what not to be, how to be, who to be, who I should be, who I think I am, who the enemy is, who the real enemy is, what I should care about, why I should care about it. My brain is on the fritz and I’m no more knowledgeable because of it. In fact, I’m more disillusioned, disgusted, and terrified, and I’ve had no idea how to articulate that, which makes me click on even more content to see if someone else can.

After traveling for two months, soaking up food, culture, history, different ways of seeing and believing in the big three — life, love, and death — I’ve taken to sitting on my laptop trying to find something to motivate me — to move me, because I’m not physically moving anymore. I’m filled to the brim with information and misinformation, and it’s gotten me nothing but a sore butt.

The Man Who Sold the World

This has been the ghastly state of my brain lately. And then David Bowie died. And I had received the news just as I had pressed play on “Blackstar” for at least the 100th time. I can’t even explain why this track had been haunting me so much (at least, I couldn’t before his death), other than that it is beautiful, mystical, and totally terrifying — like the most powerful images we come across on this planet. It’s Bowie pushing his toes to the edge of a cliff, scanning the endless sea below, and then diving, gleefully, into the infinite.

And the more I’ve dug into Bowie, the more I’ve fully realized what it is about him that has hit me (all of us) so hard. He represents everything this world quickly tries to beat out of us: freakiness, curiosity, rebellion. He played the system while subverting it at the same time. He even saw the internet (back in 1999, mind you) as carrying “the flag of being subversive and possibly rebellious and chaotic, nihilistic.”

So I keep thinking about this idea as I mill about online. But I’m struggling with this notion, too, because I fear the internet, as the majority of us know it and embrace it, has gone the same way as rock ’n’ roll — watered down for mass consumption. The rebels, the renegades, the nonconformists, they struggle and thrive on the fringes like they always have. They may get a bigger audience now, but only in the span of a day’s meme.

I’m Afraid of the Internet, I’m Afraid of the World

Maybe it’s because the data dutifully places us with our quantifiable doppelgangers, so we’re all placed into some little fragmented digital bubble where we all mostly, seemingly share similar ideas and experiences. The internet has turned from a heated melting pot to a cold, stagnant stew, as we all float with our likeminded kind. So, when Trump or Obama or Muslims or Christians or anti-vaxxers or vegans or anyone with any sort of nebulous label threaten our little bubbles’ beliefs, we can shout at each other, share the same (mis)information with each other, and count up the likes for validation — and not learn anything in the process.

It’s easy to blame the technology, and not just ourselves. We underestimate how easily we as humans can adapt to external stimuli, even though we’re all still run by chemicals and an ego. We still form allies and enemies, heroes and villains, just now behind screens and with the illusion that it’s all based on questionable data, statistics, and science. We forget that the internet is zeroes and ones, black and white; it’s just information organized. There’s no room for the grey of reality, for true chaos, for tangible experience. The internet is not the cause of the world’s countless schisms, but it is the messenger — and we’re all getting some part of the message, curated just for us.

So when reality bursts our bubble — when a city is attacked, when women are raped, when children are killed, when the day’s mass shooting trends — we don’t know how to cope, to relate, to comprehend, to understand each other. We become afraid of others, afraid of ourselves, afraid to leave our safe little online world where we can escape to pictures of sloths and old Bowie videos.

Under Pressure

And here’s where my current dilemma lies. My job is to write and edit content for this big, global messenger, and I’m finding it harder and harder to do just that — to write even this feels like an exercise in futility. To add to the deafening noise feels dishonest and unproductive. So, I’ve felt shiftless, and lazy, and a little scared. How do I reconcile that? How do I make a living? What would Bowie do?!

Well, he would shock the hell out of us — in a time when we can’t possibly be shocked anymore. He resurrected the ideals of rock ’n’ roll, of the internet — to subvert, challenge, and inspire — with his own departure. He made us question our own morality; he made death — the scariest thing of all — just as thrilling as life.

This going-away present has wormed its way into our collective guts. I feel it in my own, wriggling around, lighting up neurons, electrifying my brain, making me feel weird and uneasy but strangely inspired, as the best art should. It isn’t telling me what to eat, what to do, what to be, what not to be, how to be, who to be, who I should be, who I think I am, who the enemy is, who the real enemy is, what I should care about, why I should care about it. And maybe that’s all I — we — need.

Big and Small Travel are on Youtube!

Big and Small Travel have been traveling throughout Europe for two months. We’ve visited: Iceland, France, Switzerland, Corsica, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Catch up on our travels at  our Big and Small YouTube Page. Enjoy some of our most beloved videos below:

Five Tips for Visiting Lisbon, Portugal

Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal.
Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal.

The oldest capital in Western Europe, Lisboa seems to have been neglected on the tourist circuit for quite some time, but is now a hot spot, mainly because of its warmer weather and cheaper prices. We spent one week in this historic city, climbing its steep hills, walking on the slippery and beautiful mosaic sidewalks, riding its trams, checking out its street art, and eating its delicious desserts. You’ll discover that Lisbon is unique, for a European capital, because of its history, size, and lack of exposure to the rest of the world. Here are a few things we learned along the way:

Pastel de Belem is a tasty treat from Pastels de Belem, a pastry shop by Hieronymites monastery. Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry
A tasty treat from Pastels de Belem, a pastry shop by Hieronymites monastery. Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry
  1. Eat Pastel de Nata—As Often As You Can!

Portugal’s hand-sized custard tart is an absolute delight. It’s creamy, flaky, and decadent but not too sweet. We found it to be a great breakfast treat, afternoon pick-me-up, or late night sweet delight before climbing Lisboa’s steep hills. Pasteis de Belem is the place to go according to many tourist guides, but the pastries can be found at pretty much every café and patisserie throughout Portugal, starting at around 1 EU. Our favorite came from a small bakery called A Padaria Beira Tejo bakery in the Principe Real neighborhood, which is one of the hipper areas, with plenty of boutiques and artisanal food.

  1. Take a Day Trip to Sintra

For under 5 EU round trip, the 40-minute train ride from Lisboa’s Rossio station will get you to this lush, beautiful area rich with history, and dotted with exquisite castles, palaces, and gardens. Places to visit include: the gothic Palacio Nacional, the Moorish Castle ruins, the colorful Pena Palace, the grand Palacio de Monserrate, and the lush gardens of Quinta da Regaleira. The most popular attraction is the Pena Palace, but we decided to check out the Moorish Castle, the oldest of the sites—by far—dating back to the 9th and 10th century. Our second choice was Quinta Da Regaleira, which consists of a palatial mansion, luxurious park, lakes, grottoes, fountains, and mysterious symbols. Unfortunately, we got stuck in the rain on our visit, but we were able to duck into a corner spot in central Sintra called Loja Do Vinho to enjoy some local port and rose.

Sun, sea, sightseeing at Cascais, located about an hour from Lisbon.
Sun, sea, sightseeing at Cascais, located about an hour from Lisbon.
  1. Be Patient with Customer Service and Be Aware of Seemingly Free Extras and Appetizers

Customer service in Portugal is somewhat lacking. For example, we were asked to change tables—even while eating!—at three different places within our weeklong stay in Lisbon. I believe this was to accommodate as many people as possible, but it was a bit off-putting. We also noticed the staff would be changing constantly. In one restaurant, we had five different people we had ordered from—we weren’t quite sure what we would be getting.

Also, never assume that bread, olive oil, or butter are free—most often they are not—even if they serve it to you without you asking for it. The worst situation we came across was in Alfama at a fado restaurant. Right as we were seated, a waiter brought out a lush dish of appetizers including mussels and olives, along with bread. We said we didn’t want these, and saw that 10 extra Euros were crossed out from our bill at the end of the meal. Also, if you share an appetizer, you may be charged per person for it. Always ask the staff if what you are receiving is free, and be sure to carefully look over your bill.

  1. Visit the Sao Jorge Castle and Wander Around Alfama, But Avoid the Fado Restaurants
Afalma viewpoint from the top of São Jorge Castle in Lisbon.
Afalma viewpoint from the top of São Jorge Castle in Lisbon.

Alfama is a beautiful neighborhood to get lost in. Its winding streets get you from the riverfront to the Sao Jorge castle. The grand Sao Jorge sits high atop Lisbon and is full of nooks and crannies and beautiful vistas. Note that the castle may close on a rainy day (this is what happened to us!), because it can get slippery and dangerous walking around. And be sure to give yourself plenty of time to wander around (at least 1.5-2 hours), as its hard to see once the sun goes down.

The Alfama neighborhood is also home to fado. This soulful form of music (which literally means “fate”) is built on mournful, passionate lyrics peppered with feelings of resignation and melancholia—sentiments we felt summed up the overall feel of Portugal and its people. The music is beautiful and impactful and we highly recommend catching a show, but choose wisely. Alfama is filled with touristy restaurants that offer a free fado show with a very overpriced, often tasteless dinner. We made this mistake, and only found out after the fact that there are a number of spots and bars throughout the city in districts like Bairro Alto, offering free fado shows.

  1. Explore Various Neighborhoods, but Be Aware of Drug Dealers.

The city has several neighborhoods and areas to explore, including hot spots Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Principe Real, Avenida Da Liberdade, and Belem. If you visit Belem go along the waterfront and check out the 25 de Abril Bridge, which has an uncanny resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Our favorite spot was Principe Real because it was a little less touristy, with cute boutiques and modern cafes. The broad, tree-lined Avenida Da Liberdade is exquisite and dotted with outdoor cafes, some that even include a DJ.

A warning, though: when walking through these super touristy areas, especially around Rossio Square, be aware of street peddlers trying to get your attention. Drugs may be brazenly offered to you. We were offered everything from marijuana to hashish to cocaine. One guy even had a coke ball in his hand and showed it to me without hesitation or qualms. Decriminalization of recreational drugs has made it easier for this to happen, and often the dealers are peddling fake drugs.

Graffiti covered walls are art in Lisbon.
Graffiti covered walls are art in Lisbon.

Overall, Lisbon feels quite different from its fellow European capitals. Its dark history, which includes an oppressive dictatorship, along with its current economic struggles has clearly had an impact on its people and culture, while Lisbon itself feels stuck in time, from its trams to its small restaurants with written paper menus hanging outside. It’s one of the rawest, humblest, and most unrefined spots of Western Europe.

48 Hours in Dijon and Burgundy – France

The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.
The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.

Arriving in the Gothic town of Dijon by train, we were happy to be away from the hustle and grandiosity of the City of Lights. We had 48 hours to explore this city and its surrounding Burgundy region. Subscribe to our Big & Small Travel Youtube & watch:

We packed a lot in with little time and light wallets. Watch Dijon Videos by Big and Small Travel, and our other Travel Videos.

Dijon cuts the mustard.
Dijon cuts the mustard.

Most people will automatically think of mustard when they hear the name Dijon (including us). But there’s much more to the city than just an abundant amount of the delicious condiment. As the capital city of the revered Burgundy region, it’s the perfect pit-stop for wine lovers, as well as history and architecture buffs. The town dates back about 1,000 years, to around 1015, when Robert I decided to settle the capital of his duchy here. Since, it’s seen both tremendous times of power and wealth, and devastating moments under the siege of various armies.

The Liberation Square and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy
Liberation Square (Place de la Libération) and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

THE OWL’S GUIDE

Today, Dijon feels like a hidden nugget in France, in the shadow of bigger cities like Paris and Lyon. You can see magnificent architecture and ornate cathedrals, and get hearty French cuisine for a fair price. To start, we recommend heading to the tourist office and buying “The Owl’s Guide,” which maps out various walking trails throughout the city. You’ll grow to love this little owl as it diligently guides you along through historical Dijon, via gold plaques embedded into the sidewalks.

The famed and good luck Owl of Dijon.
Dijon’s good luck owl

So, why an owl?! We learned that its significance comes from an owl-shaped statue found on the original construction of Dijon’s Church of Notre-Dame Cathedral. It’s considered to be a good luck symbol, especially if you rub it. The actual owl looks a little disfigured (maybe from all of the rubbing!), but a sign claimed that it is now protected day and night after it had been vandalized in 2001.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral.
Saint-Benigne Cathedral

The Owl’s Guide gives just enough information to give you get an idea of the medieval importance and little quirks of Dijon. Some of our favorite spots along the way included the expansive and panoramic Place de la Liberation and the decadent Saint-Benigne Cathedral. See a video of Handstand Steph at Place De La Liberation from our YouTube page.

There’s the main owl trail, as well as a few extra loops (we highly recommend doing those as well—it really gives you a good sense of the city). One of these loops ends at a plaza named after the author Emile Zola. We realized we had walked this very trail on the day of his death … kind of a cool coincidence! Though Place Zola was a little underwhelming, it did house some decent restaurants.

 THE FOOD: FROM MUSTARD TO ESCARGOT

Eating escargot in Dijon.
Eating escargot in Dijon

 

After walking with the owl, you’ll likely be quite famished. Fortunately, food in Dijon is reasonably priced for France. There are several places for more traditional French food, as well as plenty of boulangeries (good for cheap baguette sandwiches) and patisseries, along with cheap spots for wraps, kebabs, and crepes.

Don’t forget to stop at the many mustard-tasting shops, like the famous Maille, to sample the delights for free. Bread sticks are provided alongside a vast array of mustard flavors—our favorite was blackcurrant. There are several boutique shops and corner stores that sell mustard, too, where you can get compact jars of various flavors for just 1 Euro. Also, give escargot a shot. This French specialty actually comes from the Burgundy region, and you can find some good deals here, as cheap as under 5 Euros.

Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune.
Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune

EXPLORING BURGUNDY: A DAY TRIP TO BEAUNE

A great and economical day trip from Dijon involves heading to the Burgundy wine town of Beaune, about 50 KM from the city center. We took the bus there for just 1.50 Euros per ticket, with total travel time at about one hour and 20 minutes. The ride is a beautiful one, as the bus snakes through small Burgundy towns and vineyards. Once we got to Beaune, we found some French fare and coffee and then headed to the tourist office, where we got tickets for 15 Euros each to the oldest and biggest wine cellar in Burgundy, called Patriarche, located right in the center of Beaune.

Wine tasting at your own pace without moderation. Wine is life.
Wine tasting at your own pace… without moderation. Wine is life.

There, we sampled over 15 wines and got an informative, unique, and personalized walk through the cellar, which winds its way through tunnels and passageways underneath the streets of Beaune. Along the way you pass by (literally) millions of bottles of wine. Best of all, you could pour and sample as much wine as you like—which meant we definitely felt a bit tipsy by the end of the tour. (Pro tip: bring water!) There are “sommeliers” available, though we only came across one and she only knew limited English. Overall, though this was a wonderful and worthwhile wine experience.

Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France.
Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France

 A WORTHWHILE TRIP

In just 48 hours you can have great wine, lip-smacking mustard, and a wonderful historical walking experience with the help of an adorable owl. What more could you want?! We highly recommend making the trip to Burgundy and Dijon. Bon voyage!

Paris Sans Cars: Less Polluted, Still Hectic

Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.
Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.

Paris’ streets are a beautiful mess—a perfect storm of cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, walkers, strollers, and runners. During our time walking (and biking) the city streets, we witnessed near-accidents nearly every half hour: buses nearly side-swiping cyclists, pedestrians running out in front of speeding autos (including one incident of tourists running across the chaotic roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe), scooters zooming past red lights.

So, a day without cars sounded like a very cool moment to be in Paris (especially as non-car-owners ourselves). The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announced the sans-car campaign in March, as a way to bring attention to worsening smog levels. On the day of, September 27, 2015, we weren’t sure how it would all go down, but we did know this was the perfect time to use the Velib city bike service.

Check out J-Crew on the scene at the Champs-Elysées!

Unfortunately, the ban was limited to only four of Paris’ twenty arrondissements, along with the usually-hectic, but picturesque Champs-Elysées. Public buses, emergency vehicles, and taxies were allowed into these “no-car” zones, creating a greater amount of confusion and probably greater chance for a pedestrian-vehicle collision. Meanwhile, outside of these blocked areas, cars were asked to cut down their speed to 20km/hour (about 12 mph)—didn’t see this at all; in fact, I think the drivers and scooterists were going even faster, probably out of frustration.

Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars
Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars

At first we mostly stuck to the already-designated bike lanes (of which, fortunately, there are many). But one of the more thrilling moments of our bike ride came when we got to zip through the tunnel along the Seine as we headed to the Champs-Elysées. From there, the renowned avenue was completely clogged with pedestrians and cyclists. It was a true game of Frogger, weaving in and out of tourists on foot and kids hanging out as if they were picnicking in the park—not to mention large tour buses and taxis. Relieved to get to the end, I will admit that riding around the Arc de Triomphe was a pretty unforgettable moment.

 

San Francisco’s 8 Best Running Trails

From hippies to techies, love-ins to hack-a-thons, the culture of San Francisco has certainly changed throughout the decades. But one thing has remained the same: the city’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. There’s eye candy surrounding nearly every nook and cranny of San Francisco, whether you’re up for taking a jog through Nob Hill, the Marina, Pacific Heights, the Presidio, even the FiDi and the Mission. It’s truly the greatest motivation to get your butt outside and moving. So, here, I’ve cobbled together a few of the city’s best urban jogging routes that will take you through breathtaking sites, streets, sidewalks, paths, natural green areas, boardwalks, and beaches. No gym membership necessary, however a word of caution: It’s always critical to watch where you’re walking/running in this city, as you may end up stepping on a stinky surprise from either dog or human… Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Before starting, check out an update with Handstand Steph at one of the more popular stair workouts in SF:

We’ll begin at our own neighborhood, with what we’ve dubbed, “The Russian-Nob Circuit,” developed and created by Handstand Steph with consultation by J-Crew.

The Steps of Ina Coolbrith Park on the Russian Nob Circuit.
Ina Coolbrith Park on the Russian Nob Circuit. Looking up the steps toward Taylor Street.

1. The Russian-Nob Circuit:

Rough Mileage: 0.6 miles one way, to the point you reach the Green Street stairs on the left side of Taylor Street.
Level of Difficulty –
Moderate-Difficult depending on how many hills you do and how fast you go.
Extra Challenge:
Make it a 6-, 8-, or 10-hill workout that spans Nob Hill and Russian Hill (see below for more details).

Trail Details: A- Begin at Pine and Taylor, which is a block down the hill from Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill. Run up and down the Taylor Hill twice, preferably from the wider left hand side, where the Masonic Center stands. Proceed north up Taylor, running toward Broadway. (Optional: Note the beauty of Grace Cathedral and, if you’re feeling extra energetic, jog up the steps past the maze, exit the Cathedral grounds on Sacramento, then head down to rejoin Taylor Street.)

Steph conquering the Broadway stairs on the 'Russian Nob
Steph conquering the Broadway stairs on the ‘Russian Nob” Circuit.

 B- Make a left turn at Broadway and run up the hill. At the top, admire the awesome view of North Beach, the Transamerica building, and the Bay Bridge.(Optional: Run the Broadway steps twice, once on each side, for an extra kick in the butt.) Turn left and continue upward (with another big hill) on Taylor.

C- At the top, and to the right, you’ll come across Ina Ina Coolbrith Park between Green Street and Broadway. This hidden gem has a beautiful and winding staircase leading to Chinatown then North Beach. Run up and down these stairs a couple times. If you’re feeling strong, continue on Taylor until you reach the Green Street steps to the left.

D- Go straight up the narrow, steep staircase, which connects to Green Street. I recommend doing these steps hard at least once or even twice before heading to Jones Street and making your way back to Pine Street.

Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing the Green Street steps, run about three blocks to Hyde Street. Take a left and continue on Hyde until you get to California Street (there are a few extra hills here to add to that workout!). Reward yourself with a treat or cup of Stumptown Coffee at Flour and Co., located at 1030 Hyde Street.

 

Running to Coit Tower
Running the Macchiarini stairs to Coit Tower.

2. The Lyon Street Steps of the Presidio:                                                        

Rough Mileage: Nearly 300 steps.
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult, depending on your speed and frequency.

Trail Details: A- Begin at Broadway and Lyon, at the top of the stairs. I usually start from the top of the hill and walk down to prepare the ascent up the majestic Lyon Street steps. On weekends and sunny days, prepare for tourists and locals with cameras, because the view is vast and regal. On the way down the stairs note the Palace of the Fine Arts and the wondrous blue hues of the Bay ahead, as well as the lush, green Presidio to the left.

Looking down from the Lyon Street Stairs.
Looking down from the Lyon Street Stairs.

B- Prepare for 288 steps, broken up into a few different staircases. From the bottom, the first half is steeper than the second half, so don’t lose hope! From there, at Vallejo, the steps get wider and are broken up into a few sections, which are flanked by elegant landscaping. At the top, you’ve reached one of the wealthiest streets on the West Coast (home to the Levi family and more) — congrats.

Extra Challenge: For a more comprehensive workout, add some push-ups and crunches at the top, then head back down and repeat until your legs shake uncontrollably. Be sure to stretch (particularly the calves and the derrière) once finished, as this stairway workout is guaranteed to hurt at least a day or two.

Steph at the bottom of the Lyon Street steps.
Steph at the bottom of the Lyon Street steps.

3.Coit Tower Run

Rough Mileage: 0.40 miles from bottom to top of the Filbert Steps
Level of Difficulty:
Easy-Moderate, depending on where you begin.

Trail Details: A- You can either start at Kearny and Broadway (to get in some more mileage) or Filbert and Columbus, where you’ll run to the start of the Coit Tower path. Starting at Kearny and Broadway will lead you to the Macchiarini stairs. Here, you’ll encounter fewer people, but will have to contend with two steep hills, with uneven steps to add to the fun. Be careful of scattered trash and people stopping on the steps. If you begin at Filbert and Columbus, you’ll experience a gradual incline until you hit the Filbert Steps.

Peter Macchiarini stairs leading to Coit Tower.
Peter Macchiarini stairs leading to Coit Tower.

B- Once you’ve reached the steps and path leading to Coit Tower you’ll see more people angling for pictures and admiring the awesome views of Downtown SF, including landmarks like the Transamerica building, North Beach and the Embarcadero. Take the stairs to the main trail leading to Coit or divert off-trail and on to the dirt for incredible views of North Beach and beyond. You’ll reach Coit Tower within 5-10 minutes. If you’re looking for a quick workout with moderate ease, this is your best urban workout.

Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing Coit Tower, run down to Columbus Avenue and go to Pacific. Grab a great cup of coffee or better yet an espresso at Reveille, located at 200 Columbus Avenue.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower

4. The Embarcadero Waterfront Route

Rough Mileage: From approximately 1.5 to over 2 miles.
Level of Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, depending on speed.

Trail Details: The ultimate run through the “concrete jungle,” the Embarcadero path is ideal and very convenient for even those coming from outside the city. Depending where you begin — good starting points include the Ferry Building, AT&T Park, or Fisherman’s Wharf — you’ll see many of San Francisco’s leading attractions. There are typically many local runners that take this path, helping to motivate any beginner runner. If that’s not motivation enough, breezy views of Coit Tower, the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, Alcatraz, and more will leave your senses overwhelmed.

Tip: Run early or later in the day to avoid higher foot-traffic times.

In awe of the Golden Gate Bridge along the Coastal Battery Trail.
In awe of the Golden Gate Bridge along the Coastal Battery Trail.

5.Coastal Trail Battery Path near Golden Gate Bridge                                  

Rough Mileage: 3.2 miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Tricky, due to trail conditions

This is a very scenic and, thus, very popular trail with its sweeping bay and ocean views. Start at Battery Chamberlin on Baker Beach, or overlooking Baker Beach on the dirt path along Lincoln Avenue. The main appeal of this trail is the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous artifacts of military history — generations of coastal defenses line the Coastal Trail between Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. The batteries along this portion of the Coastal Trail generally predate the great wars of the 20th century — Batteries East and West were erected just after the Civil War. From these forts to Nike missile sites, San Francisco’s seacoast is evidence of how the art of war and defense has evolved over the decades.

Steph checks out the numerous batteries along the Coastal Trail Battery Path.
Steph checks out the numerous batteries along the Coastal Trail Battery Path.

Tip: This is a true running trail, so beware of loose dirt, uneven ground, and rocky areas.

6. Golden Gate Park: This large, lush park is littered with trails — like the ones circling Stow Lake and going up Strawberry Hills — and even offers a well-maintained track for sprinters and stair-runners at Kezar Stadium.

Steph handstanding near Lovers Lane among one of many Presidio paths and trails.
Steph handstanding near Lovers Lane among one of many Presidio paths and trails.

7. Bernal Hill: This Outer Mission park/nature area has it all: trails, views, and elevation. There are various starting points here to get to the main trail, which circles the hill and rewards you with spectacular views of the city. You’ll be sharing the trail with lots of neighborhood residents and dog-walkers.

Your SF trail/workout warriors in the Presidio.
Your SF trail/workout warriors in the Presidio.

8. The Presidio: One of the more underrated neighborhoods in the city, the Presidio boasts numerous scenic trails (including the Coastal Trail Battery Path mentioned above) that snake through lush sections of forest and along the coast. This is a great resource for specific trail information at the Presidio Information Page.

PhotoPhiles Volume IV: The Crete Edition

Words by: Stephanie Benson  |  Photos by: JCrew and HandstandSteph

PhotoPhiles is a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. In this fourth edition, we welcome you to the mystical Greek island of Crete, home to Zeus, the Minoans, and yes, even Zach Galifianakis. Greece’s biggest island encapsulates a dichotomy of unspoiled beauty and rugged living. This is the island for beach-bumming (and bum-sunning—lots of nudist beaches for those so inclined). Our favorite beach areas were in and near the small Southern town of Matala, where the secluded Red Beach requires a good 30-minute rocky hike, and where Kommos Beach offers a long stretch of sand and some incredible views for watching the sun melt into the Libyan Sea. For a real adventure, take the long, narrow, switchback-filled road from Kissamos or Chania to the spectacular Elafonisi Beach, where you’ll be transported to French Polynesia with its crystal-clear aquamarine waters lapping serenely against soft, white (sometimes even pinkish) sand. Note: This is a hot tourist spot, so the swarms of people can take away from the postcard-worthy splendor. Continue reading “PhotoPhiles Volume IV: The Crete Edition”

PhotoPhiles Volume III: The Santorini Edition

The beauty of Santorini!
Pristine whites against breathtaking blues on the majestic island of Santorini.

PhotoPhiles is a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. In this third edition, we welcome you to the fantastical Greek island of Santorini, well-known to many as one of the most stunning and romantic places on Earth. Only with divine destruction could such surreal beauty emerge. The small island’s literal earth-shattering origins are a constant reminder as one walks, scoots, or ATVs along the jagged edges of the caldera. No, pictures don’t even come close to doing this land justice, but we’re willing to at least give it a try…

Handstand Steph ventures to the edge of paradise along the Fira-Oia path. We hiked through Firà, Firostefáni and Imerovígli, tracing the caldera and taking in incredible views every step of the way.
Cafe view in Oia had JCrew in disbelief and bliss.
JCrew enjoys a mighty cup of brew, a perfect complement to Oia’s ridiculous views.
This is where the 9km walk really turns into a hike, with near desert-like conditions. Bring water!
A thin slice of land topped with cream and sandwiched between endless serenity.
Red Beach, Santorini Salute!
JCrew shows his respect for the blazing beauty of Santorini’s Red Beach.
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No, this isn’t a funky cottage with amazing style — it’s part of a church near Red Beach in Akrotiri.
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Handstand Steph salutes the windmill and shows off her skills on the steps leading to Amoudi Bay
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Classic Santorini, sunhat and all.
Sanotrini as it is today comes from a volcanic eruption.
A constant reminder of Santorini’s volcanic roots is forever burned into the ground.
The style of Santorini
Little white boxes stacked atop the vibrant town of Fira.
Sanotini Garbage collection!
Garbage collection, Oia-style. The donkey was not as amused as we were…
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Bruiser, aka our ATV rental, posing in front of Aghios Artemios Traditional Houses, a cave hotel showcasing Cycladic architecture. The church, the only on the island with a light blue dome, dates back to the 15th century.