I sometimes wonder what it would be like living somewhere else. I’ve spent nearly 20 years in San Francisco, and I love this city immensely, so it’s hard to even imagine what that life would look like. Where would I even go? Would I still be able to do Broke-Ass Stuart? And most importantly, would there be good burritos?
Over the past 10 days or so I’ve kinda gotten an opportunity to explore this concept.
As a way to celebrate being fully vaccinated, Kayla and I decided to go on a road trip through Northern California and Oregon with my parents. At the end of May they drove up from San Diego, and we hopped in the car. First stop, Humboldt County.
One of my best friends from junior high and high school has been living in Arcata and/or Eureka since college, so it was a great place to stop for a night. Wedged between the ocean and the redwoods, and dappled with fog, these small towns are charmingly quaint, yet vibrant. My buddy Jon and his wife Amy have built a great life for themselves, becoming small business owners and highly engaged members of the local community. Their hotel/bar/café the Humboldt Bay Social Club became a serious community hub during the pandemic partly because of the vibe they’ve created, and partly because of huge the outdoor space to let your kids frolic while you eat and drink delicious things.
Most recently Jon and Amy teamed up with one of Humboldt’s biggest cannabis brands to launch what might be the next big thing in cannabis tourism and hospitality. Papa & Barkley Social is luxury day spa, dispensary, consumption lounge, with an onsite food truck. Concepts like this may very well be the future of cannabis culture in California.
After spending 24 hours or so in Humboldt and seeing what a cool thriving life my friends have there, I thought about what it would be like to live there. The area is beautiful and the people are kind and friendly. Plus, I was thoroughly impressed with the innovative thinking happening within the burgeoning cannabis industry. It could definitely be a great place to build a future. That said, I knew it was too small for me to ever settle there and didn’t have that electric fervor that keeps San Francisco running through my veins.
Next up was a visit to my mom’s oldest friend outside of Stayton, Ore. They live in a rural area with stunning views and plenty of room for their horses. It was a nice relaxing place to be for a night but I could never see myself ending up in the sticks, deep in Trump country … though horses are pretty cool.
From there we went on to Bend, Ore. to visit my cousin Rachel. Upon checking into the hotel, we realized that the last Blockbuster Video in the world was a few blocks away! We obviously had to visit that and get some T-shirts.
At nearly 100,000 people, Bend was the biggest place we’d been since leaving San Francisco. The people were kind, the food was good, and the natural beauty was astounding. But when I looked up things to do there, they were almost entirely wilderness related things and I’m rather indoorsy. So, there’s no way I could end up there. One of the great things about San Francisco is that, if you do want to be in nature, all you gotta do is cross a bridge.
After winding through heavenly mountains and forests, we landed in our ultimate destination: Portland.
I’d only been to Portland once before, but since that trip five years ago, the city had been at the top of my list of possible places I could see myself living. What makes Portland special is that it feels like a series of college towns surrounding a big city. The neighborhoods are filled with brilliantly creative eateries, quirky bars, funky bookstores, gorgeous craftsman homes and delightful weirdos. And the downtown has skyscrapers, professional sports teams, and even more delightful weirdos. To top it all off, everything is way cheaper than San Francisco. Plus, over the past 10 years, scores of my Bay Area friends had moved there.
We arrived right when the world was finally beginning to open back up and it was a glorious time to be in Portland. We spent hours thrift store shopping on Hawthorne. We went to a backyard barbecue at our friend Miranda’s large lovely craftsman home, which she bought for half the price of a one bedroom in S.F. We spent the day on a boat cruising the Willamette River with old S.F. friends. We ate food from places like Malka and Eem which are creating mind blowingly inventive, top-tier food, at mid-range prices. We saw the inspiring neighborhood food fridges and pantries put out for people who needed groceries during the pandemic. We explored the countless waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge which sits just 30 minutes outside of town.
Portland feels so perfect that, every time a friend asked Kayla and I when we were moving there, we sighed before saying we weren’t.
Because, as great as Portland is, it will never be San Francisco. After 10 days of traveling through Northern California and Oregon, I missed being able to walk nearly everywhere I wanted to go. I missed diversity and hearing Spanish or Tagalog or Cantonese while I wandered around. I missed the crackling energy that North Beach had, even during the pandemic. I missed the comradery of seeing people I know everywhere I go. And I of course missed Mission burritos.
While it’s tempting to think that I might be able to actually afford to buy a home one day in a place as wonderful as Portland, it still ain’t San Francisco. Who knows, things might change in the future, but for as far as I can see, there is nothing I love more than being a San Franciscan.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.