How to sleep through a California quake

1. Spend a few days trekking around San Francisco. Climb hills for the views – or because you can’t really avoid them – and walk almost everywhere because public transportation for five people (the whole family’s here!) is getting pricey. For best results, average at least four miles per day. (Bonus: wear shoes that, at home, are quite comfortable, but in this rocky, hilly city, revolt against your feet and take it out on your left pinky toe.)

San Francisco

2. Rent an apartment in a relatively quiet area and settle in. We chose Alamo Square. Preferably, the building will be a beautiful structure, over 100 years old, with marble stairs, a comfortable garden and intricate facade details. (That has nothing to do with the earthquake, but who wants to visit San Francisco and stay in a modern hotel or some other characterless place?) Obtain one plush king size bed with a wonderfully creaky four-post frame and a pile of marshmallow pillows. For optimum results, this bed should be so comfortable you wake up in the same position you fell asleep in.

San Francisco

3. Take an evening stroll to the nearby biergarten for a drink – it’s your last night in the city, after all. Just a few blocks more…oh, that’s more of a mountain than a hill, really…this place looks a lot closer on the map, but we can’t just turn around now….aaaaand there. Walk up to the bar, situated in a repurposed shipping container and order a beer. No pints here, just half or full liters of authentic German beers, so go all in. Eventually slog up the hill – don’t tumble back down – and fall blissfully into bed, knowing that your last night in San Francisco was good.

San Francisco

Early Sunday morning the San Francisco Bay area was rattled by the region’s strongest earthquake in 25 years…and yours truly managed to sleep through it! I blame my ability to sleep deeply on living for years in dorms and noisy places (like next to the railroad tracks) and days full of walking, drinking and eating.

I was secretly hoping that I would feel a small earthquake while we were there. Nothing serious or dangerous, just a little shake. My only other experience with earthquakes was in 2011, when there was that 5.8 in Virginia and we felt it all the way in Raleigh. That’s the one that cracked the Washington Monument. I was in French class and the desks and projector started gently swaying, and my professor didn’t even stop talking.

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Topsail Island: It’s nothing special

Off the southern coast of North Carolina lies a 26-mile long spit of sand that’s hard to leave. Topsail Island has everything I look for at the coast…luscious, white sand; water, shifting from sea green to bright azure, stretching to the horizon; and the opportunity to find a stretch of beach to call your own. It’s nothing special, but that’s why I love it.

Topsail Island

Unlike a lot of popular beaches, Topsail isn’t very developed. I think there is one stoplight on the entire island. There are rows of beach houses with clever names, boutique stores and surf shops, ice cream shops, and small motels, but not much else. No strip malls, clubs, car dealerships, or anything of that nature. There’s not much to do other than unfold a beach chair, smooth on sunscreen and enjoy some time with the family. It’s nothing special, but that’s what makes it special.

Topsail Island

On the island, time ebbs and flows slowly, like the tide. Maybe I’ll wake up to see the sunrise, or awake later to the sound of waves drumming an endless rhythm on the sand. The biggest event of the day might be a game of bocce ball or finding a perfect black and grey shark’s tooth. The biggest island attractions are fishing – on the pier or the shore – or you can just watch the minnows dart around in the shallows between suntanned legs. I like bird watching. Pelicans glide in pairs or groups above the dunes, parallel to shore, sand pipers’ legs flit quickly across hot sand and a constant, refreshing breeze ruffles the feathers of a lone seagull. It’s nothing special, but that’s the beauty of it.

Topsail Island

I was just there for a week with my husband’s family during their annual vacation. During my time at the ocean-front house I read four books, completed four puzzles, won three games of shuffleboard, and ate entirely too many servings of ice cream. I watched the sun rise over the ocean and set over the sound. I saw a fisherman catch and release a baby stingray. I scanned the ocean for dolphins but didn’t see any this time, although a few other people were lucky and saw some. The vacation as a whole was nothing special, but I know these memories of Topsail will be the ones I cherish for years to come.

Topsail Island

One of the books I read was Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea by Ray McAllister. A good beach read, McAllister offers a well-rounded view of the island’s history and what makes it unique through stories and anecdotes from people who have lived or vacationed on Topsail for decades. Some of the stories could be just rumors (Did the pirate Blackbeard hide in the sound waiting to ambush other ships, who soon learned to look for his sails behind the dunes? Is there buried treasure somewhere beneath the sand on the island?) and others focus on Topsail’s future (the north end of the island is eroding, and sand is being deposited on the south end). If you’re a weather nut like me, you’ll like the hurricane chapter. 1996 was a particularly bad summer for the island, with a one-two punch from Bertha and Fran. McAllister also discusses the eight mysterious towers on the island, left over from when the military used the island as a place to develop and test missiles, aka Operation Bumblebee. I found it interesting to learn more about the place I’ve been coming to for years.

Topsail Island

What’s your favorite island or beach for a family vacation?

Travel plans: San Francisco

Later this month I’ll be getting away from the East Coast and heading to San Francisco! The more I read about and research the City by the Bay, the more excited I get. My mind is picturing a city full of history, beauty, funky people and butt-toning hills. I can’t wait!

Right now I’m just reading through travel books, blogs and websites to get my bearings before I dive into the city’s rich literary history. If you have any suggestions on what to read, let me know!

Checked out this 3-year-old guidebook from my local library. Some jerk who checked it out before me tore out the fold-out map!

Checked out this 3-year-old guidebook from my local library. Some jerk who checked it out before me tore out the fold-out map!

Must-sees for me:

  • A trip to the forbidding island prison, Azkaban — I mean, Alcatraz.
  • Taking in some art at the de Young Museum, followed by a walk through Golden Gate Park.
  • Walk (or possibly bike?) across the Golden Gate Bridge. Touristy, yes. Fun, yes.
  • Even more touristy, a trip on the cable cars. When in SF!
  • Food: Dim sum in Chinatown, coffee and pasta in North Beach, a trip to the Farmers’ Market.
  • Just taking in the view from atop a hill.
  • Checking out some local breweries!