Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Baby Bell

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The other day I was watching a video on CNET about AT&T trying to acquire T-Mobile. The video is hosted by CBS’ Kara Tsuboi reporting from Downtown San Francisco. At one point she explains that many stores will probably close as a result of the merger, for example redundant stores which are located near each other. To illustrate the point she stands on a corner that has a T-Mobile store across the street from an AT&T store. So what does all this have to do with El Camino? As the camera zooms in on AT&T, the storefront is obscured by an El Camino Real bell!


My jaw dropped. I had no idea there was a bell Downtown San Francisco. The only one I had seen in the city is at Mission Dolores. I didn’t recognize the corner but fortunately the street address of the store is clearly visible so it was easy to figure out the bell is at 3rd and Market. Here’s the odd thing: on Google Street View, the bell is not there. Maybe it’s brand new?

View Larger Map

Nope, I found this article which states that bell was erected in December, 2009. There’s more to the story. The first El Camino Real bell was installed in Los Angeles in 1906, but the thirteenth was located a few years later here at 3rd and Mission in San Francisco. At some point the bell disappeared but in 2009 Caltrans found and restored one of the original 100-year-old bells and installed it in the same spot.

Last year I decided that Mission Street in Downtown San Francisco counts as El Camino Real, so I can’t say why the bell is a couple blocks over on Market. My guess is the bell was placed here in 1909 because of its proximity to Lotta’s Fountain which held a special significance to the city as a meeting place after the still-fresh 1906 earthquake and fire. The city commemorates the earthquake here every year on its anniversary, April 18.

It’s surprising that Google Street View for that intersection hasn’t been updated in over a year. The next time I’m in the area I’ll definitely take some pictures. However I must credit CNET with the scoop.

Watch the full video at CNET:

Good Food, Good Causes

Monday, November 8th, 2010

This week you have two opportunities to help your neighbors in need while enjoying a delicious meal at a number of terrific Bay Area restaurants.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010 dozens of restaurants are participating in the first annual Bay Area Dine Out. This benefits Meals on Wheels which serves meals to over 8,500 seniors throughout the entire region. Simply dine out at any of the restaurants and let them know you’re there for Dine Out, and they’ll donate part of the proceeds from your meal to this worthy cause.

The full list of restaurants grouped by county is on their website: Of course I know you are primarily interested in restaurants on El Camino Real, so I’ve taken the liberty of extracting the establishments that meet your discerning criteria.

  • Lizarran Tapas Restaurant | 7400 Monterey Street | Gilroy
  • Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria | 225 W. Santa Clara Street | San Jose
  • China Stix Restaurant | 2110 El Camino Real | Santa Clara
  • Country Inn Cafe | 2008 El Camino Real | Santa Clara
  • La Paloma Restaurant | 2280 El Camino Real | Santa Clara
  • Pizz’a Chicago Santa Clara | 1576 Halford Avenue | Santa Clara
  • Celia’s Mexican Restaurant | 3740 El Camino Real | Palo Alto
  • Hobee’s California Restaurants | 4224 El Camino Real | Palo Alto
  • Hobee’s California Restaurants | 67 Town & Country Village | Palo Alto
  • British Bankers Club | 1090 El Camino Real | Menlo Park
  • Cedro Ristorante Italiano | 1010 El Camino Real #140 | Menlo Park
  • Celia’s Mexican Restaurant | 1850 El Camino Real | Menlo Park
  • Oak City Bar and Grill | 1029 El Camino Real | Menlo Park
  • Round Table Pizza | 1225 El Camino Real | Menlo Park
  • Chantilly Restaurant | 3001 El Camino Real | Redwood City
  • John Bentley’s Restaurant | 2915 El Camino Real | Redwood City
  • Max’s of Redwood City | 1001 El Camino Real | Redwood City
  • Mountain Mike’s Pizza | 390 El Camino Real | Belmont
  • The American Bull Bar & Grill | 1819 El Camino Real | Burlingame
  • Celia’s Mexican Restaurant | 201 El Camino Real | San Bruno

If these don’t suit you, do peruse the full list for someplace that does. You can be excused this one time for patronizing eateries not on El Camino. It might be wise to call ahead for reservations.

bannerIf you’re in San Francisco, don’t eat too much on Tuesday because on Wednesday, November 10 you have the opportunity to do it again. An organization called Mission Graduates is putting on an event called Food for Thought at various restaurants in the Mission District. Proceeds from your meal will benefit the Mission Graduates program which works with kids from the Mission and prepares them for college. Demographically these kids are disadvantaged so this program provides crucial help for them to reach their goals through higher education. Thanks to the good folks at Stark Insider for alerting me to this event.

Find participating restaurants on Mission Graduates’ web site: Again let them know you’re there for Food for Thought.  The restaurants are not all on Mission Street or Dolores or other streets that qualify as El Camino in San Francisco, but they’re close enough that again, I’ll grant you a free pass. Thinking about all these great restaurants has put me in a charitable mood.

Bay Area Dine Out

benefiting Meals on Wheels
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Food for Thought

benefiting Mission Graduates
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mission Heights

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicI was hanging out at home Monday enjoying Labor Day with my family when my twitter feed was blown up by news accounts of someone scaling a building in San Francisco. His name is Dan Goodwin but he’s alternately known as SpiderDan and Skyscraperman, and he climbs up the outside of tall buildings without ropes or nets. Monday, September 6, 2010 he conquered with only suction cups and a red suit the 60-story Millennium Tower at 301 Mission Street in the SoMa District. (Oddly enough I was just there the previous Friday; it’s precisely where I caught the MUNI 14 bus for my bus trip down El Camino Real.) At the top he unfurled an American flag before being arrested by police and charged with trespassing and being a nuisance.

Why did he do it? He says it is to call attention to the dangers of building towers too tall for rescue crews to reach. He also wants to show their vulnerability to terrorist attack. His publicist says he is generating publicity for his book, Skyscraperman. Some have suggested that as a cancer survivor he is making the most of every moment of precious life. My take is that he was drawn to climb the Millennium Tower by a confluence of synchronistic circumstances connecting back to events in his life beginning in the year 2000—the new millennium—culminating in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a building he had climbed in 1983. I can relate. Symbols have power that can move people to do startling things.

The whole saga Monday lasted three hours during which emergency crews closed off Mission Street, rerouted MUNI, and generally disrupted life on San Francisco’s branch of El Camino. Local news stations webcasted live video feeds online. The Bay Area twitterverse was abuzz. On a slow news holiday, SpiderDan had our attention.

SpiderIn related news, our house was invaded by spiders that same weekend. Once or twice a day we’d find one of those big fat hairy suckers inconveniently ascending a wall above where we were trying to eat, sleep, or…um…think.  A local insect control expert (me) was kept busy capturing and evicting these unwanted creepy crawlers.

Why did they do it? Perhaps it was a show of solidarity with the events in San Francisco. Perhaps SpiderDan is a closet supervillain with the power to psychically communicate with and control hordes of arachnids. “Climb, my beauties! Climb!” Perhaps it’s just the time of year when spiders come out to look for food, water, or some other instinctive necessity.

Whatever the reason, my spider sense is tingling now so I can’t sit in a room without obsessively looking over my shoulder every five minutes. And the next time I go downtown, I suspect I’ll have my eyes pointed upwards, scanning for crusaders tilting at skyscrapers.

[Source: SFist via California Beat]

Around the Bay in a Day

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010


Last November I took a bus ride up El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco and blogged my impressions and observations. To avoid giving myself whiplash, that day I only looked out the right side of the bus at the eastern side of the street and doggedly ignored the left side so the job was only half done. Last Friday, September 3, 2010, I completed the task, taking the reverse bus trip from San Francisco down to San Jose, observing the west side. Back in November I scribbled all my notes on the bus by hand in a notebook and ended up taking four months to type them all up. It’s not that I’m a slow typist, it’s just that the scope of the project was much larger than I anticipated. For the second trip I found a more efficient way: I live-tweeted my journey.

If you’re unfamiliar with tweeting, it means I used my cell phone on the road to type and send text messages to the Twitter service. Twitter messages, or “tweets,” are limited to 140 characters each so it enforces brevity. A great advantage is that every message was timestamped and geocoded by GPS so I have a complete record of what I saw, when I saw it, and where I was. I tried to live in the moment and just write what was on my mind which means whatever happened to catch my eye out the bus window. I know it’s a pretty pedestrian read (irony intended) but I hope I conveyed a sense of El Camino’s diverse profile.

Follow allcamino on Twitter

Below are my 167 tweets from that day from my brand new @allcamino twitter account. It took some effort to extract them all from Twitter’s web site. There are web apps that do this but they didn’t work for me because they rely on Twitter’s search engine which failed me, returning only six tweets (?!). I wrote a Perl script to convert their HTML to the format I wanted for the blog. To improve the readability I put each time stamp and location stamp against the right margin above each tweet. You can click the location links to open a Google map. My live-tweeting strategy worked great. Last year it took me four months to finish the writeup. Here I’ve done it in less than four days.

I cleaned the text up, fixing obvious two-left-thumb typos and grammar issues, but the content is largely raw and uncut. I’ve put a few editor notes in [square] brackets and added hyperlinks for your reference. I’ve written broader post-trip comments in between tweets in italics. You’ll see a bunch of the photos I took, many from the windows of the buses. Please excuse their quality. (more…)

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

You know those Arcadia Publishing Images of America local history books? I’m talking about the sepia-toned paperbacks about a single city or region, filled with pages of old photographs and local lore. I love them. After I started researching El Camino Real I became slightly addicted to them. I couldn’t go into a bookstore without gravitating towards Arcadia’s distinctive displays and very often walked out with one or two books. I at least had the self-control to limit myself to California cities on El Camino, but more than once I brought home books only to find out I already owned them. Mockery from my wife has prompted me to make a Google bookshelf of all the Arcadia books and other books I’ve accumulated about El Camino Real and California history so far. It will help me prevent duplicates, but beyond that it’s cool to see my whole collection in one virtual place.

I have 33 books in the list as of this posting, but I know I’ll be adding more. I own most of these titles, some I’ve gotten from the library, and the rest I’ve just heard about and hope to read some day. Fact is I’ve only read three of them cover-to-cover; the rest I just thumb through or look at the pictures or use for reference. That’s how I end up with duplicates—it’s hard to remember I have a book when I haven’t read it yet. Here’s a brief overview of a few key books on the list.

San Jose's Historic DowntownI have twelve Arcadia books, all unique. (I returned the duplicates.) The first one I bought was San Jose’s Historic Downtown. I bought it years ago, before All Camino, simply because I live in San Jose and was charmed by the book. I shortly went back and bought Milpitas because I work there.  The rest I picked up after starting the blog. As I said they’re all cities on some branch of El Camino except strictly speaking Alviso, San Jose,  which is so closely interrelated to its El Caminoed neighbors that it is included honorarily. Besides, Alviso, San Jose was written by the same guy who wrote Milpitas, Robert L. Burrill. There are several eligible books in the series still that I don’t have like San Francisco’s Mission District and Colma, not to mention cities outside the Bay Area. I suspect they’ll find their way onto my shelf eventually.

The Alameda: The Beautiful Way is noteworthy because it is the only one whose author I’ve met, and I got it signed. Bay Area native Shannon E. Clarke researched, wrote, and designed it while an undergrad at UCLA and it’s a remarkable achievement, a comprehensive and indispensable historical account of my favorite El Camino stretch. I bought it on the Fourth of July, 2009, at the Rose, White, & Blue Parade and Festival. Shannon was leading bus tours of historic The Alameda and the Rose Garden. I missed the last tour, but she was kind enough to give me a quick virtual tour using one of the book’s maps as a guide. I hadn’t launched the blog yet, but finding this book was the spark that inspired me finally to get it off the ground.

California's El Camino Real and Its Historic BellsCalifornia’s El Camino Real and Its Historic Bells is golden because it’s the only book I have that is explicitly about El Camino as a road, literally telling the story of its route, passability or lack thereof, and commemoration. What it lacks in polish it more than makes up in dedication, and it contains information you can’t find anywhere else. It’s one of the books I’ve read in its entirety. If Junípero Serra is the father of El Camino Real, Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes is the mother—with apologies to Mr. Forbes and the Franciscan order. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about this dynamic woman.

Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino RealAnother book I’ve mentioned a few times here is Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino Real.  It’s an unusual work because it espouses the notion of terrapsychology, the idea that the Earth literally has a psychology and that ecological features like land masses, water bodies, and climate are outward expressions of this inner soul. Since (most) humans are from this planet, we are subconsciously attuned to this psychology and play out its archetypical facets through our individual and societal behaviors. If we act contrary to nature, it reacts in kind. It’s a powerful idea, and the book is a fascinating colorful romp through the stories of California, picking out recurring themes from the human realm that reflect deeper root causes of place and pointing out the mistakes of the past so that we may learn from them. This book means a lot to this blog because it validates the approach I’ve taken, that there is a different way to tell the story of El Camino Real: that the road we experience materially may be interpreted symbolically as a path to deeper truths.

Oh, California, 21st Century EditionAs I read Deep California—front-to-back, and it’s big—I realized I knew very little about California history. I didn’t know Portolá from a pueblo or De Anza from adobe. How embarrassing. Every California schoolchild learns state history in the fourth grade (mission projects!) and I remember seeing this stuff in my son’s social studies book when he was in that grade but I don’t remember what I read in mine a generation prior. So I had a brilliant idea: I bought two grade school textbooks, Oh, California and Social Studies: California Edition, both published by Houghton Mifflin.  One of them is used which makes it very special. (Thanks, Kris, wherever you are, for your responsible stewardship, and I promise to provide the same.) They are a gentle introduction to a daunting subject, they represent at a curricular level what the state believes every citizen should know, and they contain plenty of colorful graphs and pictures. I like pictures. I may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but with these books close at hand I at least have a shot at holding my own.

A last few mentions. Historic Spots in California is I believe the California Bible, and Clyde Arbuckle’s History of San Jose is the San Jose Bible. Historical Atlas of California turned me into a mapaholic overnight. The Labors of the Very Brave Knight Esplandián, a romantic novel written around 1500 by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo of Spain, is the origin of California’s name. It includes an account of Calafía, the fierce black Amazon queen of the then-fictional island California, who wore armor made of gold as she battled the handsome Catholic hero Esplandián in the first bloody Crusade. She was defeated honorably so she subjected herself and her queendom to Christianity. Allegory much?

Each time I crack open one of these wonderful books I learn something new. The story of this great state is rich and enlightening, but impossibly complex. Studying how El Camino Real slices through it all is an effective way to get a clarifying cross section of history. Moreover the more general a book is, the more carefully I have to comb through it to find information specific to the road, and the more rewarding and thrilling is each golden find. I wish for the time and patience to someday read them all. Unless they make a movie first.

A Pilgrim’s Odyssey, or There and Back Again, Part 4

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

At the Daly City BART station I wandered around looking  for the Muni Route 14 stop. I looked. And looked. And looked. Then I remembered…the 14 doesn’t go to the BART station, it starts at the top-of-the-hill. Curses! I had known this from my planning the night before, but I got caught up in the romance of the trip and missed my stop. I had a good laugh at my own absent-mindedness and made the half-mile steep hike up John Daly Boulevard from the BART station back to Mission Street. Honestly though it was good to stretch my legs and get a little fresh air and exertion after four hours of sitting on buses.

The Muni route description said the 14 starts at the intersection of Mission Street and San Jose Avenue, but of course when I got there I still couldn’t find the bus stop. I walked a couple blocks down San Jose Avenue. Still no stop, but suddenly I saw a 14 bus coming up San Jose towards me. I didn’t know where to catch it, but I didn’t panic. I watched it get into the turn lane to make the sharp left turn onto Mission and I realized the stop was on Mission. The bus was stopped at a long red light so I actually had time to cross the street before the bus turned. Even better, that stop was a timepoint so the driver took a break; I had plenty of time. My little bus hunt was fortuitous because it caused me to spend a few minutes on San Jose Avenue. I learned later that San Jose Avenue is the real continuation of El Camino Real to San Francisco, not Mission Street. San Jose Avenue follows the original Anza trail that became the link between Mission San Francisco and the San Jose Pueblo, and any modern map will confirm that San Jose Avenue is the more direct route to the mission via Dolores Street. Mission Street on the other hand as I understand it originally ran from the mission to the Yerba Buena pueblo on the waterfront to the north, and only after the Gold Rush extended down the county to merge with San Jose Avenue. So my misguided stroll up San Jose Avenue was in fact an unintentional acknowledgment of its rightful place in geographical history. Sadly Muni doesn’t run a bus up San Jose Avenue from Daly City to the mission, so my transit route up Mission Street was a concession to necessity.

Time: 4:45 PM
Place: Daly City
Route: Muni 14 Inbound
Fare: $2.00
Total: $8.00

At 4:45PM the bus driver went back on duty and I boarded along with a nice little crowd that had developed in the meantime. I paid $2 and got a transfer for the return trip. This was another articulated bus but battle-scarred and road-weary, not at all like the cushy SamTrans coach. [This just in: it has come to my attention that route 14 is actually an electric trolley, a little detail I either missed completely or simply forgot. Hey, it was a long day.] I took a window seat on the passenger side according to plan, however this time my seat faced backwards. This inbound route is a popular one so the bus filled up quickly and was soon standing-room only.

As I noted earlier Daly City looks a lot like San Francisco so I had no idea where we crossed the city and county line. The city web site says the boundary is Guttenberg Street but Google Maps thinks it’s Acton Street. If Daly City and San Francisco ever go to war they can settle the issue. The ride was crowded, rocky, and increasingly getting dark so I didn’t take many notes. A cool mural near Concord Street and the old-timey Billiard Palacade did catch my attention.

I didn’t see any bells on Mission Street and truthfully they would have looked out of place. There is nothing on El Camino Real proper in Northern California that is quite like the Excelsior and Mission Districts in San Francisco.  Buildings are close-set and multi-story. Many appear to be mixed-use with businesses on the ground floor and residences above. Most of those businesses are mom-and-pop shops and eateries, and even the national chains look like they used to be something else. Each building is unique, representing a vibrant stylistic hodgepodge from diverse eras. The sidewalks are narrow and bustling with pedestrians of every persuasion. Bells would get swallowed up in this larger-than-life streetscape. San Francisco truly deserves its nickname in the Bay Area: “The City.”

At 5:15 PM the bus arrived at 16th Street and I hopped off, took a moment to collect myself, and started walking west towards the Mission. On the way I considered how the rest of my day was going to go. The original plan was to leave the house early and arrive here around lunchtime, giving me time turn around and do it all again in reverse. However I got such a late start that it was now early evening and getting dark. What’s worse was I was supposed to cook dinner that evening; that clearly wasn’t going to happen. So I took out my phone and made a very difficult call to my wife, asking her to cook dinner instead. She playfully protested but after I talked her through the process of roasting the pork loin I had already purchased, she agreed. Then I made like a Palm Pre commercial and used my smartphone’s browser to look up the exact recipe from my favorite epicurean web site and email her the link, all from a San Francisco street corner. She ignored my recipe (she broiled the meat instead of roasting it) and it came out great; she was very proud of it and has since added the dish to her repertoire. These things happen for a reason.

CIMG0277It was four-tenths of a mile down 16th Street from Mission Street to the mission at Dolores Street. I arrived there around 5:45 PM. Everything was closed for the day, dark and deserted. First I marveled at the beautifully ornate “modern” (erected in 1918) Mission Dolores Basilica. I climbed the stairs and simply touched the door to mark the end of my journey. After drinking the heady draft of the moment, I moved next door to the “Old Mission,” Misíon San Francisco de Asís. It’s the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco, miraculously surviving the 1906 earthquake and fire. It’s the sixth mission in the chain, founded by Father Palóu in June of 1776, five days prior to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 2,500 miles away. For decades it and the nearby presidio represented the northern reach of the Spanish Empire in Alta California, the tip of El Camino Real. (The two more northern missions at San Rafael and Sonoma came much later, just as Mexico was asserting its own independence from Spain.) There’s a historic El Camino Real bell in the grassy median in front of the mission, the only bell I saw in San Francisco. Its label is gone and it’s badly rusting but like the mission, the city, and the state, it endures.

I spent some minutes looking around and snapping pictures of the many historical plaques and markers adorning this special place. Finally the time arrived to turn back. I weighed my options as I walked back to Mission Street. It was now too dark for effective sight-seeing so it didn’t make sense to take the slow bus ride back down El Camino. There is a BART station at 16th and Mission, which opened up some possibilities. I considered taking BART to Millbrae then transferring to Caltrain for the trip to San Jose, but with a little help from my smartphone I decided on a different route. I would take BART across the Bay and down to Fremont, catch the VTA 180 Express Bus to Milpitas, then transfer to the VTA 66 for the last leg home. Apart from being reasonably efficient, it had the added appeal of completing a big clockwise loop which is more satisfying than simply retracing my steps. Plus the East Bay part of this trip would have some special El Camino Real significance which I’ll explain in a later post; consider yourself teased. Here’s a hint: the VTA 180 goes down Mission Boulevard in Fremont.

Back on 16th Street, I arrived at the BART station plaza at Mission which was sticky with inner-city character. Music blared from a boom box while dozens of people stood or sat alone or in twos or threes, living a corner life. A sincere man with a pushcart was hawking free uncooked Thanksgiving turkeys, possibly overstock from a local charity kitchen. It’s a different world from where I come from. There is a coin-op public toilet there but it was out-of-order. I was oddly relieved (pun intended) to be spared any potential unpleasantness inside, but it did mean I was in for a long evening.

Time: 5:54 PM
Place: San Francisco
Route: BART Fremont Line
Fare: $5.65
Total: $19.30 w/scam

I took the stairs down to the underground station and fed money into the machine to buy my ticket to Fremont. I plucked the stored-value card from the machine but when I inserted the ticket into the fare gate, it was rejected. I gave it to the station attendant who told me it had no money on it. What?! Then she told me its last value had been used up at the Oakland Coliseum station. WHAT?!?! My mind was reeling with incomprehension. I just bought this ticket seconds ago; what happened to it? These days I rarely take BART but there was a period long ago I took it every day so I was hardly a newbie. I had never heard of anything like this. My theory is either the ticket machine had somebody’s old worthless ticket loaded inside it which means I won the loser lottery by “purchasing” it, or somehow I was the victim of a bold scam. Maybe someone shoved the bad ticket in the machine’s dispensing chute for an unsuspecting dupe (me) to pick up, then they came behind me and took my good card when I wasn’t looking. Perhaps it was just user error. I’ll never know. It was bizarre. I lost $5.65 and a significant chunk of my good mood. I had to go back to the machine and purchase a whole new ticket.

Time: 6:56 PM
Place: Fremont
Route: VTA 180 South
Fare: $2.00 w/day pass
Total: $22.30 w/SNAFU

Fortunately the wait for the train and the ride to Fremont were uneventful. At the Fremont station I easily found the stop for the 180 but it showed up quite late which irked me, further chipping away at my disposition. The 180 is an Express bus which means I could use my VTA day pass but I had to pay a $2 upgrade fare. I had plenty of time to confirm this by reading and rereading the fine print on the back of my day pass while waiting for this late bus to arrive. I boarded, flashed my pass, and dropped my last two dollar coins into the fare box. As I was turning to take a seat the driver called me back and said I had only dropped one dollar in the box. “No, I put in two dollars.” He insisted the machine had only registered one. What…the…fill-in-the-blank. I think I dropped the coins in pinched together instead of one at a time, and the machine counted them as one. This stupid machine has one flipping thing to do, count money, and it screwed it up. Fine. I pulled out my wallet and slipped a dollar bill in the machine. The driver showed me how the machine now registered $1 on its digital display, I guess trying to demonstrate its infallible accuracy. Yeah, whatever. Kiss my aggravated backside.

Time: 7:30 PM
Place: Milpitas
Route: VTA 66 South
Fare: $0.00 w/day pass
Total: $22.30

I took a seat huffily and wondered what I had done to anger the transit gods on my return trip so. The bus rolled through Fremont onto I-680 South and before long we reached the Great Mall in Milpitas. After a short wait I boarded once again the VTA 66 and rode it to the exact stop where I started my day. A two block walk back, and I was home around 7:50 PM. Eight hours on the All Camino.

So what was the point? It meant a variety of things at different levels. For the purpose of this blog it was an invaluable accumulation of experience. I’ve now been on every inch of El Camino between San Jose and Daly City, except for one block in front of the South San Francisco BART station which remains a hole in my mind. I have photos, notes, and memories. I visited some cities in San Mateo County for essentially the first time, and can now put faces to the names when I write about them. I discovered new places that piqued my interest and make me want to go back. What’s most important is that I was there attentively, not thinking about driving or schedule or destination, but focused on seeing what was there. Not just living in the moment, I was living in my location, in my inertial frame.

An All-Encompassing Paradox:
•North El Camino Real
•East El Camino Real
•South El Camino Real
•West El Camino Real

There were some intellectual accomplishments. I confirmed the paradox that this one special road contains the four cardinal directions (see sidebar). I have statistics for one side of the road, counting 25 historic El Camino Real bell markers in a single day. I tallied fast food and select other businesses; there are companies that pay for this kind of data!

El Camino (East Side) by the Numbers, in Order of Appearance


  • Historic El Camino Real Bells — 25
  • Gas Stations — 24
  • Jacks in the Box — 7
  • KFCs — 5
  • Burger Kings — 5
  • Lucky Grocery Stores — 4
  • Blockbuster Videos (some closing) — 7
  • Carls Jr. — 2
  • Kragen Auto Parts — 5
  • Safeway Grocery Stores — 5
  • Subway Restaurants — 5
  • Togo’s Restaurants — 2
  • Taco Bells — 7
  • McDonalds — 1
  • The Offramp Bicycle Shops — 2
  • All Bicycle Shops — 5

I don’t claim these numbers are accurate as I probably missed  businesses, but some interesting trends do emerge. El Camino is a car-serving zone with plenty of gas stations (24), auto parts shops (5), and fast food drive-ins. Among the fast food spots McDonalds is surprisingly underrepresented (1) and the leader is Taco Bell (7). Nothing could be more fitting since Taco Bell’s logo and architecture are a commercial parody of the missions. Cars rule the road, but there are a number of bicycle shops (5) that remind us that along with the BART stations, CalTrain depots, and VTA, SamTrans, and Muni bus stops too numerous to count, real transportation alternatives do exist.

This is unfinished business. I only told half of the story, the eastern half. I missed great universities, historic movie theaters, thriving shopping centers, and who knows what else. I do plan to do this same trip in reverse to observe the western half, moving counter-clockwise around the Bay. Memorial Day weekend will be the perfect time since it will have been six months from the first trip, closing the loop with elegant symmetry. I’ll admit I did get overwhelmed by this project as it took me over four months to finally get it written up. For next time I have ideas to streamline the process by writing as I go. I expect Twitter will be involved.

For now, I can say: El Camino Real. Been there. Done that. Blogged all about it.