As an entrepreneur, it’s extraordinary that, until recently, one of the places that I’d not yet visited in all of my globetrotting was San Francisco. And having recently returned, I can’t imagine for the life of me just why it took so long. In 2017, at a pivotal time for Collective Hub (see my Founder’s letter!) I flew to Silicon Valley to attend the Dreamforce conference, a global gathering of trailblazers held by Salesforce, on a working holiday (thanks Air New Zealand and Visit California!).
For the longest time people have asked me, ‘Would you move stateside?’ and my answer has always been no. But San Francisco had a different effect on me and my partner while we were there. On day three we looked at each other and said, “We could definitely live here…”
The energy was electric – probably heightened by the Dreamforce conference (guests like Michelle Obama and Ashton Kutcher will do that!). Everywhere we went there were conversations buzzing around innovation and disruption. But there’s far more to the surrounding area than Google’s shiny headquarters. Here were my fave haunts and top picks:
Seek out Sonoma
A legacy in sustainable tourism, Sonoma wine country was one of the highlights of my trip (even as a non-drinker!). It has more than 425 wineries, miles of rugged coastline, and national parks. We stayed at the Farmhouse Inn, an incredible location created by siblings and fifth-generation locals Joe and Catherine Bartolomei.
In need of an inspiring place to work? I took my laptop to Shed in Healdsburg, a unique market, cafe and community gathering space on a farm, designed to bring us closer to the way we grow, prepare and share food. Need bizspiration? In 2018, Gundlach Bundschu, California’s oldest family-owned and operated winery, celebrates its 160th year of business. During our visit, more than 7000 buildings in California had been affected by wildfires, but the locals’ hope and optimism was incredible. Visit sonomavalley.com for more info.
Exercise like the greats
There are stories of founders meeting their future investors in the changing rooms of SoulCycle. While I’m not able to guarantee a chance encounter, from my first class I was completely hooked on the unbelievable fitness fix. With nine locations around Northern California alone, including Palo Alto, everything about their studios is inspiring, from the décor to the instructors and participants.
Last year at SoulCycle in San Mateo, female Silicon Valley-based founders and workers took part in a special class to bring awareness to gender inequality and sexual harassment. Put together by venture capitalist Tim Draper, the women wore superhero costumes as they spun.
Want personal coaching? According to local chatter, San Francisco’s hottest fitness gurus are Polish couple Jerzy and Aniela Gregorek – world-record-holding weightlifters whose clients include angel investor Naval Ravikant, Adobe executive Taylor Barada, and author Tim Ferriss (disclaimer: they’re not easy to bag an appointment with).
Visit the giants
I was lucky enough during my trip to be invited to visit the headquarters of Facebook and Airbnb. I reached out to them while I was literally sitting at the airport waiting to leave Sydney – nothing like a bit of spontaneity! Even if you don’t have a meeting at Airbnb HQ, you can hang in the foyer and soak up the atmosphere. At Facebook, security is high. But if you’re in the Mountain View area, visit the ‘Googleplex’ – the nickname for Google’s sprawling campus – where visitors are welcome to wander around the grounds and snap selfies with their colourful bikes and iconic logos.
Get a nature hit
In every new city I visit, I put on my trainers and hit the pavement hard, exploring every nook and cranny, trying to get as far ‘off the beaten tourist track’ as I can. To escape the city, we hired a convertible Mustang and drove south to Half Moon Bay with the top down. A 45-minute drive from San Francisco, you can relax on the idyllic beach (seriously, that view!), play golf on the coastline or browse little artsy shops and galleries for some creative inspiration. It’s also a top vantage point for whale watching at certain times of the year.
Eats to their own
The list of possible eateries to visit during a Cali trip are endless, so it’s wise to do your research (or quiz locals!) beforehand to avoid finding it totally overwhelming. My top tips? Souvla ‘fine fast’ Greek restaurant for quick, cheap and cheerful food (one of its store’s locations, Hayes Valley, is full of amazing shops and cafes), Del Popolo on Bush Street for the best pizza I’ve had outside Naples, Blue Bottle Coffee, an artisanal roaster that serves some of the finest coffee in the area, and Zuni café, where I had an incredible three-hour lunch catching up with an old friend. Also visit Hyde Street, an example of hilly San Francisco at its best, Telegraph Hill for incredible views and, if you can, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Spectacular!
We flew with Air New Zealand to San Francisco via Auckland in Premium Economy. Find out more at betterwaytofly.com.au