I first traveled to California in the early 90’s. I was accompanying a girlfriend on a business trip to San Francisco. We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel on the top of Nob Hill. The views were breathtaking. We ate amazing food. We spent a couple days in Napa Valley drinking fine wine.
I was smitten.
By 1995, I was working for Pure Software in Sunnyvale even as I lived in Boston. I spent 25 weeks that year in Silicon Valley, traipsing around the region developing partnerships with other tech companies. For example, I witnessed the birth of Siebel Systems. At the time they were a group of maybe 20 people working from folding tables, on their way to becoming a billion-dollar juggernaut.
I often landed at SFO at dusk. I would emerge from the terminal and feel the cool Pacific breeze carrying the scent of eucalyptus trees down from the ridge above San Bruno. The smell of eucalyptus trees at dusk is forever a reminder of those magical early days traveling here.
In 1995, I knew somehow that I would end up living here. Or at least I knew that I wanted to. When I decided to come here in 2012, I estimated I had visited the Bay Area over 80 times already. I was already deeply in love with California.
This year’s wildfires and pandemic have got me reflecting on why I love this place. Without the ability to travel elsewhere, I’ve been exploring the state, reminded anew what makes this a unique and special place in the world.
Natural beauty and conservation
It’s obvious to say, but we have a magical coastline. And towering mountains. And desolate deserts. And fertile valleys, remnants of ancient seas.
What’s truly special is the spirit of conservationism behind our natural wonders.
The Sierra Club was born here and wields great influence over how we now see and protect our natural gifts.
The laws behind the California Coastal Commission ensure the public’s access to our beaches. This is unlike where I grew up in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where private landowners can severely restrict beach access.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust has dedicated huge portions of the Santa Cruz Mountains as perpetual wilderness trusts. Where else in the world can you access such a beautiful wilderness half an hour away from millions of people? What foresight and what a gift to us from a prior generation of settlers here.
Our mountain ranges are largely enshrined as National Forests, State Forests, trusts and other parks. Yes, you can still see the blight of aggressive logging but thankfully that era seems to have passed. The mountains are healing.
(I’m thinking about my beloved Santa Cruz Mountains a lot these days as they burn.)
It’s a melting pot here. My son’s school found over 35 mother tongues in the student population.
Every race, country, religion and subculture is represented here. You can find a community of interest for anything. And you’ll be exposed to different people continually.
Are we free from bias and racism here? Not even close. But if you value diversity and strive to have it positively affect your mindset, this is a place for you.
There’s a lot of spirituality here. Maybe it’s inspired by the natural beauty of the place.
You’ll find spiritual practices like mysticism and quasi-religions. Which has informed negative stereotypes about the place.
But the majesty of our nature is real. And it moves many people, as it does me. There is a spirit to this place.
This one is almost too obvious to say. If you’re in the tech industry like me, it’s the world capital of what we do. Yes, other places have tech and successful companies. But not like here.
You can be an elitist here. Measuing yourself by how many millionaires (or billionaires) are in your social circle. And by your own financial worth.
You can do bad things here. Like Mark Zuckerberg, and his massive personal wealth derived from distributing and amplifying disinformation, propaganda and hateful speech. By the way: fuck you, Mark.
Or you can be humble and appreciate the amazing collection of smart people working as a community. Creating and building great things that benefit society. I know many, many people like this, who pay it forward.
All of these types of people are here at the same time: hubris, elitism, naked & craven capitalism. But magnanimity, humility and social purpose can easily be found here. I wake up in the morning proud of my work along with many others in protecting the world’s internet users from the bad guys.
It’s easy to put California down. We’ve got lots and lots of problems. Racism. Financial inequity. High cost of living. Pollution. Congestion. Global warming and natural disasters.
Despite all of this, there is so much to love and appreciate here. Now more than ever.
I leave you with some pictures of my beloved California in recent months.