Yesterday we went to the botanic garden in Berkeley's Tilden Park. This was our first time there. The plants are labelled with their native California county, which are generally central or northern counties.
I'm still fascinated by this California habit of normalizing everything at the county level, which is not a pressing concern in my home state of Ohio. Sure, I knew that I lived in Franklin County as a kid. But in my recollection things that came from Columbus or surrounding suburbs weren't stamped "Franklin County."
This county-centricness is one thing I've learned about California in the almost six years I've lived in the Bay Area. I also now know how to find the quaint Contra Costa County hamlet of Orinda, a town I had no concept of upon arrival in 2007. The usual route from Oakland to Orinda is through the Caldecott Tunnel along CA-24 East. But yesterday, when we parked near the Tilden Park botanic garden, I saw a sign that said "Orinda" straight ahead. We consulted the paper park map posted at the visitor center, and realized that we could get there by exiting the park through Wildcat Canyon Road and following the signs. So that's what we did, arriving in Orinda for an impromptu visit 15 minutes after leaving the park. We returned home along CA-24 West, as per usual. But discovering the Tilden Park route was a pleasant surprise.
We didn't do much in Orinda--grabbed a cupcake, bought a book, had some coffee. All of this could have easily been accomplished in Oakland. The point was to take a new road, have a mild Sunday drive, and deepen just a bit more our understanding of the East Bay.
When I first worked at UCSF in 2007 BART and Muni were my means of transport, and I never did anything in SF after work because I worried about getting home to Berkeley too late. My sense of the "Bay Area" was confined to downtown Berkeley, and the parts of Cole Valley and the Inner Sunset that surrounded UCSF. Six years later, it feels great to take a spontaneous drive along an unfamiliar road and have no doubt about where we were going.