Error message

  • Lingotek profile ID 4 not found.
  • Lingotek profile ID 3 not found.
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VC_Questionnaire_JonathanFranzen_Stock_ED_491037940_1280x640
David Levenson/Getty Images

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen
The National Book Award winner and Santa Cruz resident explains his love for the Golden State

Love may have inspired Jonathan Franzen to move to California, but it was the birds that sealed the deal. The world-renowned author (The Corrections, Freedom, Purity) is an avid birder who has written extensively on the subject. And since California is home to more recorded species (660-plus) than any other state, including two that are found only here—the Yellow-billed Magpie and Island Scrub-Jay—the Golden State is the ultimate ornithological playground.

Franzen, who grew up outside St. Louis and lived in New York City for almost 15 years, never envisioned living in California. “I had all the usual East Coast prejudices,” he says. “I had actual culture shock on my visits in the late 1980s.” Favourable impressions of Death Valley and the Owens Valley notwithstanding, Franzen didn’t return for a long time. That all changed in October 1998, when he started spending time here with his girlfriend, writer Kathy Chetkovich. “It was pretty much love at first sight when Kathy picked me up at the San Jose airport and took me up to her cabin among the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” he recalls. “We went to Big Sur. We saw lines of pelicans swooping low over Santa Cruz Harbor. It rained. On my next visit, it rained for three weeks straight. I see now that I was already a goner by then.” In February 2015, Franzen, who is also a prominent conservationist, made Santa Cruz his full-time residence, where he lives with Chetkovich.

Why did he agree to take this survey? “I did it because I love California,” he says. Here, the writer shares his thoughts on his adopted home and how it enriches his life.

1. Where do you live? In Santa Cruz, on Monterey Bay, fairly close to San Francisco but protected from its influence by rugged, mudslide-prone mountains. 

2. Why there? I fell for a woman from Santa Cruz. For many years, it seemed that I’d succeeded in luring her to New York, but she was playing the long game, and now here I am.

3. Who or what is your greatest California love? The big storms that blow in from the Pacific in the winter. Especially up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the redwoods catch the clouds, it can rain nonstop for days at a time. It makes a mess, but it’s very soothing to a parched soul.

4. What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That they’re wine-drinking, sun-loving, pleasure-seekers who don’t read a lot of books. In fact, the state is full of readers. L.A. is a great book city. 

5. What is the stereotype that most holds true? Surfing truly is important here.

6. What is your favourite Golden State splurge? I don’t really do splurges, but most years I do splurge with time and go down to some desert springs in the northern Mojave to enjoy the spring bird migration.

7. Time for a road tripwhere are you going? Most of my road trips involve birdwatching—to arid and unpopulated places like the Panoche Valley and the Carrizo Plain, where Mountain Bluebirds and Prairie Falcons hang out, or up into the mountains (I particularly love Sequoia NP) for Mountain Quail and Calliope Hummingbirds, or along the coast for an amazing diversity of shorebirds and seabirds.

8. If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? A crab sandwich at Bodega Bay.

9. Best California song? The lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” are fairly incomprehensible, but I don’t know of a song that better captures the weird melancholy of the “good life” here. And then there’s John Doe’s “The Golden State,” a beautifully made song that gets everything right about the state: its grandeur, the hopes it crushes, the hopes it keeps reviving.

10. How would your California dream day unfold? Wake to dense morning fog, drive through the fog to my office, get some good work done while the redwoods outside the window drip with moisture and the fog slowly lifts, emerge in the afternoon to see Monterey Bay gleaming under a cloudless sky, play some doubles tennis with good Santa Cruz friends, stop at the New Leaf Community Market for locally sourced food, do some grilling behind my house while Wrentits sing in the ravine below it, read a good book while the temperature falls and the fog rolls back in, and fall asleep to the hooting of Great Horned Owls in the eucalyptus.

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_TI_5_BayLoop_Hero_Manley_1280x642_sized
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Northern California

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

A crimson bridge, cable cars, a sparkling bay, and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes—San Francisco is undeniably one of the world’s great cities. Located along the Northern California at the state’s distinctive bend in the coast, the region has an alluring magic that stretches beyond the bay to diverse cities with nightlife and trend-setting cuisine.

"I left my heart in San Francisco, High on a hill, it calls to me."  –singer Tony Bennett

The Bay Area is also home to some of the world’s finest wine country, including Napa Valley and Sonoma, plus waterfront towns, dramatic beaches, and the tech-savvy southern end of the bay known as the Silicon Valley, where lunchtime ideas at Google, Facebook, and Apple, turn into the next brilliant innovation. 

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VC_SpotlightBerkeley_Hero_Stock_RF_149303390_1280x640
Chao Kusollerscharlya/Shutterstock

Spotlight: Berkeley

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea_2
See a stunning museum, shop, and feast in the Bay Area’s most outspoken city

A haven for backyard artists and coffee-shop philosophers, Berkeley has deep roots in the Flower Power movement of the 1960s and ’70s. But...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VC_TildenPark_Stock_RM_AAY25Y_1280x640_0
Brad Perks Lightscapes/Alamy

Hidden Gem: Berkeley's Tilden Park

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea_2
A little bit of wild space in the middle of San Francisco

In the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, it sounds implausible: a wilderness sanctuary spanning more than 2,000 acres, rife with wildlife,...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_D_SFcity_CableCarWharf_1280x642_0
San Francisco's cable cars are the country's only mobile National Historic Landmark.
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen SF_GGB_TS_1280x642_sized
Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Golden Gate Bridge

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea
See one of the world’s most famous landmarks, spanning an elegant bay

With towers soaring 746 feet/227 metres into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VC_Sausalito_Hero_Stock_RF_508260845_1280x640
Eiojo Torpe/Getty Images


Explore this quaint town that’s just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco

Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a steep hillside covered in chaparral and eucalyptus drops from Highway 101 to a flat, sunny shoreline, two...


Rock rolls into the wine country again this summer with this three-day event in Napa that features headliners Florence + the Machine, Stevie Wonder, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. With more than 80...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen BottleRock_JessicaS_Flickr_preview_686x885_sized
Jessica S./Flickr
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea
San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a candy-colored pastry shop to Michelin-starred dining rooms, top restaurants run by celebrity chefs dot the Golden State. And even if you don’t know these chefs from the TV...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_SI_T10_Milliken&Feniger_Portrait_preview_686x885
Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_SI_T5_John_preview_686x885
John/ Flickr
World-class accommodations in world-class locations

Head to the heart of California’s cities for luxurious stays at world-class accommodations. From San Francisco’s historic hotels to celebrity hot spots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California’s...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen PalaceHotel_LynGateley_preview_686x885
Lynn Gately/Flickr
San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.
William Saroyan
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini Ufos. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
Make memories at some of California's family-favorite beaches

Sand, water, and kids—it’s a natural combination for easy family fun. This sandy dozen offers appealing, family-friendly features, such as calm water for new swimmers, tide pools for intrepid...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen Carmel_BeachDog_Farnum_preview_686x885
Alex Farnum
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_D_SF_T7_AKLB_1280x642_sized
Courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Performing Arts

Museums, music, and a hint of bohemia

Nested near the city’s cupola-topped City Hall, impressive performance spaces in San Francisco present some of California’s—and the world’s—...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_D_Sjose_Hero_TerminalB_1280x642
Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea
Tech savvy, international flair

The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-meter-...

It's simply a very romantic place. Just one look at any of those streets, and you couldn't be anywhere else -- it's so beautiful, and there's that location, and the sense of the free spirit. ... Who couldn't become ravenous in such a place?
Julia Child
Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

Historic oceanfront playgrounds, classic city-park charmers, boisterous adventures—smaller theme parks and attractions offer an array of ways to play.  These smaller parks offer old-...

Safari West
Tai Power Seeff
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen FF_NCA3429_sh
According to legend, Winchester Mystery House's maze of passages and building oddities were designed to confuse the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles.
Kids get an inside look at wildlife, space, and more

From cool ways for your kids to learn about wildlife, to an insider’s look at a space station, to a chance to walk through a rain forest or learn about the night sky, there’s a...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen T8_TurtleBay_PeterAlfredHess_preview_686x885
Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr
Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_SI_VIP_T1_MichaelSaechang_preview_686x885
Michael Saechang/Flickr
Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen Shopping_SpecialFeature_preview_686x885_0
The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen Livermore_TaiPowerSeeff_1280x642_sized
Tai Power Seeff


Ranches, vineyards, and relaxed appeal east of San Francisco

With warm sun and wide open spaces cradling vineyards, ranches, and wine country estates, the Livermore Valley makes an appealing destination just...