The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VC_Questionnaire_JonathanFranzen_Stock_ED_491037940_1280x640
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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 CorrectionsFreedomPurity) 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.” Unfavourable impressions of Death Valley and the Owens Valley meant 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 Harbour. 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 trip—where 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.

 

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Northern California

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

A crimson bridge, cable carriages, a sparkling bay and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes, San Francisco is undeniably one of the world’s great

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

cities. Located in 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. 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.

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Courtesy of NPS Photo

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

Tour this military memorial that honours soldiers killed on the World War II home front and pays tribute to Concord’s role in civil rights history

California’s smallest national park service outlet covers a mere half-acre in Concord on San Francisco Bay’s east shore—but it tells a very big...

A bird's-eye view of Sonoma County
Vicki Jauron/Getty Images

Spotlight: Sonoma County

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen vca_maps_sfbayarea_1
Escape to wine country with secret vineyards, cosy inns and rich history

Spanning more than one million acres from the Pacific Ocean to the rugged Coast Range, this slice of wine-country bliss defies typecasting. Yes,...

May

Rock rolls into the wine country with this three-day event in Napa that features 2019 headliners Imagine Dragons, Neil Young, and Mumford & Sons. With more than 80 performers in the May 24–26...

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Jessica S./Flickr
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San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
SPECIAL FEATURE
Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a pastel coloured 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...

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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 child-friendly fun zones that...

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John/ Flickr
July

Get the Spanish spirit at this colourful event. Stroll the grounds of Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards with a glass of bubbly, and take in a whirl of passionate music, flamenco dancing and food....

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Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
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World-class accommodations in world-class locations

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

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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
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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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It may measure less than 50 square miles, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand dame Victorian homes, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront and a soaring crimson bridge, the  'City by the Bay' is the perfect place to...

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Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
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From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders 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...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Make memories at some of California's family-favourite beaches

Sand, water, and children-it’s a natural combination for easy family fun. These sandy beaches offer appealing, family friendly features, such as calm water for new swimmers, tide pools for...

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Alex Farnum
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
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Sample ultra-fresh, hyper-local, and downright amazing

When you come to California, come hungry. This is a state that really knows how to cook. Amazing and innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food...

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George's at the Cove
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Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

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

Safari West
Tai Power Seeff
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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.
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Kids get an inside look at wildlife, space, and more

From cool ways for your children 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...

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Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr
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Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
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Start your trip with a visit to one of the most iconic spans in the world. With towers soaring 746 feet into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted fire engine red, the Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination, and a great way to begin a tour...

The California Questionnaire: Jonathan Franzen PaintedSisters_SanFrancisco_1280x642

End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand dame Victorian buildings, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront and a soaring crimson bridge, the 'City by the Bay' truly has it all. Trend defining cuisine ranging from Michelin...

SPECIAL FEATURE
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 actvities...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Golden Gate Bridge

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See one of the world’s most famous landmarks, spanning an elegant bay

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

SPECIAL FEATURE
Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you are in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you will find it here. Want to sample fresh fruits and...

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Tai Power Seeff

Livermore

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...

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Eiojo Torpe/Getty Images

Sausalito

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 brushwood and eucalyptus drops from Highway 101 to a flat, sunny shoreline, two...

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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 VCW_D_SFcity_CableCarWharf_1280x642_0
San Francisco's cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.