Leilani Marie Labong
While hordes of skiers descend upon the legendary powder-packed slopes of Park City and Deer Valley in northern Utah, the otherworldly, merely snow-dusted desert geology of the southern half of the state—with its towering hoodoos, massive sandstone formations, and deep slot canyons—remains largely overlooked by tourists.
The natural volcanic hot springs in Calistoga were originally discovered by the Wappo tribe more than 500 years ago; their rumored healing powers remain a draw today, along with venerable wineries, classy eateries, and luxury resorts. Knowing this, we have just two words to describe this gem of a town: Napa, who?
Having grown up in the southwest, I feel a deep affinity for all desert landscapes. The otherworldly terrain of southern Utah is particularly close to my heart. I have spent many winter holidays over the last 15 years hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, as the days are usually sunny and the cold is never too bone-shattering.
Even in the rain, Big Sur is a remarkable place to explore. We holed up here recently on a particularly showery weekend, which didn’t stop us from exploring beaches and redwoods or foraging for high gastronomy. (It also didn’t stop us from bunkering in our room, fireplace ablaze, for cozy afternoons).
On the sunny patio of her new restaurant, Arguello, a Mexican eatery in the historic Presidio Officers’ Club, restaurateur Traci Des Jardins takes a sip of her hibiscus agua fresca and unleashes an impassioned defense of undocumented immigrants. “I think it’s appalling that we have not done more for the Latin American population. I think it’s a failure of our federal government not to recognize how much this population has contributed to our society. From an immigration standpoint, they get the short end of the stick. Absurd!”
Sotheara Yem has tears in his eyes. Formerly one of San Francisco’s homeless, the 27-year-old is recalling the day one of his mentors, Tipping Point Community founder Daniel Lurie, purchased a sharp navy-blue designer suit for him. Yem, a first-generation Cambodian American, was scheduled to deliver a speech in front of 900 people at the 2011 Tipping Point benefit gala, and Lurie, who had helped the amateur filmmaker secure housing and employment, knew that a blazer from the clearance rack at H&M wouldn’t cut it.
The vanity license plate on the 26-foot van parked outside the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA (PHS/SPCA) in Burlingame reads, “Fix Me.” The wordplay refers to the 900 free spay and neuter surgeries that have been performed inside the state-of-the-art mobile clinic each year since 2005, when the van was gifted to the organization by lifelong animal welfare activist Vanessa Getty. The reason? By fixing and vaccinating dogs and cats in low-income Bay Area communities, San Francisco Bay Humane Friends—an auxiliary of PHS/SPCA, founded by Getty—has greatly reduced the number of unwanted and stray animals on our streets.
For the first installment in our Five Star Spirituality series (brainchild of 7x7 culture editor Brock Keeling), we head to the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco, which is the third tallest building in the city, making it a great place to view not just Fleet Week flybys and America’s Cup races (will we ever see those on our waters again?), but also to scan the windows of neighboring buildings for trysts (a pair of binocs in the room is practically a green light to practice voyeurism).
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