Visiting my best friend, Jessica L. Porter, after she moved from the east coast to Oakland, California, was the easiest way for me to initiate travel to the famed Bay Area. According to recent reports, visiting family (or, in my case, chosen family) is a top reason for many travelers, especially Black women, to embark upon solo travel.

My most recent visit was an opportunity to explore the city and surrounding areas, making use of the daytime hours when my bestie and her man, Malik, were busy with their jobs. I wanted to scope out the town and report my findings back to the New Yorkers who were hosting me.

One of my first trips by myself was to Southern California. I found a ticket so cheap I booked it before planning. My cousin, Mira Gandy, who lives in Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, with her spouse, welcomed me to their home. This was a time before social media, meta tags and rideshare apps that, with a few clicks, can facilitate an entire outing. I spent most of my time tagging along with them. Nowadays, it’s much easier to plan on the fly in a new locale.

Once I deplaned, I rented a car. The paternal associate at the car rental spot would share a detail that would be reiterated by everyone I knew who was familiar with the area: DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING IN THE CAR — NOT EVEN FOR A FEW MINUTES. So, I didn’t, and no one broke into the car. Despite the growing indigent population spurred by a gross neglect of communities experiencing homelessness, I never had an incident that left me uncomfortable. Still, as a person traveling by herself, I knew to take extra care to observe my surroundings. A lot of my exploring, especially when I was solo, happened during the day.

My first official stop in Oakland was Rose Mary Jane, a social justice-focused cannabis dispensary and venue, located in the Lake Merritt Area. It’s also Jessica’s job. Next, after collecting my supplies, I ventured towards the hills on a tip from her manager. I rolled the windows down as I exited the freeway and drove Skyline Boulevard and Redwood Road, borders of Anthony Chabot Regional Park. The 3,000-plus acre park has many hiking trails, lakes and serene views, and is about 20 minutes from many parts of the city of Oakland. The Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Redwood Grove became my favorite place inside the park. It’s free to enter on weekdays and uncrowded. What I loved about this forest was its accessibility, paved trails, bird sightings and places to sit. Though not an old growth forest, the stunning trees were still majestic. One of the drawbacks of exploring places alone is that discoveries are made by yourself, deflating a sense of wonder. We returned the next day, where we sat on pews and meditated before continuing our walk.

For the better part of our friendship, we spent so much time drinking in noisy, scenester bars or carrying on at parties and industry events. Sitting together in the quietude of nature that morning will be such an important memory for me and a turning point in our friendship signaling a shift in our values.

The next day we headed to San Francisco, indulging my tourist itch of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. A thick fog engulfed the red bridge but made for the perfect atmosphere for us to enjoy our Dutch Crunchbread sandwiches at the bridge’s welcome center. That night we had dinner in Berkeley and walked Shattuck Avenue.

On my last day, all three of us loaded into the car for a mini road trip to Pacific State Beach. The beach is rocky and was a little smelly from the seaweed debris that washed ashore but was gorgeous. The area is frequented by surfers, who contended with gentle waves that afternoon. We ate lunch listening to the sounds of the water and smoking a euphoria-inducing sativa hybrid. Our road trip continued on with a visit to some friends of my cousin and her wife, who happened to be in town from L.A. Joy! The drive from the Bay inland to Rio Vista was interesting, seeing the environment transform from beach to green to dessert sand. There we ate, laughed and played cards in the community of queer elders.

The time I spent alone during this trip was punctuated by the intention of spending time with my best friend. Excitement from intentionally seeking out nature. Journeying to a new place is more meaningful when you can be anchored by community, especially friends that have become family.

Jet Toomer is a writer, muse and community organizer from NYC. She is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at Columbia University and the inaugural Joel Gay Creative Writing Fellow; a grant awarded by Roxane Gay and digital writing platform Substack. Her writing can be found at tinyviolences.com.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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