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2015: The Year of the Staycation

Bike
Me on my new bike. With it, I’m seeing San Francisco through new eyes.

[Excerpt from How To Travel Without Going Anywhere, a Findery for Huffington Post Travel blog post.]

I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions this year. But I did make goals. Such as: spend one Saturday afternoon every month as a tourist in my new hometown (San Francisco). Through several books on personal finance – something else I’m working on this year – I’ve learned that you can’t make changes without a clearly defined goal. For instance, if you say that you want to enjoy the weekends more, but don’t define what that looks like, you’re not likely to do it. “I want to spend 3 hours every Saturday afternoon exploring my city” – now that’s a good goal. So without buying a plane ticket or packing my car, I made guidelines on how to travel without going anywhere.

In a nutshell:
1. Make the time to explore.
2. Determine where to go.
3. Bring the gear of an urban explorer.
4. Pick a different form of transportation.
5. Talk to people.
6. Turn off the inner noise.
7. Look around.

I wrote a more detailed version of the guidelines for Huffington Post Travel: How To Travel Without Going Anywhere. Trust me, it really works! You can see it in my Findery notemap, Discovering San Francisco.

California Desert Visions

The desert is an unforgiving place. It has attracted the daring, the outcasts, and the visionaries for centuries. Certain souls have flocked to the desert whether called by God, aliens, the earth, or the lawless lifestyle and have miraculously adapted and flourished here. Perhaps it’s heat stroke or maybe it’s the drugs, but true geniuses thrive in the desert. The things I saw in the Southern California desert were so unexpected and alien that they seemed like a mirage.

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Integratron
The stark white geodesic dome, dubbed The Integratron, is easy to spot in the dusty desert landscape of Landers, California. It was constructed in 1954 by George Van Tassel (a student of Nikola Tesla) based on the directives given to him by aliens from Venus. Yes, aliens. The purpose: to rejuvenate living cell tissues. Perhaps because of this, it is the only one of its kind standing 38 feet high with a 55 foot diameter built entirely of wood on a powerful geomagnetic vortex. However, it’s not the architecture that is so intriguing, it’s how it sounds. This is a building with perfect acoustics. It brings visitors to the desolate desert town 40 miles north of Palm Springs, by offering “sound baths”, a 20+ minute session of swirling crystal bowls that create sounds that dance around the dome and reverberate in your chest, all the while suspending and cleansing your cells. Hence, the cell rejuvenation and the “bath”. Though some claim to see magnificent colors as they are lying in the chambers or feel the touch of loved ones long gone, others just take the time to relax and reflect. It’s a glorified adult nap time and quite literally the epitome of good vibes.

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Giant Rock
Giant Rock, as it is so aptly named, is a 7 foot tall, 5800 square foot rock that is located down a dirt road in Landers, California. In the 1930s, a gentleman by the name of Frank Critzer excavated under what was considered the world’s largest single boulder to create a dwelling. Critzer was a resourceful and shrewd man and reckoned since he didn’t have the resources to build a home, digging out a dwelling under the boulder was his best bet. This proved to be a perfect desert abode as the rooms would remain cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. It was through Frank Critzer, that George Van Tassel learned of Giant Rock, which was the key factor in his contact with aliens and thus, the building of The Integratron. In the 1950s Van Tassel acquired the rock and the land it was on and began holding meditation meetings to contact aliens in the room beneath the rock. In August of 1953, a saucer landed from Venus (as the area next to the rock was conveniently ran as an airport landing strip) and Van Tassel was invited on the ship where he learned of cell rejuvenation and time travel. Forget the UFOs – can you imagine living under a giant boulder? Those guys were crazy!

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Salvation Mountain
“God is Love” is the main message at Salvation Mountain, an incredible folk art installation in Niland, CA. Leonard Knight originally set out to spread his love for God via a hot air balloon. After many failed launch attempts from the tattered hand-sewn balloon, Knight was determined to make at least one small gesture. He took a bag of cement and covered mounds of sand in the desert, topping it all with paint. This addictive small gesture progressively grew larger and larger, resulting in what stands today, a 50 foot high and 150 foot wide mountain made of adobe clay and thousands of gallons of donated paint. The way the colors pour down the mountainside is mesmerizing. You are invited to “follow the yellow brick road” to the top. It is a real-life Dr. Seuss scene. People flock to this desolate area because where else can you see a mountain covered in paint and love? It is a lifetime of work from one visionary man. Knight recently passed away in 2014, but the site is declared as a national folk art site worthy of preservation and is maintained as a 501c3 nonprofit. (You can make a donation to help preserve this landmark!)

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International Banana Museum
The International Banana Museum is literally the most apeeling spot around. Located on Hwy 111 in Mecca, California, there are over 20,000 banana related items. When you walk into the small space it is more than a banana split, it’s a banana explosion! Every inch of the place is covered in banana trinkets from the standard toys, pins, and keychains to the obscure like hangers, pipes, a record player, and even a petrified banana. Chill out with a banana-chocolate shake or a chocolate dipped banana on those hot summer days. The desert sure is bananas.

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Bombay Beach
The Salton Sea is the largest manmade lake in California. It was accidentally created in 1905 when the Colorado River was being diverted for farming purposes. This newly formed lake was seens as an “oasis in the desert” and soon homes started popping up in the area. Bombay Beach was built as an affordable vacation home community for families in LA; however, the unnatural lake has some unnatural side effects. With ever-increasing salinity levels, the shore recedes, and fertilizers that run into the lake create large algae blooms. A major (and majorly spooky) side effect is a beach full of dead and decaying fish that can no longer stand the saline content levels and each crunchy step is a reminder that the “sand” is actually decimated fish bones. It’s hard to tell the abandoned vs. lived-in homes when driving through the 10 block town of Bombay Beach. The lake level has changed so much over the last couple decades that many of the houses have been swallowed up by the sea and then left to sink and rot in salty mud. It is a living breathing post-apocalyptic town that is so unbelievable it feels like a movie set.

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Pioneertown
If Bombay Beach feels like a movie set, Pioneertown actually is a movie set. Built in the 1940s as a motion picture set for old westerns like The Cisco Kid, Pioneertown has since been transformed into a real town. However, it’s hard to differentiate between the old and the new (if there is any), between what’s real and what’s fake. Mane Street (get it?) is lined with buildings like The Bathhouse and The Livery that are set up with old-timey props from long ago and some actual souvenir shops for tourists. Intermingled with these buildings are residential homes with signs stating “private property”, as clearly there is a lot of confusion here. However, the real heart of the town is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneer Palace, opened in 1982 by husband and wife team. It has since gained notoriety as a finger lickin’ mesquite BBQ joint and named a Top Ten Hidden Gems Of the Country for a music venue by Billboard Magazine.

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Robolights
Robolights is what happens when you mix 8.5 million lights and a 12 year old’s vision that has developed over 20 years resulting in an explosion of lights and a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic Christmas scene. For decades now Kenny Irwin Jr. has salvaged, repurposed, and recycled what others may consider junk: fax machines, microwaves, remote controls, tools, cans of Touch ’n Foam sealant, and lots and lots of paint cans since everything here is covered in it. Pay a $5 suggested donation to enter this Christmas wonderland. It spans a 2 acre yard in the Movie Colony East neighborhood of Palm Springs. Upon entering you are greeted by an alien Santa’s battle wagon led by 12 robot reindeers. It’s slightly overwhelming, but mostly just impressive as the robots get bigger and the scenes get more elaborate the further you wander down the path. You can hear whispers of “creepy,” “crazy,” and “genius” as everyone is walking around wide-eyed and smiling big. One thing for sure is that it is guaranteed to light up your night.

I’d like to think that it’s something in the water that leads to all of these unique desert manifestations. Then again, maybe it has to do with the lack thereof. Next time you’re looking for some inspiration, hit the dusty road and see what oasis awaits inside of you.

There’s more to discover! Follow Erin (@lostandfound) on Findery.com.

Top 5 Winter Fakes

It’s January. Winter is about to hit hard in the wintry regions. But snow in the Caribbean? Nope. For those of us who don’t live in a snowy region, we long for it. Well, maybe just for one little ol’ day. Wish granted! Here are a few fake winter activities in surprising places.

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Indoor Skiing
First off, one can’t go to an indoor ski resort and compare it to the Alps. This is a novelty, people. And because most locals probably don’t have a full ski suit in the back of their closet, the resort provides you with everything needed – apparel and a full set of equipment. Ski Dubai is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East (there have been other, now defunct resorts in Australia, Japan, and surprisingly the Netherlands). It may only take 30 seconds to get to the bottom of the slope, but where else in the world is the outdoor environment – a hot, sandy desert – more contrasted to an indoor winter wonderland? (Image: Expedia)

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Sand Sports
If artificial snow isn’t an option, there’s always the sand. Especially in Namibia, where dunes are plentiful. The country has the lowest rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa. And the dunes are the highest in the world! But don’t head into the African desert alone. Dune expert Henrik May has been taking groups of visitors down these sandy slopes since 2003. Sled, ski or roll down the hill, all equipment is provided. (Image: Powder)

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Ice Bars
Enter an ice bar and you’ll find all ice everything: the bar, the seats, the cocktail glasses. Because the thermostat in these places is kept at 23 degrees Farenheit, the establishments provide down parkas. It’s no surprise that glitzy, touristy places like Las Vegas and Orlando have them, but the tiny island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean Sea has hosted Magic Ice since 2012. (Image: Magic Ice)

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Ice Blocking
No snow? No sled? No problem. Truly the “winter” sport for all, ice blocking only requires a decently steep, grassy hill, and well, a block of ice. Because most of California is not a snowy region, it’s a particularly popular pastime. See you at the local park! (But, beware. It’s not an endorsed activity by your local authorities. Wink, wink.) (Image: Poulsen’s)

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Iceless Ice Skating
The ice skating rink in the photo is made of plastic. That’s Michelle Kwan giving a performance at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. Throw a little water on the polymer and the ground is a slick as ice. There are many famous rinks made of iceless ice: the Polar Rink at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Kego Park in Japan, and Mawsons Skate in Australia. It has the same effect with none of the work required. Plastic for the win! (Image: Red Dot Photo)

High Roller: Must See Attraction of 2015

Las Vegas is fascinating. I come to Las Vegas often and always find cool things to do on and off the strip. Yesterday I was on a mission to see the High Roller, the World’s Largest Observation Wheel.  The High Roller has 28 glass cabins soaring 550 feet high with 360 degree views of Las Vegas.  These types of attractions are usually “do once and take a picture” for me. The High Roller was an experience I can’t wait to share with more people.

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(Image: Vital Vegas)

So, what’s it really like? When you buy your $25.00 ticket, you’re greeted with high ceilings, electro swing music and large scale original art. I wished I was dressed a little nicer! I was expecting more of an amusement park experience. The next stop is a room full of turnstiles with a high production video of street artists recreating Las Vegas backdrops. The intro is followed by a witty video describing the physical nature of the observation tower and tips on how to get the best photos (turn off your flash and stand on the right when you get high in the air). People with acrophobia are encouraged to walk away!

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

Next, we were led to a dimly lit bar with gorgeous murals by Chris Reccardi. The full bar had well and specialty drinks, plus beer and wine. The selection of spirits was impressive, but the juice was all from the gun and the margaritas were made with sweet and sour mix. For $17, you could get a souvenir cup with your drink inside. My bartender was from Wisconsin, so I was able to get the inside scoop on the High Roller. He said that he had bartended on the ride over 1000 times and loves coming to work everyday. Pay for a $5 upgrade to go on the ‘Happiest Half Hour” party cabin, he said. This cabin comes with a bartender and an open bar. Good call!

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

After leaving the bar area, I was escorted to a waiting platform. The drinkers go in a special line.  We were rushed into our waiting glass pod.  The pods don’t stop for loading so it’s an amazing smooth experience. Most ferris wheels are stop and go for the loading procedure. As we gracefully ascended into the sky, we made fast friends with our tour-guide/bartender.

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

The glass pods can hold up to 40, or 25 with a bar set-up. The sunset over the mountains and the shine of the Las Vegas strip bonded our 15 person group. We snapped pictures of each other and pointed out landmarks and favorite places. I chatted with a mother from Australia and her son from Canada. They had bought cheap tickets to Las Vegas to see each other. I was instantly jealous, wishing that I had a loved one with me to experience the view and sunset.  Of course the ride ended with a trip to the gift shop. I bought a few decks of cards to remember the experience. It’s amazing, an engineering marvel. Go see this must-see!

9 Totally Weird Holiday Traditions

There are hundreds of holiday traditions around the globe, many of which you’ve probably never heard of – the giant goat made of hay (Sweden), the witch that brings candy (Italy), the burning pile of dirt (Guatemala). But these are the top 9 most unexpected, random, weird, awesome holiday traditions from around the world.

Christmas Log – Catalonia, Spain
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Awww, look at the little Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log). Yes, it’s a log with legs and a face and a little red hat. It may seem like a joke that just caught on, but the tradition hails from old Catalan mythology. The log is introduced in Catalan homes at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception every December 8. Leave food out for your little log each night. He gets hungry you know. And don’t forget a blanket! He might get cold. And when the kids aren’t looking, hide presents under the blanket. The idea here, people, is that carrying the log tired them out.

Night of the Radishes – Oaxaca, MX
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Every December 23, the Mexican state of Oaxaca presents the most impressive display of carved vegetables in the world. The radishes are grown especially for this event, and remain on display through Christmas day. The miniature exhibits depict the Nativity scene and other events from Mexican folklore. Originally, the tradition of radish carving was done by shopkeepers who wanted to entice people into their stores. Today, it’s a three-day festival.

SantaCon – Worldwide
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What began as a nonsensical gathering of San Franciscans dressed as Santa Claus, has become a worldwide pub crawl. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014, the official website describes it as “a conventions of santas – groups of men and women dressed as Santa.” That’s all it takes? Well, as specified in the very important guidelines, one cannot merely show up in a Santa hat. And one must address every single participant as “Santa.” Alrighty then.

Spider Webs for Good Luck – Ukraine

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The Ukrainian tradition of adding spider webs to the Christmas tree is odd, until you learn about the legend. In a nutshell: a poor widow lived with her children in a cold, damp hut. Her children had their sights set on a young Evergreen tree growing outside as their future Christmas tree. But they had nothing to decorate the tree. The woman cried herself to sleep that night, but the household spiders took note of her despair, and covered the tree in their intricate webs. In the morning, the sun hit the tree, which shimmered in silver and gold thread. From that day on, the widow never wanted for anything again.

Hide All Brooms – Norway

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A vestige of ancient pagan days, Norwegians go to the trouble of hiding all brooms on Christmas Eve. And sometimes the menfolk even take out their guns and fire a warning shot into the air. According to legend, witches and other evil spirits come out on that night each year. And you know what witches want…brooms.

KFC – Japan
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Ok, we kinda get this one. Fried chicken on Christmas Eve sounds like a good tradition. Sure, but why KFC? Every establishment has a long line trailing out the door. Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, so it must be something about the “Americanness” of the meal. That and good marketing that goes back to the 1970s. The tradition holds strong. There’s even a Smithsonian article about it.

Rollerskating to Mass En Masse – Venezuela
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Now here’s a fun Christmas tradition. Besides being woken up by firecrackers in the wee hours of the morning, residents of the Venezuelan city of Caracas get up, pull out their roller skates, and take off for mass. Many streets are closed to traffic and whole families wheel their way into the church pews. To hear the sound of skates in those sacred spaces!

Caroling with a Dead Horse – Wales
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On no particular day or time, from Christmas to late January, Mari Lwyd is a ritual of old, meant to bring good luck. One person dresses up as a horse, using an actual horse skull, and is accompanied by a group of people. Together they go from house to house and sing in the hopes that they will be rewarded with food and drink. This is not as foreign a tradition you might think. It is referred to in the Christmas carol “Here We Come A-wassailing.”

Krampus – Austria, Germany, Hungary
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For the good children, there is Santa Claus. For the bad, there is Krampus, a beast-like creature who shows up in order to punish the ill-behaved. Just the sight of him is punishing indeed! Krampus has roots in Germanic folklore. Today, young people dress up as Krampus and roam the streets in Austria, Romania, Bavaria, and other Balkan countries to frighten young children. Merry Christmas, everyone!

An Iberian Adventure in Portugal and Spain

One week ago, I was taking part in a luxury tour with Insight Vacations, to check out the sights from Lisbon, Portugal to Seville, Spain.

This Iberian adventure would have me falling in love with the colors of Lisbon and the food and people I met along the way. The grittiness of Lisbon is contrasted by the beauty of its history. The cultures that have influenced it still visible in its architecture and present in its food. The people reminded me of my own Latin heritage, with our vocal, often loud mannerisms, yet helpful and friendly demeanor.

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I shared my journey through Lisbon in my Findery notemap, Touring Lisbon, the most memorable of my journey being my afternoon in Santa Luzia and the colorful roof tops of the same and taking the tram over the many hills of this magical city.

But as much as I loved Lisbon, it would be Seville that would steal my heart completely. This cosmopolitan city is full of life and energy, beauty and culture. It’s many flowers and orange trees, even in the height of the fall season, highlight the colors and scents of the streets.

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A night of Flamenco is a compliment to any Spanish experience, but especially so in Sevilla and a walk through the nearby Cordoba is like a walk back in time.

There is so much to see, taste, do, and explore, each city unique and beautiful in its own way, its people warm and welcoming. I enjoyed it most off-season, though the weather was a bit chilly and rain. It was nothing a good glass of sangria couldn’t fix!

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Carol Cain is a travel writer. Check out her blog Girl Gone Travel. And follow her on Findery: @GirlGoneTravel.

Introducing Findery 3 for iPhone

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Findery for iOS has a new look! Now more beautiful and streamlined to make finding great places and leaving notes around the world easier.

What’s new?
+ New look and simplified experience, with easier navigation and discovery. Easier swiping!

+ Browse nearby places and explore faraway destinations with Near and Far.

+ Adding notes to notemaps is far simpler. Newbie contributors are able to save great notes they write or find to: My Finds, I Want to Go Here, I’ve Been Here and Memories.

Download the latest version from the App Store, and check out Near and Far. And if you’re on the web, or Android, we’ve got you covered too!

Thank You.

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We are continuously thankful and amazed by the notes left on Findery. From the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Cape Coast in Ghana to the streets of Central London, we start and end our days at Findery HQ reading stories about meaningful places. It’s a wonderful world and we are grateful to share it with you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rottenest City on the Pacific Coast

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Originally established as a “pleasure town”, Chief Justice of the US, Earl Warren, dubbed Emeryville as “the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast” in 1927. It seems fitting that local residents refer to it as Eville and themselves as Evillains. The city lines were redrawn numerous times to exclude any churches, as gambling parlors, brothels, and speakeasies were the lawless epicenter of the city. Despite being known for big box stores, corporate HQ’s, and most notoriously for Swedish-made home goods, Emeryville still holds on to it’s rotten roots as it was a city built on underdogs, rebels, and hard workers with a certain edge.

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The Townhouse is a vestige of this tempestuous time. A fella named Blackie ran the wooden shack as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Today the building retains its old-timey charm, but instead of moonshine, expect an upscale meal by Chef Ellen Hope Rosenberg.

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While the Townhouse holds onto the rotten past, Rotten City Pizza hangs onto it by name only. Though their thin crust New York pizza by the slice style is anything but rotten: they view their pizza as habit forming and an addictive indulgence, paralleling the hedonistic roots.

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Grab a slice of Rotten City’s pizza (or two!) and head across the street to devour it at Prizefighter. This city has dozens of hidden bars in converted spaces. Prizefighter is just that. Located in a part of town that was once known as Butchertown, the industrial brick building was once an old salmon cannery. It has been transformed into a craft cocktail bar, which also serves a wide selection of mezcals and sour beers, without a lick of pretentiousness. Hidden in plain sight, this neighborhood bar is marked only by a faded handpainted sign and fenced in patio – a great place to hang with your pooch or your pals.

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If classic cocktails are your vice, the Mai Tai doesn’t get any more original than at Trader Vic’s. Legend has it that Vic “The Trader” Bergeron created the Mai Tai in 1944 when making it one afternoon for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. One friend tasted it and cried out “Maita’i roa ae!”, literally meaning “very good”. And thus, the Mai Tai was born right here in the East Bay at one of the first tiki bars ever.

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Get back to the rowdy and raucous roots at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, which is named after a Clash song and is co-owned by punk rocker Mike Dirnt of Green Day. Rudy’s has recently been voted Best Breakfast/Brunch, Best Diner, and Best Late Night Munchies by Oakland Magazine’s readers choice poll. Offering a bit of everything in a friendly environment for everyone, Rudy’s simply can’t fail!

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The biggest addition in Emeryville? Caffeine. The smell of freshly roasted coffee emanates from the headquarters of Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Roast Coffee Co. and Highwire Coffee. But the only place you can walk in and get your fix: Farley’s on 65th. The joint serves up De La Paz coffee alongside made-from-scratch pastries and sandwiches. Sponsoring a local non-profit a month, it’s the perfect place to find community in a cup. Plus, all that outdoor seating is rather pleasurable!

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Just around the corner from Farley’s is the office of Lauren Geremia, a Forbes 30 under 30. Initially attracted to the raw industrial space that Emeryville provides, Lauren has made a home here in an amazing space that doubles as her interior design office. When she’s not busy designing some of the best SF bars and company HQ’s (Churchill, Dropbox, Instagram, and Lumosity…just to name a few!), she’s lounging poolside in her converted auto body shop.

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With the abundance of abandoned warehouses in Emeryville, artists have been flocking here for some time. And luckily, the city supports the community. The Art in Public Places Program, established in 1990, requires commercial and large residential spaces to contribute a percentage of building costs to public art. The city also hosts The Annual Emeryville Art Exhibition that shows 100+ pieces by artists who live or work in Emeryville.

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And where there are artists, there is bound to be a cooperative. The 45th Street Artist Cooperative is home to more than 50 artists, who also work here. Founded in 1973, it has launched many artist’s careers by providing the space and support needed. Now don’t worry, this is no hippy-dippy living situation! It’s a space that fosters a sense of partnership and collaboration amongst neighbors and friends.

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TBW Books, an independent photography book publishing company so close to the Emeryville/Oakland border that it has two mailing addresses. Founder Paul Schiek published his own book, Good By Angel, in 2005 and has continued publishing the work of his friends and peers since. The subject matter is always a bit edgy, outsider, and rough with a working-man’s handmade quality to it. TBW Books publishes an annual subscription that includes 4 photo books by both established and up-and-coming artists that is always pushing for experimentation and always bad ass.

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In a city rooted in deviant and counter-culture attitudes, the local residents here thrive in a non-conformist way with burgeoning small businesses and the ability to create in an open environment. Come across the Bay and experience just how pleasurable Emeryville is. (And for goodness sake, if you go to Ikea and have to eat the meatballs, at least enjoy the view from the cafeteria!)

Announcing the Findery Public API

At Findery, we love sharing interesting stories about places around the world. Up until now, the only way to join the party was through Findery.com or our apps.

Now there’s a backstage pass with the Findery API.

Using the Findery API (v.2, if you were around for v.1), developers can integrate with Findery. Create Findery notes for any location, gather notes into collections (we call them notemaps), and discover interesting places nearby. The Findery API is free and includes endpoints for notes, notemaps, comments, users, following, and more.

What can I do with the API?

With the Findery API, you can take advantage of our great content, near and far. Get nearby notes for local discovery, tourism, or the awesome tidbits you won’t find in history books. Display notes about your business to show how much customers love you. Create a notemap full of hidden treasures to visit. We look forward to finding new uses for Findery!

How do I get started?

The Findery API is free and easy. If you have experience with APIs, you should feel right at home. The Findery API implements the OAuth 2.0 standard for secure authentication and authorization and uses SSL for communication.

Get started by registering your app. It only takes a few minutes.

Learn more about the Findery API at https://findery.com/developer. And please feel free to ask us questions on Stack Overflow.

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