We (the lovely wife and the younger of the lovely daughters) took a road trip a couple of weeks ago from San Diego to Astoria, Oregon - and back, of course. I planned our route in advance to try to keep each day's drive-time relatively short so we would have plenty of time to stop and explore anything and everything that looked interesting along the way.
Day one: Pismo Beach, Ca I planned for the first stop of our adventure to be Pismo Beach because that's the location of my most memorable anniversary adventure1. We stopped a couple of times on the way there to explore unfamiliar beaches (one of which was accessible from an empty parking lot through a weird under-the-freeway tunnel). It was dark by the time we arrived in Pismo Beach, so we didn't spend much time on the beach or looking around town on day one. We basically just checked into our low-budget motel and then went out hunting for someplace to eat (Five Guys was the winner). We later sought out a Target to obtain the items the girls forgot to bring. It's hard to imagine trying to make this drive without the internet on my phone2.
Day two: Pismo Beach/Half Moon Bay, Ca The next morning before heading out, we decided to explore Pismo Beach's boardwalk, beach, etc. We wandered around, looking at the many beach-type shops you find on the strip at every beach. We ate breakfast at a delicious French-themed restaurant, the Mon Ami Creperie Cafe. The food was delicious and the ambiance was very French (from the perspective of someone who has never been to France). I recommend The Bako crepe for breakfast if you want real food. They can also make all their stuff gluten-free, which was a big selling point for Emeli. Julie had a Belgian waffle and really liked it a lot. After eating and spending a couple of hours of exploring shops and the beach, we packed up the car and headed to Half Moon Bay, CA, arriving a few hours later. Again, it was getting later in the afternoon, so we checked in to our slightly-less-awful motel and then sought out a place to eat. We found a place called Spicoli Pizza online and headed over3. The restaurant was in a cool inside-out shopping center that was pretty much closed by the time we got there. The pizza took a while to make an appearance (probably because we got a gluten-free pizza for Emeli), but we were fine waiting and watched America's Funniest Home Videos on the restaurant's TV while we waited. It was a tasty pizza (for gluten-free food), so I guess the wait was justified. Emeli said it was the best gluten-free pizza she'd ever had. I found the crust unimpressive, but the toppings were very generous and tasty, so I guess that made up for it. And that's pretty much all that happened on day two, other than seeing some really interesting trees on our drive in the middle of otherwise empty fields of grass. It was interesting to watch the landscape and vegetation shift as we drove from climate zone to climate zone.
On the way to Half Moon Bay, we also stopped to look around a lighthouse: the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero, CA. Sadly, it's now a decrepit old thing that is barely standing. But it's still worth a quick look on your way up the PCH. Interestingly, there's also a hostel there for vagabonds who shun hotels and privacy.
Day three: San Francisco We didn't spend a second on the beach in Half Moon Bay, so I don't know if we missed an amazing beach or anything else spectacular in this town. We headed right to San Fransisco the next morning and found parking near Fisherman's Wharf. We parked in an internet-suggested parking lot that cost way more ($45) than we could have paid had we looked a little harder - so lesson learned. We drove and later walked up and down several super-steep streets, explored shops and neighborhoods in the area, marveled at the cool architecture everywhere, had some delicious desserts in the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square. We also drove over to Union Square so I could show the girls the sweet mall I'd discovered the month before on my OSI adventure, where we ate lunch (Emeli had a weird vegan fake-chicken thing and I got a pretty-good Philly cheese-steak - opposites!). We really didn't take the time to explore this very impressive mall at all because Emeli wasn't feeling very well (that's what she gets for eating vegan), so we headed back to the (much more affordable) Union Square parking lot and made our very circuitous way toward the Golden Gate Bridge, poorer, sunburned and ready to hit the open road.
Our next stop up the road: Garberville, Ca. We arrived at our hotel, the Best Western Plus Humboldt House Inn just as it was getting dark. This hotel was a million times better in every way than every other place we stayed on our adventure. To be fair, I was targeting more affordable accommodations.
Day four: Redwood adventure day We explored Garberville the next morning, primarily in pursuit of a pair of socks for me because I hadn't brought any that were adventure appropriate, and made some fun local discoveries. We found a used bookstore that had a lot of books for the girls to look through (I didn't find any that I found interesting that I didn't already own). Emeli found a book worth reading and spent a good part of the trip reading it. We also found another notable Garberville shop - The Stonery, a really cool gem and jewelry store. Surprisingly, I got out of there without having to buy any expensive gifts for either of the girls. Emeli was going to buy some little stone-carved animals, but the owner of the shop, who was full of information about things to see on our trip through the redwoods, gave her a couple of things free (she was planning to buy one of them, but he just gave it to her), which made her morning. With a new map from the shop owner and a whole bunch of information, we left the shop for our last stop - a sporting goods store that had the socks I needed.
We drove north from our hotel to The Avenue of Giants, stopping on the first of many a pull-outs very soon after exiting Highway 101 onto the Avenue. The lush, foliage of the trees, the ferns growing everywhere, and the gigantic trunks of the ancient trees all around us were breathtaking. It felt like a Velociraptor could come tearing out of the primordial forest and eat us up at any moment. After we parked the car, we wandered deeper into the undergrowth, awestruck by the ancient-feeling foliage. We crossed small streams atop mossy redwoods that had fallen across the gaps. Looking up and downstream, we saw many other trees had fallen the same way, which made me wonder if the logs had been dragged here and dropped intentionally to form bridges or if it really was just random chance that these trees had formed perfect bridges across the streams. There was no obvious reason anyone would take the time and effort to create bridges with these huge trees in this given area, so I'm sticking with random chance theory.
After taking a million photos and wandering in every direction as far as we dared, we made our way back to the car and drove until we spotted something else we wanted to explore. We found too many amazing things to mention them all. Among these were a giant hollowed out Redwood I could walk through upright, many Redwoods that were at least partially hollowed out and could be stood within (most showing evidence of past fire damage), lots of streams to explore, thick, green ferns everywhere...and just so much nature.
As with the failure to show just how steep the super-steep streets of San Francisco were, these photos fail to show how amazingly ginormous the redwoods are.
We also stopped at a tourist-y thing along the Avenue (there are a few of these and small towns right inside the forest) and paid to drive the car through the long-dead and barely-standing Shrine redwood (I recall driving through a larger redwood years ago, but that was probably the tree that feel over from the heavy rainfall earlier this year). There were also treehouses made from hollowed out Redwoods that were fun to check out. And there were also a couple of other things to see a little further north along the Avenue of Giants.
It took us a few hours to traverse the 30 or so miles of The Avenue of Giants, and then we continued on to our second stop of the day: Ferndale.
Ferndale is pretty much just a tiny farming community northwest of the north of The Avenue of Giants. It's not on the coast, it's not very near any redwoods, but it is picturesque. The main street is filled with a lot of Victorian-style architecture. There are even buildings off the main street that were very impressive - one of these was the Gingerbread Mansion Inn. We really wanted to stay there, but couldn't work into the drive timeline. One of the most impressive shops on Main street was actually vacant, (at least the bottom floor was - the top floor was occupied with residents). We ate lunch at The Ferndale Pie Company which wasn't one of the super-cool Victorian buildings, but was a very quaint small-town cafe that had the best chicken pot pie I've ever had. It must have risen a half-inch above the lip of the pie tin and was filled with every vegetable imaginable. They also had a large assortment of homemade pies and other desserts - we shared a gigantic brownie and cinnamon roll. This was the kind of food you seem to only find in small towns - freshly made with real ingredients and delicious. Sadly, we were so overwhelmed by the sights (that's my excuse, anyway) that didn't take a single photo of anything in Ferndale. I recommend stopping by if you drive through The Avenue of Giants. I still wish we'd been able to stay at the Gingerbread Mansion Inn. The photos online make the interior look just as cool as the exterior.
I had planned to do more exploring / take some photos of Ferndale before we left, but Emeli's sensitive stomach drove the agenda and we were soon back on the road, headed north. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. From Ferndale, we drove straight up to Coos Bay, Oregon - arrive just as darkness was settling in.
Day five: Oregon Explorations, day 1 The motel room in Coos4 Bay was the low point of the trip (or at least of the trip's accommodations). It was smelly, dark, noisy (feet from a busy road used by huge logging trucks all day and night, apparently) and on the very cramped side. There was a waterfront museum across the street from the motel (within sight of our room - across a busy street), but the stay in this room had us so soured with Coos Bay, we opted to skip anything Coos Bay might have to offer and just get out of town as soon as we were all ready to go. But...on the way out of town, we did stop to eat in a quaint little restaurant, The Pancake Mill5 since we hadn't really had anything since the day before. I had a delicious full breakfast special with eggs, sausage, pancakes, and juice for less than I paid for the Philly cheese-steak I'd gotten in San Francisco. And the girls got delicious Belgian waffles that they really liked (Emeli's was gluten-free, but still delicious, which you'll realize is a major accomplishment if you've sampled gluten-free food).
The drive along the Oregon coast is one of the most scenic you could imaging. Tree-covered mountainsides on one side of the road and driftwood-covered beaches on the other. Streams and rivers fed cold spring water (not the toxic sludge that drains into the ocean in Southern California) to the Pacific Ocean at every beach we visited. There are small rocky islands just off the beach all over the place. And there are moss-covered trees everywhere. Everything was green and we drove over uncountable rivers, lakes, and lily pad-covered ponds. The beaches were chilly, but we stopped and explored several anyway. When I made this same drive years earlier, I remembered seeing Sea Lions sunning themselves on the remote beaches, but the only spot with Sea Lions on this drive was a tourist trap that had taken over a section of beach and charged a lot for access to the Sea Lions. And it charged a lot. So we didn't get to see the Sea Lions up close on the drive.
We did see another lighthouse on our way to Astoria: the Umpqua River Lighthouse. This one was actually a fully-functional lighthouse with a U.S. Coast Guard housing complex between the lighthouse and the lighthouse museum. We paid to take the full tour of the lighthouse. It was very cool. There was also a whale's jawbone display outside the lighthouse and some of those pay-to-view binoculars (there are apparently quite often whales off the coast here, but we didn't see any).
I had every intention of blathering on about the whole vacation at once, but after losing the second half of what I'd already written, I'm now going to just post this bad boy up in installments. (I was unaware of the size limitations of a MYSQL TEXT data field, which is 64KB for the record!)
Consider this the end of installment one - installment two coming soon...ish!6
1 I'm planning to add this to my bio page at some point, but there are a ton of gaps that need to be filled in there, so who knows when or if that will ever happen...
2 How did I survive these long drives before the Internet - or without phones with access to the Internet for that matter! It took a lot more planning and a lot more dependence on the good ol' Thomas Guide, that's fer sure.
3 See, another victory for the Internet. We not only needed food, we needed something that would cater to the gluten-sensitive.
4 What in the world is a "Coo"? Since there's no apostrophe, Coos must be the plural of Coo...but what does it all mean? Am I the only morally outraged grammarian?
5 Go Internet!
6 As if anyone has even read this far...