August 16, 2013 (Friday) – We hit the open road (meaning bumper to bumper traffic on the 101 North) Friday afternoon, August 16, 2013. Sven (our Volvo C70 hardtop convertible) was filled with camping gear, black tie wedding attire, and everything in between. Despite this range, we were disciplined enough to take only that which would still allow us to utilize the drop-top and live out our fantasy of rolling like soccer mom gangsta rappers.
We cut over to Route 1 just before San Luis Obispo and split takeout from the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach. Fish tacos and a king crab po’boy. King crab sounds even more oxymoronic than oysters or shrimp when paired with po’boy. We arrived at our campsite in the Washburn campground of San Simeon State Park at 7:20 pm. The Washburn campground is set up on a hill about a mile inland from the ocean. A few of the sites have ocean views, but most do not. After we set up the tent, I drove down to the ranger station to confirm the water spigots dispensed potable water. I returned to find Jenni in a mild verbal scuffle with a French family in an RV who claimed to have returned to their rightful site for the evening. We had noticed some folding chairs in the area (but of course no tent), and perhaps foolishly thought it more likely that someone from a nearby site had spread out for a bit than that the campground would have double booked the site. We erred, but after accusing Jenni of stealing because she sat in one of the chairs, the other family switched sites. A small fire blazing in the ring, we popped the Moët to celebrate the first night of the trip.
August 17, 2013 (Saturday) – Left over rolls with butter and coffee sustained us through a “grand rooms” tour of Hearst Castle. We arrived around 10 am and joined a 10:20 tour with no reservation. Twenty-five dollars per ticket is steep, but the experience is worthwhile. It was cool and foggy at the coast, sunny and about 20º warmer atop the hill.
We made a quick stop at elephant seal beach and continued up the coast to a 1:30 pm lunch at Whale Watchers Café in Gorda. Spaghetti Bolognese and a tuna melt for over $40 is no prize, but options are few and far between on this stretch of Route 1. After lunch we continued up the coast and cut inland on the 156 to the 101 to save some time getting to Felix and Amanda’s beautiful house in Hillsborough. We drove to charming, downtown Burlingame with several blocks of shops and restaurants. Earlier that day, I wondered if I would have chance encounters with friends while traveling. Less than 36 hours into the trip, we ran into Doug and Tracy on our way to dinner at Urban Bistro.
August 18, 2013 (Sunday) – We woke around 7:30 am and did more research on what to do and where to stay. Amanda cooked some eggs and we departed around 11 and drove up the hill to the 280 North and over the Golden Gate bridge. When we left their house it was warm and sunny, but at the bridge is was cool and foggy. We drove up to the Marin Headlands anyway and were rewarded with some lovely views of the bridge and the city. Next, we drove through Sausalito and rejoined Route 1. The road is very windy and hilly at least to Stinson Beach. Muir Beach was closed for a few months for some reason. Stinson was quite crowded despite that it was cool and foggy. There is a little town there, the beach has dog and no-dog sections, and there are hiking trails to/from Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley, etc.
We took a quick peek and continued as the road hugs Bolinas Lagoon before becoming inland for a while along Point Reyes National Seashore then returning to the inland coast again at Tomales Bay. There are many cyclists and bikers. Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed with perhaps 100 cars parked on the roadside. We passed this place and stopped up the road at The Marshall Store which I think sources the same oysters. There is an indoor counter where you order and the menu, natch, is seafood-focused. Though there is also a smoker and they serve pulled pork. BBQ oysters are famous in these parts and that’s what I got, with butter and garlic. Six large oysters per order for $16, comes with some grilled bread. The sauce was a little tangy, my dish was tasty. Jenni got fish tacos ($13) that were grilled and mediocre. The Allagash White ($3) was not cold enough. The vibe and location were great, the service was very good, but the execution could be improved. Around the shack is a little wood deck with some chairs and then there are long wood tables on the road side with chairs facing each other, half to the road and half to the bay. A couple hundred yards up the road is a place renting kayaks. The crowd was a mix of tourists, SF’ers, wine country folks, bikers, etc. It reminded me of a lakeside BBQ because it’s a narrow bay and you can see the other side, and the beach is small. This area feels like Maine or Cape Cod with more hills, cows and birds of prey.
From there Route 1 heads inland before cutting back to meet the ocean at Bodega Bay. We saw signs for the Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival the weekend of August 24-25 and that’s probably pretty neat. Beyond here Route 1 becomes spectacular. I realize it is heresy to do anything but extol the virtues of Big Sur, but for my money I think I prefer the coast North of Bodega Bay. It is possibly a touch less spectacular, but far less crowded and feels less touristy. The town of Jenner was cute, as was Gualala and Point Arena. While we stopped at neither, John at Glendeven recommended Bones (BBQ) in Gualala and Franny’s Cup & Saucer (bakery) in Point Arena.
We arrived at the Inn at Cobbler’s Walk a little after 6 pm. This is the sister property across the street from Glendeven in the town of Little River, just a couple miles south of Mendocino. It is very charming with outstanding service (when they say there is a parking spot with your name on it, they mean it). The Glendeven is on the inland side and has a reception area with wine bar, complimentary wine from 5:30-6:30 pm, and a little deli fridge with charcuterie. We bought a delicious fennel pollen salami with Sangiovese wine from Olli Salumeria and a Petite Creme Brie from Marin French Cheese Company that we savored with Raincoast Crisps cranberry and hazelnut crackers in our room with some Peachy Canyon zinfandel. There is a chicken coop, a llama pen, gardens, etc. The Inn is on the coastal side and also has a main room with coffee, tea, cookies and dining area. Decor in the common spaces is dark wood and espresso leather.
After checking in, we walked down to a small beach near the Little River Inn (which staff had recommended for a nice meal). There was driftwood, beautiful coastline scenery, and what seemed to be a sea otter playing offshore. Our room was reasonably spacious with an angled vaulted ceiling and a fireplace stocked with Duraflame logs. The weather after Stinson Beach was spectacular, mostly 60s and sunny along the coast.
August 19, 2013 (Monday) – An early morning light hike down to the Mendocino headlands was a delightful start to the day. There is a narrow dirt path right from the Inn’s parking area through flora including thistle with pine trees. We passed deer on the 10 minute walk to the coast where there are cliffs and offshore rocks and crashing waves with lots of kelp. There are a couple wooden benches (not slats, rather a huge piece of wood carved to a bench) and some sea birds. We walked around and returned to our room for a promptly-delivered 9 am breakfast. It arrived in a basket containing Jenni’s cocoa, my coffee and cream, freshly squeezed organic OJ, homemade zucchini bread, Mediterranean quiche and baked local pears with anise-hyssop & berries. This place also does farm to table dinners Wednesday-Saturday for $50++.
We hit the road and stopped at Harvest at Mendosa’s in the center of the adorable little town of Mendocino. This is a legit mid-sized market with a good butcher (including some products from Roundman’s Smoke House in Fort Bragg). We picked up ground beef, thick slices of bacon, rolls, oatmeal and firewood. Patterson’s Pub had been recommended for a casual meal/drink the night before. The Joshua Grindle Inn is a lodging alternative we had considered.
The town of Fort Bragg is larger with national chain stores and fast food. Route 1 again becomes very windy and hilly before joining the 101 at Leggett, which is inland and about 30º warmer than the coast. This stretch of the 101 is also fairly hilly and windy but more like a narrow highway with large trucks. We stopped at Confusion Hill, a classic old-school roadside attraction that’s been there since 1949. The gravity house of tilt-induced optical illusions was probably worth the $5 entrance fee.
The 101 becomes a more typical highway and enters Humboldt County. We did not explore Eureka in depth, but it appears to be a s*#thole. If I were looking to cast a film about cooking meth, I might exclaim “eureka” upon arrival. About 40 miles up the coast in Orick, we pulled into the Elk Meadow Day Use Area off Davison Road where we spotted a pair of beautiful Roosevelt bulls and enjoyed some wild blackberries.
A quarter mile up the road at Elk Meadow Cabins there were perhaps 15 females. We arrived at Del Norte State Park shortly after 6 pm and got a first come spot (#102) at the Mill Creek campground. Thirty-five dollars is steep for camping, but the site was more private than San Simeon. Amenities include a bear locker, fire ring, picnic table, potable water, flush toilets and coin operated showers at $0.50 for five minutes. I was pleasantly surprised to learn we could leave scented items in the car or the bear locker. At Yosemite, they are adamant that there can be no scented items outside the bear lockers. I grilled some bacon cheeseburgers on the portable propane Weber and we finished the Peachy Canyon zinfandel and had a little chocolate for dessert. It was surprisingly warm as we went to sleep before 9 pm. Up here it rains little in the summer but 10-12” per month in winter.
August 20, 2013 (Tuesday) – The morning was cool but pleasant and it was another gorgeous day. We cooked some healthy oatmeal type product and made coffee and tea. Shortly after 9:30 am we drove four miles south to the Damnation Creek Trailhead at mile marker 16 on the 101. The trail ascends briefly before dropping over 1,000 feet to a rocky beach. It is described as steep and strenuous. That is a mild overstatement if you are an experienced hiker, but I imagine the bottom portion could be quite tricky in wet conditions. We saw several others, but it was not crowded. It took us 45 minutes to descend, we spent 45 minutes at the bottom and required under an hour to ascend. I recommend this hike as the coast is rugged and beautiful.
If you’ve enough gas in the tank to hold out for Brookings, Oregon, you’ll save $0.10-0.30/gallon. You will also continue to enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful coastline in Southern Oregon.
I love the North coast of California. The coastline is jaw-dropping, there are countless spit beaches with a lagoon/river on one side and the ocean on the other, it is verdant, and not crowded. Many of the homes are rustic but quite nice looking.