Installment Four: Where all the Old Hippies Went
There is no place I know that offers a fair comparison with California's north coast from Marin to the Victorian fantasy of Mendocino. This is the stretch of the coast where whole stretches remain relatively untouched and one can squint and get a glimpse of what the Coast looked like before the cries of "gold" from Sutter's Fort changed California forever.
You have to take some time planning this part of your trip. With towns spread far apart, sponenaity may not be rewarded here. Plan to stop along the way to collect driftwood. Stop at Fort Ross (built to support Russia's fur trappers in California). Just north of the cliff town of Gualala is Anchor Bay. This is where my sister, my dad and I would wait for low tide to go out with a crowbar and gunny sack to harvest abalone. They were huge and they were tasty. Now abalone must be only harvested using scuba. The sparkling abalone shells we harvested encircled my Mom's flower beds for decades.
Once you make it to Mendocino plan to spend a day or two. There are lots of victorian B&B's and the town is awash in artists, candle purveyors, and the most birkenstocks on humans you will see this side of the Oregon border. Stop in to see American Pie crafts gallery on Main St. This store was recently relocated from Wilmington NC (where it was profiled by American Craft magazine). I found some of the best birthday and Christmas gifts ever here (including an amazing carved whistle by Connie "Caw" Roberts that looks like Georgia O'Keefe!)
Just a bit North of Mendocino is Fort Bragg. This is where if you have a day you can take the skunk train. The rail line was built to move redwood timber to the mills in Mendocino. The rail used a small self propelled motorcar which according to local lore, you could smell before you could see. Now there are original skunks, a steam train, and a more modern diesel train that makes the run from Fort Bragg to Willits. At an average rate of 29 mph, the trip is pretty relaxing.
From Mendocino drive north to where Highway 1 ends to join Highway 101. Of the major North South highways, only 101 flirts with the coast. Travel north to the amazing redwoods. As soon as the opportunity exists exit Highway 101 for the Avenue of the Giants. Aside from hiking or biking, driving this 31 mile 2-lane road is the very best way to absorb the power of majesty of this forest. The quality of light that drifts down from the tree canopy and shear density of the forest is awe inspiring.
Once you reach then end of the Avenue, it is time to double back and head south on 101 to Garberville. Here you would do well to stay or eat at the Benbow Inn.
After a stop in Garberville the remaining trip has you cutting over on Highway 128 which will take you through the heart of the Wine Country. Plan to spend some time lunching in Saint Helena and/or Napa. Stop at the classic old Christian Brothers or one of the newer upscale wineries for a tour and tasting. Try to arrange your time so that any drives in this area happen on weekdays as the weekender traffic from the Bay Area really can choke things up.
From here motor east to Sacramento. That is where we will pick up Installment Five.
Roadboys Travels © 2008