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Pacific Coast Road Trip, Pt. 3 – The Never-Ending Story

So much coordination was required for my move from Los Angeles to Washington state — organizing years of belongings into piles for sale, donation, and three households — that I didn’t have much time to plan the itineraries for my road trips north and south.

And while preparation is the cornerstone of an uneventful trip, where’s the fun in that?

Besides ensuring my car was safe and the roads ahead were passable, my sojourns were an exercise in improvisation. I stopped to eat when I got hungry, stopped for gas when my car got thirsty, stopped to sleep when I felt weary.

All-sleeping eye -- McMenamin's Grand Lodge, Forest Grove, OR

All-sleeping eye — McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, Forest Grove, Oregon


Having the luxury of a fairly loose schedule left much opportunity for discovery. Making the transition over several months meant if I missed something one way, I could hit it on a return trip. This created a sort of discovery Hydra — every unplanned turnoff leading to at least three others I noted for a return visit — and the realization that journeys never really end, they merely evolve into others.


Staircase detail from Portland’s glorious Multnomah County Library.


I discovered some cool historic towns and notable old hotels, but I also came to appreciate the hot soup and cookies at the Travelodge in Roseburg, Oregon, and the shining beacon of the Seven Feathers Indian Casino, which was like having a mini-vacation in the middle of a marathon.

Even the Best Western wants the best for me!

Even the Best Western in Medford, OR, wants the best for me!


Ad lib road tripping also taught me that the coastal route always takes three times as long, but is ten times as rewarding…

False Klamath Cove, south of Crescent City, CA

False Klamath Cove, south of Crescent City, CA.


…how to sniff out every boutique chocolatier within 50 miles of the main highway…

An excellent accompaniment to chicken nuggets and potato chips

An excellent accompaniment to chicken nuggets and potato chips.


…and that, while solitude is sweet, sometimes it’s nice to have some help behind the wheel.

Sharp driver, foggy coast.

Sharp driver, foggy coast.

In the summer, my friend Sharon accompanied me north in my new/old beach rig which was packed to the ski-racks with books, booze and the computer on which I’m typing this.

Our sights were set on coastline and Redwoods, so after the sleepover in San Jose, we crossed the Golden Gate and took the turnoff to Highway 1. Just a heartbeat west of the pulse of San Francisco, the Shoreline Highway carves deep, twisting turns through the Muir wilderness and along a narrow, cliff-hugging road that was shrouded in mist.


We dipped in and out of Tsunami Hazard Zones, through Glocca Morra-ish Stinson Beach, past the isolated sweetness of the Bolinas Lagoon.

By lunchtime, the fog had lifted, our hunger peaked, and we found shellfish nirvana at Nick’s Cove in Tomales Bay.

Sated with freshly plucked and shucked oysters, we motored on up the coast, past the washed wood condos of Sonoma’s Sea Ranch and the Heritage House in Little River, made famous (or infamous) by the film “Same Time Next Year.” We arrived for sunset and ice cream in the starkly lovely coastal cliff town of Mendocino.


California coast south of Mendocino.


And here is where I learned of the 3:10 coastal time/distance ratio. We did not arrive to our sleepover stop in Eureka until 10 PM. It was the most strenuous, but also one of the most memorable drives of all of my trips.

We spent the next morning exploring the old Victorian homes of Eureka, including this lovely pink lady…


…spent the morning and early afternoon buffeting between herds of roadside elk and groves of trees in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park….


…then pushed on up the coast to Bandon, Oregon.

Built on the cranberry business, Bandon now also popular for its lovely historic waterfront and proximity to the world-class golf destination, the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.  (And not to mention, world-class fine chocolate at Coastal Mist Chocolate — see above!)

We appreciate public art, and hope that this is not indicative of the sea life off Bandon's coast.

We appreciate public art, and hope that this is not indicative of the sea life off Bandon’s coast.


By late afternoon, we’d arrived at the Oregon Dunes, where we headed through the John Dellenback Dunes Trail to scamper towards the sunset across miles of swelling sand — only losing each other once.


The dunes are at once dramatic and tranquil, and deserve more time to explore than we could afford.


We finally dragged ourselves away in the waning light for a bed and lovely, late meal in Florence, Oregon.


The next day, we stopped at the Sea Lion Caves , just north of Florence. The largest sea cave in the U.S., it’s seasonally populated by hundreds of northern sea lions as well as sea birds including cormorants and pigeon guillemots.

Equal parts comedy and drama, this show of nature is well worth the price of admission, with braying bulls lording over their harems, and the full force of the tide sweeping into the 125 foot high grotto.


Inside the grotto


The rookery on the rocks below.


A few hours later, we made a too-brief afternoon stop in the lovely Cannon Beach, recognizable by its Haystack Rock, which is dotted with puffins and ringed by tide pools.

This tiny town offers more than its size implies, including shopping, fine and casual dining, CHOCOLATE, and hiking and swimming at nearby Ecola State Park.


An autumn return trip to LA was another chance to visit California’s big red trees with my friend Hilary, a Redwoods virgin.

After a long day’s drive south from Olympia and dinner in Eureka, we stayed the night at the clean and comfy Lighthouse Inn in Crescent City, in the mouth of the harbor (and apex of the tsunami hazard zone.)

While we were offered a quiet room in the back, we opted for the harbor view, and fell asleep to the comforting lull of the harbor’s foghorn, interrupted occasionally by the braying from its colony of sea lions.


The next day was a journey down the Redwood Highway, and while the elk sightings were few this time, I had the most memorable of my Redwoods hikes.

I hope to spend a longer time there soon so I can linger on the secret, sandswept beach I “discovered” at the end of the Ossagon Trail. (Full post on the California Redwoods in the future!)

A peek of the wild side of the Ossagon Trail.

A peek of the wild side of the Ossagon Trail.


Exhausted by our day of hiking and driving (and maybe the sea lions didn’t help our sleep after all), we stopped for the night in Garberville, which wins the vote for most likely candidate as a setting for a reality TV series.

Not having made a hotel reservation in advance, we had to opt for quirk and found friendly service and an adequate room at the Sherwood Forest Motel.

So, Garberville.

On our drive up and down the town’s main drag, we’d noticed clusters of young vagabond types — collections of guitars, dogs and dreadlocks. And, it seemed, a cadre of them was staying at our very motel, having a sort of traveling party.

A young girl with a facial tattoo and gauged earlobes smoked on the curb outside our door. We gently shooed her dog, Karma, from our room, just before propping a chair under the doorknob and finding our earplugs, which did pretty much nothing to subdue the noise from the night’s activities.

It's common decency, people!

It’s common decency, people!

Thankfully, the next morning, we found strong coffee and a great, hot breakfast at the nearby Eel River Cafe. We pondered the oddness of the town, as we admired the cafe’s many cow-themed tchotchkes and its strict sense of food safety.

We eavesdropped on overheard not one, but two stories of people whose cars had broken down in Garberville, and somehow, six months (and two years) later, they were still there. What strange magic was at work in this odd little fold in the mountains of…?

Ohhhh, Humboldt County. The marijuana heartland of the U.S. of A. With marijuana cultivation supplanting the timber industry and with its own Cannabis College, Garberville is the unofficial capital of the “Emerald Triangle.”

It’s also laid back, lovely, and offers easy day access to some of the most spectacular wilderness in the state, including Shelter Cove, the Avenue of the Giants, and Bigfoot’s house.


Legend? HA — we all know he’s real….


My last carload north in November led me again through Ashland, on a side trip to the tiny Victorian town of Drain, a dogleg over to Corvallis, then across US 20 towards the coast.

I was regretting my choice to take the longer route — sacrificing a welcome-home dinner with my honey — when the setting sun glittered through the the ice-clad bare trees, lighting them like twinkle lights. Clumps of early snow frosting the evergreens melted and plooshed onto the highway.

Then, breaking through the coastal mist in Depoe Bay, the Oregon Coast showed off its prettiest sunset. Ooooohhhhhh.

Never regret the road you choose. The reward might be just around the bend.

Never regret the road you choose. The reward might be just around the bend.


My last trip south was lone and leisurely, slowly wending down the Oregon coast and the Redwoods Highway, stopping at lighthouses, bridges and beaches.

I stayed in familiar hotels, ate in familiar local spots I’d discovered on past trips. I photographed places I’d passed before and missed; I soaked in the winter Redwoods’ cold and solitary stillness.

The transition to my new home took almost a year; settling into it has taken half that time, each dawning day making it clearer that I made an excellent decision.

Just another day on Willapa Bay.

Just another day on Willapa Bay.


And while I have much to uncover and discover in my new state — of residence and mind — I still find I have to resist the urge to jump behind the wheel — to let an unfamiliar road find me, to meet others on their journey, and witness who they choose to take with them.

We're all traveling somewhere....

We’re all traveling somewhere….



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