When I was a child, I had it better than I ever could have imagined. My family took me on road trips. More than short jaunts from New Orleans to the beaches of the Florida panhandle, but journeys through the the entirety of the United States. We've driven from New Orleans to Niagra Falls. I've seen the Great Lakes through the Great Plains. I've been to Glacier National Park in Montana, have seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, the Royal Gorge; we drove up the summit of Pike's Peak...everything in between. These are just the landmarks off the top of my head. By the time I was 22, I had seen every state in the US in a car, aside from Alaska. Even when we took a trip to the Hawaiian Islands when I was 13, we got on the road and drove the amazing Hana Highway in East Maui.
We had no handheld gaming systems to occupy us much less smart phones; we looked out of the window to take in as much of the vast and diverse landscapes of this country as we possibly could. One very important detail is that we did most of this in an Oldsmobile Cutlass...oh, and my grandparents came with us. Three in the front seat, three in the back seat. I got along with my little sister. I'd imagine that it sounds horrific to many, but these are some of the greatest moments of my life. No hotel or dinner reservations - just a destination, a full tank of gas, and the freedom to explore the spaces in between.
I'm still obsessed with roads. I recently drove the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Given all the time in the world, you could never see and appreciate all the beauty it has to offer.
In 2007, I drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco - a gorgeous stretch that includes Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, and The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. An involuntary gasp at every turn...and there are quite a few turns. This is the one that I think about the most...the unfinished business ahead on the west coast makes for outstanding daydream material.
Last weekend, two of the most inspiring people I know were married in Napa, CA. We made the trip and built in a couple of days on the back end to get a little taste of what the northern stretch of the PCH has in store. That short little sprint up to Mendocino and back has reignited me - I'VE GOT TO FINISH. Enjoy a few photos from this leg of the trip. There will be much more to come -hopefully sooner rather than later.
I've found that the best plan is not to have one. You can't make a wrong turn. You'll never see it all. The sooner you can relieve yourself of the pressure to do so, the more you can enjoy the ride. You'll know exactly when is the right time to pull over and take a hike. The landmarks tell you.
Do go see some redwood trees. The only place in the world you'll find them is in the Pacific Northwest. There are plenty of them along the highway, but there are a number of opportunities to enter immense redwood forests on foot. If you're in the bay area, the Muir Woods are fantastic. These above are from a cluster called Maggie's Grove at Navarro River Redwoods State Park.
While flying by the seat of your pants looking for brown signs and scenic overlooks can be the way to go, a little help from a local can point you to a hidden gem if you have the time and the spirit. Many in the area refer to this as "God's Thumbprint."
On Pacific Coast Highway approaching Mendocino from the south, you'll see a graveyard on the left. You're not going to want to pull over there, but you should. You're not going to want to go through the graveyard, but go through the graveyard and you'll find the Little River Blowhole.
Now...you're definitely not going to want to climb down the steep 300ish ft sinkhole, but go ahead and do that. Use the rope even though at times you might not want to. It's there you'll find this little sweet spot.
You might not want to go in, but do.
You're not going to want to be driving those winding mountain roads at night, so have a plan for when the sun begins to set. With the temperate climate and abundance of campgrounds, I'd recommend pitching a tent or hammock for the night if you're on the road for the long haul. Being that we were packed for a wedding and looking for a bed before our return to the airport, we stumbled upon The Wharf Master's Inn in Point Arena right at sunset in one of the most incredible strokes of luck I've ever experienced.
Not only are you positioned nicely for a sunset like you see above, but there is a nice little restaurant called the Pier Chowder House & Tap Room on site serving excellent food and a great selection of local and regional craft beers.
You'll also find some of the best night life the Pacific Coast has to offer.
Short on time, we quickly made our way back to San Francisco for our flights. The time on the road feels good. It's freedom encapsulated.
If you understand the American road trip tradition, you know that the most fulfilling part is that it will teach you to live more fully, take more risks and more detours, explore, be curious, and embrace new and unfamiliar experiences.
I'm just going to put a bookmark here until part 2 - PCH of Oregon and Washington.
Please feel free to share some of your experiences in the comments below!!