I've been wanting to head on back down the Oregon/California coast for a few years now. It finally happened.
Day 1 - Portland
Man, I really love Portland. I don't really get it. There's so many great pubs. So many great restaurants. So many great stores. Powell's. Real Estate is cheap. Close to surf. Okay for riding. Decent for skiing. I kind of want to live there.
We met up with Dan at some sort of crazy hippie market. I feel like every time I go to Portland, there's some sort of crazy hippie market going on somewhere. It's always the same sorts of people selling stuff. It just seems to kind of move around from place to place. This one shut down a major city street for 10-20 blocks.
I mentioned good Portland food above and this trip was no exception. We hit up a tapas place and it was some of the best Tapas I've ever had. Decent portions. Good food. Lots of Sangria. It was pretty great.
The other thing about Portland is that every time I go, Dan seems to take us to a new neighbourhood that I've never seen. This time there were three. His new house - neighbourhood I've never seen. The market - neighbourhood I've never seen. Restaurant - neighbourhood I've never seen.
Back in Dan's neighbourhood we went to the neighbourhood tiki bar which was packed full due to the Karaoke night. After a few mojitos and some free chicken we called it a night and staggered home due to the large amounts of alcohol.
The other great thing about Portland...real estate. Dan is renting this giant four level townhouse. He has roomates kind of jammed all over the place and has the top floor to himself. We slept in his closet! It was huge. And then woke up with a bit of a hangover.
Day 2 - Astoria and the North Oregon Coast
First steps of the day were a trip to Powell's and then a trip to Trader Joe's. I bought a big bag of books that I then had to shuffle around in the back of the car for the next week and we bought some groceries. I really like Trader Joe's but some of the lustre feels to be wearing off a tiny bit. The hummus is good, but not quite like I remember. The salsa is pretty good still. Their chips are a bit salty. Peanut butter cups still kick some pretty good ass. But I feel less sad now about no Trader Joes in Canada. I can't really explain this.
The drive to Astoria is fairly interesting. You follow the Columbia River for most of it and there's some really weird things on the Columbia River. Giant bridges! Pulp Mills! Boats! It's alright.
Astoria itself is a fairly neat place. We spotted a bunch of tents on the side of the road and pulled over. It was a BBQ competition. One guy had a BBQ that was a giant trailer. It must have had 8'x12' of grilling surface. It was crazy.
There are a few things I would recommend doing in Astoria. First, go check out the Sea Lions down by the docks. Next, drive to the top of the hill and climb the tower for the view. Both are worthwhile.
Fort Stephens is just west of Astoria. There is a beach with an old shipwreck so went and had a look. Luna went crazy.
The day was getting on and we hadn't made much progress, so we drove down the coast for a while, through some very beautiful areas, trying to find a campsite. On the way, we actually drove by two separate pizza places advertising gluten free crusts. We figured it was a sign from god and took our campsite finding more seriously.
We ended up in the Barview Jetty County Park. It was strange. There were some kind of trashy campsites. Some rednecks hanging around drinking Bud under a tree. And then we found this desolate stretch of campsites right on the beach. We were about 20 feet from a really beautiful stretch of beach. We quickly set up camp and then headed back up the coast to Rockaway Beach for gluten free pizza.
The waitress was overly friendly and gave us the breakdown of why they went gluten free (her daughter). She asked many, many questions about Canada because it's, you know, foreign.
This stretch of coastline, from Astoria down to Rockaway Beach is amazing, not that far and worth a visit. I want to go back.
Day 3 - Central Oregon Coast
The next day we had big plans. Big, big plans. It started in Tillamook.
Tillamook itself is not that exciting. But it is home of Tillamook Cheese and the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I had no idea what to expect, but it is awesome. You climb up some stairs and all of a sudden you have a full on view of the packaging floor from a glass lined mezzanine. There's videos, poster boards, everything. Over to the left is the curding and pressing processes. More videos. Etc. It's amazingly similar to brewing and packaging beer, but there's way more people involved. It's really cool.
When you come back down the stairs there's a set of bins filled with samples of cheese. Cheese curds, different aged cheddar, monterey jack. I'm not a huge cold cheese fan but I ate some nonetheless. Andrea went nuts. Then we had ice cream for breakfast.
The ice cream was fantastic. The creepiest teenager alive served us. It was like he was brainwashed by the tourist/cheese board into giving tourists the friendliest/weirdest experience of Tillamook.
After the cheese factory we went to the Air Museum. The air museum is in an old world war II era blimp hanger. It's an amazing building, made almost entirely of wood. The size of it is staggering and once you watch the video outlining its history and construction you'll just shake your head at how they filled the second one that used to sit next door with hay and caused it to burn down.
The planes in the air museum are also very cool. Most of them are in flying condition and owned by some old guy that flies them around with his grandson. It's an impressive collection of airplanes and they're all in immaculate condition. Of course, the whole hangar isn't filled with planes. One half is set aside for motorhome storage, maximizing the chances of another blimp hangar fire.
From Tillamook, we drove back out to the coast and hiked out a ways on the Bayocean Spit before checking out the rest of Cape Meares. Luna went crazy again on the beach, until a shit-covered dog started smelling her and causing problems.
The Cape Meares Lighthouse is in a state park and juts out into the ocean with a bay on either side. Each bay is filled with birds (that you can't really see) and bird-watching types. We looked for puffins but couldn't see them so went down to check out the lighthouse.
The lighthouse has a long history that I can't remember. Unfortunately, almost a year to the day previous to our visit, a couple of rednecks drove up to it and shot it all out with a high-powered rifle. $500,000 in damage. Their arraignment was scheduled for a few days after our visit. I never did find out what happened to them. You can see the damage in the photo.
We kept on trucking down the coast to Cape Lookout State Park. Cape Lookout sticks way, way out into the ocean (2.5 miles from the parking lot to the end of the cape). It was about a 2 hour hike, round trip. It was beautiful scenery, but we probably could have gotten the gist of it at the first lookout, 1/3 of the way in. Oh well. We needed the exercise. There was supposed to be great whale viewing from the end of the Cape (we heard this about many different places down the coast) and got our first taste of whale abandonment.
Once again, it felt like we'd burned a lot of the day and hadn't made much forward progress, so we started driving with vigor.
We drove down and down and down the coast through lots of little towns. Some pretty. Some not so much. We were targeting Yachats, and after a bit of driving around, we ended up in this great little rental place.
A guy and his girlfriend moved down to Yachats from Portland to escape the grind and take over their grandmothers hotel. It's not really a hotel, more like 6 or 7 small cottages. Are place was nice enough. Very rustic. But they took dogs and were very friendly. They guided us to the Luna Sea Restaurant.
It sounded awful, but it was absolutely fantastic. The owner is a fisherman who catches his own fish and then serves it in the restaurant. I had a mix of cod, halibut and salmon. The salmon was amazing and I've learned that I prefer a firm fish for fish and chips. They even pan fried up a gluten free set for andrea. It was so good. So very good.
Day 4 - South Oregon Coast
The next day started with rain, which kind of sucked and put a crimp on some of our plans. Just south of Yachats is a mountain that supposedly gives "the best view of the Oregon Coast". It was fogged in.
Instead, we opted to head for the beach and some tide pools. Once again, Luna was ecstatic.
After that, we headed south to the Dunes. We tried to hike in a spot that was supposedly free of motorized vehicles (it wasn't). It was supposed to be a mile hike to the coast, but it was too windy so we just ran around for a little while. Poor Luna looked like a sand-person dog. We packed it in before it was blinded and headed over the California border.
We hit the northern tip of the redwoods and tried to find a campsite. It's pretty expensive to camp in California, so we hunted around a bit before settling on the Jedediah Smith State Park. Before that, we checked out a small county park with 10-12 spots. It was like Deliverance. There was this creepy abandoned tent. The caretakers site looked like something the Clampett's would live in. We got the hell out of there as quickly as we could and enjoyed our camp on the edge of a river, surrounded by Redwoods.
Day 5 - Northern California Coast
It rained and rained and rained today, so we were forced to view the redwoods through the windshield. We drove this amazing dirt road from Crescent City back towards Jedediah Smith Park. It was funny to be on a road with everybody else hunched over their steering wheel, driving at 10 miles per hour. We got out and poked around a bit before heading down the Coast.
We checked out a few other spots....some whale-watching spots with no whales. Some elk-watching spots with lots of elk. It was good. Wet, but good.
We then headed in to Arcata for an amazing mexican lunch at Rita's. It was so good. We also checked out the Arcata Co-op which was amazing. Bulk gluten free Soy Sauce! Fresh hops and brewing supplies over by the beer selection! It was good.
South of Arcata, we drove through some creepy logging towns before side-tracking a bit for more redwoods - The Avenue of the Giants.
The rain had dried up by this point so we had some chances to poke around and take some pictures.
Just south of that is the windiest road ever that cuts off the main highway and heads for the coast. We hit the coast in the craziest of light (of course, no pictures) before trucking through Fort Bragg and spending the night in Mendicino.
Mendicino is close enough to San Francisco to attract a crazy yuppie/hippie mixed bag of expensiveness. We eventually found a weird hotel at the top of the hill that would take Luna. It was a bit too late to set up a tent anywhere.
Oh. I forgot. We stopped on a beach. Luna went crazy. The light was perfect. There was this really crazy hippie guy that kept talking to Andrea. I gave her about a thousand chances to get out of the conversation but she didn't take them. It took a while to get away from him.
Day 6 - North to Central California
Today was a lot of driving. We started with the pygmy forest, just south of Mendicino. In theory, it sounded pretty neat (trees several hundreds of years old but only a few fee high), but in practice it wasn't (small, bush like trees). We kept driving.
This stretch of coast is very beautiful. We stopped in lots of spots and took photos. We eventually made our way to Bodega Bay where we found a great little fish and chips shack. It looked terrible, but they were very gluten free accomodating and had nice fresh fish. It was good.
From Bodega Bay took a lot longer to San Francisco than expected. We hugged the coastline and eventually popped out just shy of the Golden Gate. I was running low on gas so we entered the Sausalito maze in search of diesel. It took a while and we finally found it after a lot of backtracking.
San Francisco held us up for a bit but we eventually reached the coast again and started looking for a campsite. The stretch of coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz is very nice, but very crowded. We saw some terrible campsites and eventually found ourselves near Pescadero. I passed up the most beautiful photograph I could ever expect to take (rows and rows of cabbage in front of a picturesque lighthouse in sunset lighting) and we eventually found a nice campsite in the hills above Pescadero.
The light was fading and we were trying to catch dinner at this great gastropub in Pescadero. We had it perfectly timed out. We set up the camp in about 10 minutes and were putting the finishing touches to it before heading for dinner. Then I discovered that the air mattress was leaking.
We looked at one another for about 10 seconds, then took the camp down as quickly as it went up. I likened it to an awful Amazing Race Challenge (In this roadblock, teams will erect camp as quickly as possible, before taking it down again. Mechanically inclined teams could leap ahead with a good performance, or face challenges with finicky equipment). We drove by the gastropub (it was packed...a one horse town, devoid of human life and the parking lot was packed) but decided that it would put our arrival time in Santa Cruz at too late a time.
Our first choice was camping. Our second choice was staying with a friend in Santa Cruz. Our third choice was driving around Santa Cruz for a couple of hours looking for a suitable hotel that took dogs. Option 3 it was, and we of course ended up right back at the first hotel we had visited after visiting 8-10 others. It was about 11:30 at this time and we asked the front desk guy where there was a good place to eat. "Well...it's more a question of what's open." I was happy though, as we ended up at the Santa Cruz Diner, a place I would never have been able to visit under more reasonable circumstances. I had a big steak, a huge salad and a glass of iced tea. It was marvelous.
Day 7 - Big Sur
We woke up sort of not early, made a quick pit stop at Trader Joes (I asked a guy from the ACLU to babysit Luna out front while he asked for donations. Some homeless guys stole a bunch of samples to feed to her while we shopped) and then we bought a new air mattress and headed for Big Sur.
There were a bunch of hikes and stuff I wanted to do near Big Sur. We knew it would be busy, so we were focussed on getting there before noon. We blasted through Monterrey and eventually made it to Big Sur. At this point, we knew we were in trouble when our back-up plan campsite with 230 spots had the "Campsite Full" sign out front. "230 spots! They'll for sure have room." We drove and drove and drove to some forest service roads quite a ways south of Big Sur. "Campsite Full"
We kept driving, checked out the Sea Lion beach, and drove into our last ditch campsite option near San Simeon, in the shadow of the Hearst Castle. It was crazy windy and there were a bunch of rednecks setting up old school pup tents that were blowing all over the place. It was pretty much a parking lot with grass. It was at this point that I got a text from my friend in Santa Cruz "Big Sur campsites are always full. Do you want directions to a good spot that is always empty." I just about cried.
We headed inland from there and drove north up the 101. This is a crazy agriculture area. At one point, we drove through non-stop grapevines for about 20 minutes at Freeway speeds. There were also some oil derrick forests and lots of lettuce. Our destination was Fremont Peak State Park. If this didn't work out, we were screwed.
We eventually climbed and climbed and climbed. Almost all of the sites were reserved. Luckily for the next day. We set up camp and started cooking dinner as a crazy windstorm rolled in. It was a beautiful spot though with great views of the valley. Oh ya. We'd driven from 10AM until 8AM and ended up about 45 minutes west of where we had started. We saw a lot, but I didn't consider this to be our most successful day.
Day 8 - Driving Home
The night was cold. I don't know how Luna kept so warm, but she seemed shockingly content down at the bottom of the tent. We packed up and drove back down the mountain. On the way I saw the Hollister Hills State Recreation Area and I thought about moving to California and buying a dirtbike. Miles and miles of bermed dirt tracks up and down the mountain. It looked amazing.
Once we were on the highway, we made the decision to drive through Napa via Oakland and Berkley. We also made the decision to have lunch at In-And-Out-Burger.
We easily drove by 10-15 In-And-Out-Burgers. Each one we saw as the exit disappeared into the rear-view mirror. It was crazy. Like they'd planned it to piss off tourists. This wasn't a big deal until we somehow missed the turn-off where the 880 morphs into the 80 and the 880 North turns into the 880 West and heads over the Bay Bridge. We waited in line for 20 minutes, paid our 5 dollar toll, drove halfway across to Treasure Island, turned around and were back on track. More and more In-And-Outs disappeared into the rearview until we finally found the turn-off for Napa.
Napa is a parking lot full of idiots. The roads barely move. It's crazy. It took so long to move at all. We drove past a bunch of huge wineries packed full of cars, hung a right and headed east to the I-5. Not worth it.
We drove for a few hours up the I-5, stopped for gas and (christ have mercy on us) discovered the furthest North In-And-Out-Burger in Redding. I ate so much food. I just about killed myself.
We kept heading north. Hit SNOW at the pass near Mt. Shasta (it wasn't a night for camping) and then hit Ashland for another tour of hotel/motels, before settling on a half-dodgy one. Ashland seems nice.
Day 9 - Finally Home
The final day was a lot of driving. Bad Mexican food in Eugene. Another Powell's/Anthropologie/REI visit in Portland. PF Chang's in Seattle. Duty Free at the Peace Arch. Home by Midnight. Good times.