California without Hollywood, Silicon Valley, or Wine Country? - Our Coastal Road Trip


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April 28th 2022
Published: April 28th 2022
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We wanted to make our first post-pandemic airplane trip and decided to fly from our home in Pennsylvania to San Francisco. Next, we’d rent a car, and drive up the coast to Portland, Oregon.

Air travel has changed, with mask mandates and no food service (unless you’re traveling 1st class). We brought snacks and survived.

We rented a mid-size Jeep Compass. It was a good choice, as some of the Northern California roads were rough. Driving into town, we noticed billboards offering software to other software companies that you’d never see in Philadelphia. Metaverse companies were using old fashioned billboards.

We had not visited San Francisco for probably 15 years. We arrived on an early flight, so we got to the hotel, the Mariott Marquis downtown late morning. San Francisco is consistently one of the top US tourist attractions, so we planned to spend two nights.

The hotel rate was reasonable for California. It was out of season, and downtown offices have only return to about 20 percent of capacity. The hotel was a bit shopworn, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer.

We headed right out to do sightseeing. The cable cars started a half a block from the hotel, which was convenient. Still lots of fun! We rode to fisherman’s wharf area and walked from there. Lunch was in a Japanese restaurant nearby which was quite good especially after not eating a decent meal on the airplane.

We rented bikes from a friendly man of German extraction and started out riding to Golden Gate Bridge. The waterfront walking / biking path is spectacular. I didn’t remember it, but there are a couple of good hills, and the bikes were clunkers. We walked up and the hills then rode a couple of miles. We enjoyed the view and rode back.

We walked further east along the bay. This was during the week, so the tourists were light. We then walked back towards downtown, going through Chinatown, Little Italy, and getting the flavor of the neighborhoods.

I needed a new pair of blue jeans, and since this is the home of Levi’s, and there was a store ½ a block from our hotel, we decided to go check it out. I am not much of a clothes buyer. The number of blue jeans styles is bewildering. It got down to choosing between a 36” waist and a 34” waist. The 36 felt more comfortable. Then Nancy pointed out that there was a stretch fabric style. I tried the 34 with that fabric and it felt comfortable. What a stroke of genius! Someone can wear a smaller size and feel better about themselves, while the stretch fabric feels comfortable.

We finished our day at the restaurant at the top of the Mariott, in the Scenic View Lounge. Whatever floor this is, it has a spectacular view of the city and bay. The menu was small plates. The items were tasty and well prepared.

We enjoyed our day, but weren’t in the city mood, and didn’t care for being downtown, so decided to cut our stay short and leave the next morning. The Jeep did not have GPS, but we were sure that we could use the iPhone for navigation, but didn’t know how to do it. We stopped at the downtown Budget Rent a Car and the person on duty was very helpful and got us set up.

We had a lunch date in Sausalito, across the bay, with an old friend. We headed to the Spinnaker, a restaurant on the water, which was quite enjoyable.

After lunch, we headed up the coast. The California coast is quite rural above San Francisco. We ended up staying the night in The Lodge at Bodega Bay. This is a top place, with a room rate to match. There was a state park right in front of the hotel, and we headed out for a walk before dinner. Dinner was at Lucas Wharf restaurant. Talk about atmosphere! Sitting in the dining room we watched a crab boat unload its catch while sea lions ate the scraps.

The next day we headed farther north. The coast is all surf smashing against rocks, and we pulled over many times to look, and to walk. Much of the California and Oregon coasts are state parks, with lots of trailer sites. It is camper heaven.

This is Redwood country, and we learned in Mendocino that Jerome B. Ford, a Vermonter, came west, saw those redwoods, and started cutting them down. That was the original basis of the economy. Fortunately, there are still plenty of forests to see.

We thought we’d stay around Mendocino or Fort Bragg, but the hotels didn’t excite us. We drove to the end of the coast road California #1, and stayed at Benbow Historic Inn in Garberville, California. We love grand old hotels, and this is one. The Harry Potter- like dining room was the only game in town but fortunately was excellent.

The next day, we drove further and took a mid-morning walk in the rain in Eureka, California. It’s another old lumber town, with a substantial port and a cute old downtown. The Carson Mansion, built by another lumber baron is spectacular.

The only hotel reservations that we had were for the first and last nights of our trip. As we drove into the lower Oregon coast, it seemed that our luck had run out. There weren’t any hotels that we cared for. Nancy finally found WildSpring Guest Habitat in Port Orford, Oregon. This is a 5-cabin, 4-star B&B, hidden in the woods. It reminded us of the Age of Aquarius and meditation with strange figures and sculptures all over. There was a central guest hall where breakfast was served and you could check out CDs- no television in the rooms.



Overnight was a fun adventure.



That evening, we dined at Redfish after catching a walk along the coast front park. The food was quite good.



As we headed up the coast, we briefly stopped at Florence. Lots of the Oregon coastal towns are more industrial, but Florence has a nice main street, with tourist appeal. It’s worth a walk and lunch.

We continued up the coast to Yachats. Funny name, but this is another town geared to tourists. We stayed at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa. Any closer to the ocean and our feet would have gotten wet. We walked along the coast where the town has built a cliff walk. Yachats is driving distance to Portland, so sometimes there’s lots of vacationers but this was off season. We dined in the Drift Inn pub. The food was good, with live music. Drift Inn was reasonable. Oregon was more reasonable in general than California.



We had been on the Oregon Coast before and stayed at a wonderful place, Shalishan Lodge. That was long ago, and now the place has been classed up as a Spa and Golf resort. As with lots of destination resorts, they have done real estate development around the property, so there are vacation homes ringing the property. We walked out of the hotel, and across the coastal road on a trail to the beach. The setting is beautiful and the room was wonderful.



The nearby big town is Lincoln. The Lincoln City Cultural Center is worth a visit. There is a co-op art gallery across the street where we bought a couple of works.



It was time for us to head towards Portland for our trip back. We planned on staying near the airport in an Embassy Suites hotel and making a day trip into Portland.



Oregonians did not have very nice things to say about Portland, but we liked the city. There is a huge park on a mountain over the city with all kinds of cultural centers and a zoo. We enjoyed walking on 23rd street, a nice shopping and restaurant area.



Portland suffers the same fate as other large cities where the offices downtown haven’t returned post pandemic, and as a result the center of town has some vacancies and is not very attractive. The other thing was the homelessness. There are tents under overpasses and in cloverleafs around town. There was a 2012 lawsuit and settlement that established rights for homeless, and the city and police don’t seem to be able or want to get the homeless to move. It is a negative for the city.



The Embassy Suites airport staff was quite nice. We decided to return our car early and take the free shuttle to the airport for our flight the next morning. Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in the US. There are even paths to the airport. After returning our rental car we were able to walk along the bike path to our nearby hotel. How’s that for convenience?



If you are looking for a different west coast trip, without Hollywood or Silicon Valley, this might be for you.


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