A short week on the northern California coast

Old Oct 20th, 2020, 12:48 AM
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A short week on the northern California coast

We were not particularly restricted San Francisco. Cultural events and venues were closed, but every week we took a walk in a different neighborhood, be it to look at architecture or walk through a different park. Nonetheless, we felt a need to get out of the city given that we missed out on our annual travels. Smoke and ash was an issue, and although even the northern coast was affected by the fires, we decided to take a chance and hope that Mendocino and Eureka would be cleared of smoke.

This trip lasting a short week straddled the end of September and the beginning of October.

We drove up to Petaluma and then went west to get to Bodega Bay to avoid the worst fo the smoke and ash from the still burning fires. We stopped along the coast, overlooking a Sonoma County beach, where we had lunch under an overcast sky that turned the ocean a greenish brown color flecked with gold—the effect of the smoke and ash cloud that extended over the coast.


Farther up the coast we passed by previous burns that ended at the water’s edge. We took a detour to go to Navarro Vineyards, hoping that they might still have some of their Navarrouge, but it was sold out. We got a case of whites instead. They specialize in Alsatian style dry whites, but also have Chardonnay which they vinify in two styles, and I went for the French dry style which I still have not tried. The tasting room was closed due to the pandemic. While in the Anderson Valley we stopped by an apple orchard stand located on the road to Hendy Woods State Park, last left turn before the bridge. They carry apple varieties that are not found even in the farmer’s markets in SF, and also make a cider out of them, which is waiting to be tried. Farther east on CA 128 there is a large apple orchard with similar unknown varieties that does offer tasting for a price. We did not try anything because it was too late in the day, but purchased a bottle for friends, which they reported was excellent.

From there we drove to Mendocino to stay at the Hill House Inn, which is an upgraded motel. But there were no services because of Covid-19; we could replenish supplies by asking at the front desk. The room was clean, the water was hot—that’s all we asked for. $214 for two nights, including taxes. The Inn located past the cemetery north of town is within walking distance of the center of town.

That evening we ate in the garden of the Trillium Café, no indoor dining available. The food was excellent, I had a flatiron steak properly cooked rare and by wife had a nice piece of black cod which was absolutely silky. $112 for the two of us including drinks. Our second evening meal was at the Mendocino Café. The food was good, but not memorable, and less expensive than the Trillium. If memory serves me right, around $70 and they preferred cash or check to a credit card.

For our full day in the area we drove up to Fort Bragg to visit the nearby Botanical Garden, but unfortunately it was closed. We continued into the town and wandered around the center and near the train station. Then back south, saw some picnic tables near the Jug Handle Natural State Reserve and stopped for a picnic lunch. Afterwards we walked in one direction overlooking the beach, found out that the stairs were quite steep to get down to the beach and decided that we preferred staying on the bluff overlooking the beach and the ocean.


After lunch we went back to Mendocino and spend the afternoon walking around its streets and the headlands. There is not much to Mendocino proper, so once the festivals and art shows are gone, there are only a few galleries and a couple bookstores left to visit and its 19th century architecture to admire. One would have to develop an art du flâneur to spend more than a day in the town.

The next day we were on our way to Eureka.

I have in various postings suggested the Usal road off CA 1 as something to do to see the Lost Coast area. For those interested, it is not easy to find. The best way to describe its location is to look for a stop sign from a dirt side road on the left once the stream is on your right past the immediate coastal hills. However, it is a long drive because the dirt road can at times be rough and is narrow enough to impose cautious driving.


But we still wanted to see Ferndale and decided to get there via Cape Mendocino. Instead of using the Usal Rd., we chose to get back to US 101 and after a few miles, cut in on the road to Shelter Cove and then turn off to Ettesburg and on to Petrolia and Cape Mendocino. From Mendocino (the town) to Ferndale took us the good part of a day with a lunch stop in a picnic area just before Honeydew.

We had a coffee in Ferndale, walked up and down Main St. to admire the late 19th century architecture, and then drove on to Eureka. Like Mendocino it is worth an afternoon’s visit, or more if one is a dedicated flâneur.

In Eureka we rented an Airbnb for three days ($339), which allowed us to do some cooking rather than eating out every evening. The kitchen had a bare minimum of cooking utensils so we heated a frozen pizza for one evening to which we added a mixed salad of our own making, and on the second evening had bison burgers, again with a salad. We ate at the Brick and Fire restaurant. We had a very good meal ($150 for one more course than in Trillium) starting with 3 oysters each, but I remember in particular a dry Riesling with more acidity (that’s a plus in my mind) than usually found in American dry whites, including the Navarro Alsatians.

The one breakfast we had in an eating establishment was bagels, cream cheese and lox ($12 each) from Los Bagels in the historic district. The bagels were smaller and firmer than those generally found in SF, and cream cheese more than a smear, and the lox generously proportioned. Definitely worth a stop.

I had one place in mind that I wanted to visit. Quite a long time ago we had stopped overnight at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, staying amid the redwoods close to the meadow where elk gathered toward the end of the day. This time I wanted to visit its ocean side. We drove up and took a side road that took us to the ocean side, driving all the way to the end. Entrance to the park turned out to be free, because it is also part of the Redwoods National Park and we have a Golden Eagle pass. From the end of the road there is a short walk to a fern canyon steeply cut into the continuous cliffs in that area. The walk to the canyon is easy, and a good part of the walk inside would be too except that there is a stream meandering through the narrow canyon forcing us to walk in water. Two pairs of shoes are in order, one for wading and the other to put on once you are through that area. We did not do it, but it is my understanding that the walk is actually a loop, part of which is on steep dry terrain accessed from the canyon by a steep staircase. I did not see the staircase as part of the canyon was blocked by fallen trees and I was in no mood of crossing that barrier twice—my wife stayed behind. The canyon and its growth is impressive:


but those who want a more civilized approach to such natural settings, the Fern Canyon in Russian Gulch State Park near Mendocino has a graded walkway:


On the way back we stopped at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and ambled on the loop trail.


The next day was dedicated to Eureka. There is the Clarke Historical Museum in the historic center of the city which has an impressive collection of local Native-American baskets:


and then with lunch to break up the day on the waterfront, we followed a mapped walking tour of Eureka’s architecture, mostly Victorian but with an impressive Art Deco Veterans’ Memorial building. The walks were interesting also in showing the neighborhoods outside the historic center tourist area. The buildings that we should be seeing have been rehabilitated, but in between many are run down, or run-of-the-mill 40's and 50’s buildings, and some that defy dating.

We drove back to SF, slowing down to drive on the Avenue of Giants, which is where we probably saw the tallest trees of this trip.

The pictures of this trip have been incorporated in my album of the California coast north of SF:
https://flic.kr/s/aHsjCKzAYC


Michael is online now  
Old Oct 20th, 2020, 09:26 AM
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Thanks for your TR, Michael.

​​​Some very cool, atmospheric shots. I liked your Flickr photos...was that iris wild? I didn't look at the info as kindle sent me back to the beginning after I looked at a winery shot.
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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 10:52 AM
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Thanks for the report. I always enjoy my short breaks in that neck of the woods (not Eureka so much though). Too bad about the botanic gardens -- one of my favorite places up there. Was it closed because of the day of the week or is it closed due to the covid shutdown?

Was considering a jaunt over to Mendocino/Ferndale later this week but decided to hit Tahoe instead since its a much shorter drive. Maybe next month it the weather holds . . .
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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 10:52 AM
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If you mean this one, it is wild:

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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 11:25 AM
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It was a blue one IIRC, but thanks.
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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
Thanks for the report. I always enjoy my short breaks in that neck of the woods (not Eureka so much though). Too bad about the botanic gardens -- one of my favorite places up there. Was it closed because of the day of the week or is it closed due to the covid shutdown?

Was considering a jaunt over to Mendocino/Ferndale later this week but decided to hit Tahoe instead since its a much shorter drive. Maybe next month it the weather holds . . .
It was closed because of the day of the week.
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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 12:53 PM
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This is a wild iris:

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Old Oct 20th, 2020, 05:47 PM
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Michael, your report brought back some lovely memories, thank you. Road trips were my husband’s favorite vacation form and Mendocino his favorite destination. The Highlight Gallery, the Gallery Bookshop, the food co--op in the red church...we knew the Trillium Café in its previous incarnation as the Moose Café. We were up and down the coast many times and into Oregon but never made it to the Lost Coast. On a stay in Arcata, I discovered some wonderful creamed honey from that area made by the Sisters of the Redwoods Monastery, https://store.redwoodsabbey.org/collections/honey, which I continue to order online.
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