We left Portland on Saturday morning and, rather than take the interstate down to San Francisco, we opted for the coastline via US-101. Is this a longer trip? Yes. Is it much more interesting than taking I-5? Absolutely. US-101 connects up with the famed Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), so it’s effectively the Oregon leg of that roadway. For much of the trip, we were driving along the Pacific coast, which Brooke hadn’t seen before. We stopped off at a beach or two to check it out and, believe you me, that water was cold. We saw multiple cars with surfboards on top as we made this trip and never saw a single surfer actually in the water.
It was two-lane highway for much of this trip, but we had intended this to be a day-long drive down toward California. Thus, we weren’t really in a rush or anything. We stopped off at a seafood restaurant, Mo’s, to get the “local seafood treatment” (though what I ate was just fried fish from Alaska, so not that much fresher than what I’d get at home…oh well…).
The coast of Oregon took a few hours, and then US-101 headed inland. We’d return to the coastline after awhile, but first we got to drive through the Redwood Forest (which is one of the main reasons we took this route instead of I-5).
Know what? Those trees are big. Really big. Your encyclopedia collection didn’t lie to you.
As you drive through, you marvel at how tall the trees are. Granted, I’ve seen some tall trees, so in some ways, these don’t seem that tall. But when you actually get out of the car and stand next to one of them, your perspective changes a bit. The tree above, located near a pull-off parking area, was just some random tree: it isn’t a special “biggest tree in the forest” or anything. It’s just that they’re all this big. Which is crazy.
We’d like to return here someday to do some camping and hiking. We just didn’t have the time on this trip to spend very long, but we’re really glad we passed through the Redwood Forest. It’s one of those things you can look at in pictures, but can’t truly experience until you stand next to one.
US-101 weaved back to the coast for a bit, and then continued inland toward San Francisco. We stopped in Redwood Valley, CA for the night at an Airbnb house. This was our first experience using Airbnb and we were pleased with the results. The house we stayed in had a separate apartment area with a mini-fridge, its own bathroom, a queen-size bed, a table and chair, and had its own access out of the house. I’m quite sure this was a dice roll that could have turned out poorly, but based on the reviews for the woman we stayed with, and the location, we went with it and were pleasantly surprised. I think we’d definitely recommend Airbnb again as an option for a place to crash for the night, but just make sure you look at the reviews and make sure you’re fine with the accommodations being offered (i.e. if you don’t want to stay in some grandma’s basement on her couch, don’t do it…because those places are on there and the experience will be just as they describe).
Redwood Valley, CA is less than 2 hrs from San Francisco, so we still had a little driving to take care of the next morning. It’s also about 70 mi from Napa Valley, so there are tons of vineyards along the route. And when I say “tons,” I say “you know how much corn we grow in Iowa? Well, imagine an Iowa cornfield of grapes and that’s what you’ll see.” Seriously, the vineyards in Missouri near Hermann simply can’t compare, just in sheer volume.
One thing we noticed as we made this leg of the trip through northern California was the lack of water. California is going through a pretty serious drought this year and it was evident almost as soon as we left the Redwood Forest. You can see in the picture above some healthy vineyards, but the dry grass underneath. Among the trees in the background, you can also see dry fields of grass. An errant match could pretty easily take up all those grapes in minutes.
After a few short hours, we crossed into San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a lot bigger than I expected! US-101 is what crosses it, so it wasn’t exactly hard to find. It’s 6 lanes wide with some walking/biking in the middle. Due to some construction, it took us a few minutes to figure out how to get this picture, but we eventually got to the grounds of the Presidio to take a look around.
Once the requisite pictures were taken, we found a place to park (for far cheaper than in Portland…) so we could walk toward Alcatraz. As I’m a big fan of “The Rock,” I actually kinda wanted to check out the site, but it would have taken hours to take the ferry to the island and then take the tour. In some ways, thankfully, the decision was made for us, as tours were all booked through mid-August by the time we checked in mid-June.
So, instead we walked toward the Bay so we could at least see it from the shoreline (it’s visible from the Golden Gate Bridge, too). On the way, we accidentally walked through another site from “The Rock,” the Palace of Fine Arts. We didn’t really know what these buildings were even there for (apparently they were built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, so it’s kinda like their equivalent of St. Louis’ Forest Park and the 1904 Worlds Fair exhibits). I think I was a bit more impressed than Brooke was, but the buildings were all pretty cool and the grounds were beautiful.
Eventually, we cut through the multitude of tourists on bicycles and got to the coastline where I could get a picture of Alcatraz Island. Here is my picture of Alcatraz Island. I’ve been close enough to “The Rock” to take a picture.
Speaking of “being close enough to take a picture,” we also saw the “Full House” house. Not much to say here except yeah, we totally drove by it.
The last thing we did in San Francisco was check out The Mission district, which is where much of their Hispanic community calls home. They also have quite a few restaurants and “Mission-style burritos,” where they were obviously invented and appropriated by the likes of Chipotle and Qdoba. This area of town felt a bit “seedier” than where we were taking pictures of Danny Tanner’s fictional house, which was great because it also felt less touristy than what we’d already seen.
After that, we took off! It was early-afternoon and we didn’t have anything else we really wanted to commit to for the next few hours, so we headed east, back home. That night, we stayed at a KOA in Winnemucca, NV (after stopping off at our first In-n-Out Burger in Reno, NV), and then continued for a really long 14 hr day to Limon, CO. The next day, we had an 8 hr drive home and that was it! Though taking the interstate was far more boring than the initial trip out, it was good to “book it” home, as we were both in the mood for our own bed and consistent Wifi access.
It was a great trip! Lots of memorable moments and cool things to see along the way. We aren’t sure we’d change much about it, but I think we’d both like to hit up the Pacific Northwest again someday, perhaps when the kids are old enough to go hiking with us in the Redwood Forest, or have a beer in Portland.
Now. What do do for our 15th Anniversary…hmmmmm…