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May 26, 2012

Far North California 2012 Day 1: LA to SF

This weekend, Daniel and I had three days off which could not have come at a better time. We are getting ready to go into a busy period at work with the re-launch of Disney California Adventure and with the recent passing of my Grandma, I wanted to get in the car and head out of town!

We decided to head north since my friend Jonathan was just getting back to SF from his recent trip to Africa for work. We had not seen him since we were in Paris back in November 2007, and we were excited to meet up at his house. I also had some idea that I could drive up to the coastal redwoods to show them to Daniel since he had not been in that area before. I was actually shocked when he told me the farthest north he traveled was San Francisco.

This morning, we hopped into the Prius v to give it another road trip. This was the third trip I had taken in it since I had driven to Arizona twice before to see my ailing Grandma. We were on the road by 9am (which was much later than we planned) and made good time getting out of the Los Angeles metro area. We stopped just past the Grapevine at In-N-Out for some lunch. Apparently this In-N-Out is also on the Boy Scout approved stopping places, as it was swarming with Scouts.
Burgers down, we headed north along I-5. Normally, this route bores me to tears, but after two trips to Phoenix, this looked like a lush wonderland. It was still no Highway 101 trip, but it was much more interesting. I decided to take the South Bay approach to SF since Jonathan lives in the outer Sunset area. This meant taking the 152 cut-off to Gilroy and the ever popular Casa de Fruita. After missing the turn and a couple of detours, we stopped at the Casa for a quick look around and a quick ice cream hit for me.

From there, it was up 101 to San Francisco. The plan was to take the 85 to 280 into the western section of SF, but somehow, it was more like 101-85-101-92-280. A minor setback, but at least it was the scenic route. After some more fun with one way streets, we finally made it to Jonathan’s at 5pm. We headed out to dinner at a local place near the Castro district in Jonathan’s car. This allowed two thrills – attempting to squeeze the Prius v into the one car garage and also driving with Jonathan for the first time. Both turned out to be fun and not really big deals.

After dinner, we decided to walk around looking for some dessert and ended up reliving some memories of Jonathan and I hanging out in SF back in the 1990s. We finally found a cafe in the Marina district that had some great Chocolate cake. As with most meetings with Jonathan, it went far too fast and before we knew it, it was after 10pm and we had to set off to the North Bay to find a hotel. Jonathan offered his place, but we decided to try and get as far north as possible.

We drove north over the soon-to-be-celebrating-75-years Golden Gate bridge and stopped for some quick vista point shots at night, and then headed up 101. Our goal was to make it to Santa Rosa. We started stopping in Rhonert Park around 1130 or so at a couple of hotels. Most were either sold out or wanted way too much money for that one room they had left. We kept going and tried again at a few places in Santa Rosa with no luck. We had a hit on the Hampton Inn back in Rhonert Park, but instead thought we would find something farther north.
Turns out, north of Santa Rosa is prime wine country, and it being Memorial Day weekend, there were no affordable hotels. We were getting frustrated until Daniel found a listing for a Best Western in Cloverdale, about 32 miles north of Santa Rosa. We called and sure enough they had something for the same price as the Hampton, but since it was on the way we took it.

Finally at 1:30 in the morning, we hit the sheets in the hotel for a well deserved nights sleep. We shall see where we end up tomorrow!

May 27, 2012

Far North California 2012 Day 2: SF to Redding

After arriving in the wee hours of the morning, it took some time to get going and back out on the road. Our goal today was to get to Mendocino as well as the Avenue of the Giants. We left Cloverdale hungry since we did not see any good places to stop and eat, and headed to Ukiah which promised to have more to offer. At this point, I noticed that my allergies were acting up (yay fertile wine growing region!) and I spent a good part of the day looking for tissue and sneezing.

We cruised Ukiah for a bit before I decided to top off the gas tank in the Prius v – I did not know where the next gas stop was going to be, and I did not want to risk being that doofus who runs out of gas in a Prius. Of course in being proactive, I ended up at the one gas station where the gas nozzle flies out of the tank in the middle of filling up. Needless to say, I had gas all over my clothes and the side of the car and the ground. The good thing is that gas dries quickly. The bad thing is that the smell lingers forever.

We drove over to the pizza place for lunch and I decided to change my clothes. I sacrificed one of my Longo Toyota tote bags that was in the back of the Prius to contain the stinky clothes. After a huge wait for lunch (20 minutes!) we came back to my clothes which I had left outside the car to air out. The clothes were not even a bit nicer smelling so it was on that spot I decided to dispose of my jeans that had gotten drenched in gas. By the time everything was sorted and lunch was over, it was almost noon.

On the way farther north, I decided to head for Eureka instead of to Mendocino. I figured we had a better chance of finding a place to sleep farther north than doubling back down from Mendocino and trying to head towards Clear Lake. So we hit the Avenue of the Giants and took some great photos of the redwoods and generally enjoyed the amazing drive up towards Eureka.

Now in Eureka, I decided it was high-time that I get some allergy medicine since I had been sneezing all day. We stopped at Walgreens and did some goody shopping as well as getting the allergy relief. After a quick discussion, we eventually decided to – why not – head to Crescent City! It has been a desire of mine to visit Del Norte County and Crescent City since it was one of the two counties I had not visited, and it is the tsunami capital of California. It was only 85 miles away and I knew it was a distance we could easily double back on today so we could position ourselves closer to the drive back home tomorrow.

So off we went! Heading towards Crescent City we continued to pass some fantastic scenery and enjoyed the extended hours of daylight due to our position north of the equator. Just over an hour into the trip, we passed Klamath, CA and stopped in at the huge Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues that were located outside of the Trees of Mystery. The TOM is exactly the kind of roadside attraction that I love, and I only wish we had gotten there before the last Sky Trail ride to the top of the mountain had left. After getting some souvenir magnets, we continued on the final leg of our trip to Crescent City. We finally arrived and decided to stop at the Denny’s for dinner.

Over dinner, Daniel suggested that since we were here, we should complete the final few miles to the Oregon Border. So we finished eating and then headed to the Battery Point Lighthouse for a few photos, and then turned north one last time to get to Oregon. It took no time at all and thankfully, we could pull off and take photos of the Oregon state line. We continued a few feet north to Crissey Field State Park. We used the restroom and took some photos, and at 7pm, finally turned the car south to head home. At this point we were closer to my friend Kris in Portland than we were to our apartment in Orange County.

We made good time getting back to Eureka, and after filling up with gas, we turned on 299 to head inland to Redding, our target destination for the night. It was a long drive in what felt like the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere. The kind of night where you are constantly on the lookout for deer or elk that might come crashing into the car from the side of the road as well as weird drug runners in beat up pickups. We made a pit stop at one of the rest stops, but other than that it was a pretty smooth ride over to Redding. Once we reached the outskirts of Whiskeytown we finally had cell service again so we could look for a hotel. We got a AAA rate at the La Quinta Inn and Suites and after a few twists and turns we arrived. Unlike the previous evenings Best Western, the La Quinta actually had us give them our name and addresses like checking into a real hotel.

Not the cleanest hotel, but it was quiet and after a super long drive, it was just right. Tomorrow it is back to Southern California via I-5 so hopefully it will go quickly.

May 28, 2012

Far North California 2012 Day 3: Redding to LA

Today we actually set the alarm so we could get home around 6pm and have time to do laundry and get ready to go back to work. We made it downstairs for the free breakfast, but Daniel was grossed out by all the little kids running around, so I enjoyed a waffle which I took back to the room to eat.

We hit the I-5 and set the cruise control on 80 and headed home. We missed the Del Taco that Daniel wanted to stop at just south of Redding, so when we got to Sacramento, we stopped in Natomas for lunch so Daniel could get his fix. We then stopped for a quick photo at the State Capitol. I wanted to show Daniel the California State Railroad Museum, but Old Sacramento was packed with Memorial Day celebrants, so we decided just to get back on the freeway and head home.

I’ve driven the stretch between Sacramento and Los Angeles numerous times, so there was nothing of interest to note in the final segment of the trip until we reached the Grapevine. I noticed when we were merging into CA-99 traffic, that it was practically at a standstill! One overhead sign warned us of construction in Lebec and to expect stop-and-go traffic. It took us 90 minutes to go 15 miles. Not the way I wanted to end a great and awesome road trip, but it did make me appreciate the far north even more. After the traffic jam, it was smooth sailing back home and we were only 90 minutes late from our target time we wanted to arrive.

Such a crazy idea and road trip, but I was glad to get out of town and visit one county that I had not visited. Looks like I will be in Paradise in July which is only 178 miles to the Modoc County Line. It might take me 7 hours round trip, but it might just be worth it to get my last California county!!