Posts Tagged ‘san francisco’

(If you’re late to the party, no worries.
Here’s where you can find the posts on the Southbound leg,
and the Northbound legs Part 1 and Part 2.)

At this point, if I as a newly-minted sixty-something had learned anything, it was . . . well . . . that I was sixty-something.

In my early years, I could hop in the car and drive for days. Thousands of miles. Little to no sleep. Who needs motels? Just pull over, push the seat back, and catch a few winks. Dead simple. I once traveled 3,000 miles in six days on a whirlwind tour of the American Southwest, looping from San Francisco to San Diego to Tuscon to Canyon de Chelly to the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park to Las Vegas to Death Valley to Yosemite and back home, all in a two-cylinder Honda car with a dodgy clutch. Easy peasy. No sweat. (Okay, there was a lot of sweat—it was the desert—but you get my drift.)

But after our day of rest and exploration in San Francisco, as we were packing up for the next northbound leg, I had a revelation: I don’t like road trips as much anymore, at least not the kind where you drive all day, bed down for the night, get up, and do it all again. I’m much more into quality these days, not quantity. I don’t want to see as much as I can; I want to see what I see as fully as I can.

And that’s a big difference.

It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the trip—I was enjoying it a lot—it’s just that I felt rushed, pushed, even cheated by our own itinerary. I was seeing so much, but didn’t have the time for that “deep dive” into the place, the people, the culture, the habits, the smells, sounds, and tastes of wherever we were when the car came to rest for the night.

However, lessons learned notwithstanding, today we were on a schedule, and our next stop was a fair ways up the coast.

What’s That Name Again?


Say it with me. Gualala. Gwah-LAH-lah. Fun, right? Well, after twelve hundred miles, we were a bit road-punchy, and we thought it was hilarious. Anyway . . .

Gualala is a little town—technically, not even a town, but an “unincorporated community”—on the Mendocino Coast. Back in high school, when my friend and I used to ride our bicycles up from San Rafael to the cabin his family had in Anchor Bay, Gualala was the town we called “Almost There.” It’s a tiny burg of two thousand souls situated at the mouth of the Gualala River (from the Pomo phrase for “coming down water place”). There’s not much to it: a couple of markets, a gas station, a hotel, a land office or two, some B&Bs, and dozens of homes perched over (or at least in view of) the magnificent rocky coast. Essentially, it’s either a retreat, or a place to pass through.

Or, in our case, to stop for the night.

History Revisited

Thirty-six years ago, on our honeymoon, my wife and I spent a week at that same cabin my friend had up in Anchor Bay, and as we passed through Gualala, my bride (through her Dramamine-induced torpor) pointed out her window and said, “Wha tha?” I looked at where she was sort-of pointing, and saw an unusual building. I had ridden by it many times on my cycling trips but, as it was Gualala and we were “Almost There,” I’d never given it much attention. (In my defense, after a 100-mile bicycle ride, one begins to lose interest in the scenery.) This time, though, being in a car and not on a fifteen-speed touring cycle, I slowed down and looked more closely.

Built of dark, sun-scorched, unfinished wood, with turrets and onion-dome cupolas, it was a hotel/restaurant called St. Orres. While it was unique, beautiful, and rather interesting, this was my honeymoon and I had other things on my mind than inquiring further, so I tucked it away in my brain for future reference.

For our first anniversary, I remembered St. Orres and inquired. They had rooms with shared baths, and cottages for a more private getaway. I rented the best we could afford, which was two nights in their cheapest private cottage. It was wonderful and quirky and very 1980s California, with a small sitting room, a loft bed, bats chirping in the eaves, and an outdoor shower overlooking the coast.

With that as prologue, you can imagine that when I was planning this road trip (I’m the detail-guy, when it comes to itineraries), the realization that we’d be going back past St. Orres set off alerts in my brain. Were they still there? The interwebs answered: they were, and not only that, they had expanded a bit, too. How could we not go back? Having gotten into the “almost top drawer” groove, we opted for the room they called Black Chanterelle. When we checked in, I mentioned to the host that our last stay had been in The Wildflower cottage. “You’re going from the doghouse to the penthouse, then!” she told us, and she was right.

Unlike The Wildflower cottage of our previous stay, which was a simple one-gable affair, this place was built along the same designs as the main buildings: onion dome cupola, hand-fitted tongue-and-groove panels, massive redwood beams, airy, bright, and clean. It was sumptuous, but in a very Arts and Crafts style manner, where all the quality and expense was in the workmanship and raw materials, not in gold and filigree.

Sadly, the restaurant (which we remembered fondly for its stupendous food) was closed on Mondays, and this was a Monday. Since Gualala isn’t known as a foodie mecca, once again we opted for a bread, cheese, and wine dinner. We fired up the wood-burning stove, opened the doors to let in the birdsong, and enjoyed the serenity. In retrospect, seeing as we only had one night in that wonderful place, I’m glad the restaurant was closed.

In the morning, I was up at dawn and decided to give my wife another hour of sleep while I went to explore the local beach. A short walk down to the road and a block along the highway brought me to the stairs and the trail down to a cove called Cooks Beach. It’s a small, sandy beach about the size of a football field, ringed by cliffs on which rest the aeries of the well-to-do. A creek tumbles down along the northern edge, and the place is littered with driftwood waiting to be stacked, and bracketed by rocky outcrops that await a beachcomber’s interest. It is a secluded and peaceful spot, where you will only find one or two other folks who have come down for a quiet moment by the ocean.

I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, between the quirky Art Deco motel in San Francisco and the masterful craft of St Orres, so I won’t. They’re too different—one urban, one rustic—and too wonderful, each in its own way.

We left, wishing for more, and vowing that it would not be another thirty-five years before we returned.

And the last two legs of our trip were going to be much more demanding, of time, and of stamina.

More later.


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While the first section of our road trip north was one of discovery, the second section was focused on re-discovery.

My wife spent most of her youth in San Luis Obispo, down near where we started our northbound trek, but I grew up near San Francisco, as a fourth-generation resident of Marin County. I was born in San Rafael (the heart of “I Want It All Now” country), and received most of my education in Marin and San Francisco. My wife and I met in Marin, backstage at the ballet company where we both danced, and I courted her on from sides of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since our wedding, though, we hadn’t spent any time in San Francisco, other than to pass through en route to see family. Thus, as part of this just-for-us quasi-top-drawer road trip, a few days spent in our old stomping grounds was a must. It was in scheduling this stay that I learned that my wife had never taken a ride on a cable car. You know how it is; you never do the touristy things in your own town, right? Well, now we were the tourists, and I was going to make damned sure she got her cable car ride. (more…)

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Driving the California coast on Highway 1 comes with challenges.

For most of its length, CA-1 is a narrow, undivided, two-lane road that climbs and descends as the topography demands (sometimes rapidly), hugging the often precipitous coastline with switchbacks, hairpins, and a gazillion good old twists and turns. Negotiating these requires a fair bit of concentration, especially when you’ve already put hours of them behind you, and still have hours of them to go. As hard as it is on the driver, though, it’s even harder on the passengers, as they end up as little more than ballast, tossed from side to side like Kirk and Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise during a Klingon attack. While I spent about 80% of my brain power trying to achieve the optimum balance between minimizing the turn-induced, stomach-sloshing G-forces and maximizing our velocity so that we might get to the hotel by the end of check-in time, my wife, whose superpower is the ability to sleep in damned near any moving conveyance, spent several nausea-limned hours regretting our decision to take this route.

Fortunately, the California coast provides ample excuses to pull over, give one’s innards a rest,  and enjoy the scenery. We found the first excuse fairly quickly. (more…)

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I spent the week in San Francisco.

I spent the week in 1949. (more…)

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