Tag Archives: california

Northern California

Dexy is back to being my bff after two well-deserved weeks off in San Francisco. She’s raring to go as we head north along the coast on Hwy 1. First stop, Marin County. This is my first time in Marin – it’s just one of those subcultural things one should do, especially if one is me. Subcultural, meaning Van Morrison. The place of “Hardnose the Highway,” one of my go-to Van albums, so it’s good to drive through the neighborhood with my 1970s glasses on.

Our visit to Marin County is what you’d call a “day trip” – a stop in Mill Valley for lunch, on to Fairfax and San Anselmo, followed by a beautiful drive to the coast to join up with Hwy 1, turn right, and before you know it, we’re in Point Reyes Station. This is a cool little town, a bit of an Old West feel to it. The main reason we’ve stopped is to check out Gallery Route One, where Robbie’s cousin Vickisa has her French Quarter Fest book on display. Now that’s cool. She’s made the music, the whole sound of New Orleans, come alive on the pages. This is one person who gets New Orleans, the rain and all. There are also some creative types working the walls around town. Degas meets Clint Eastwood – it’s a bit spooky.

Hwy 1 north of Point Reyes Station, wending its way through the hills and in and out along the coastline, is the roller coaster ride of a lifetime, and the ups and downs and swerving all around are enough for Wendy to cry uncle and swear off “the scenic route” forever. Dramamine and Sea-bands aren’t much help at all, although the Dramamine lets her sleep through many of the curves in the road through Northern California in the days ahead.

Our first night’s stop is just over the Marin border in Sonoma County – at the very charming Bodega Harbor Inn in Bodega Bay. We’d been warned that the town closes up around 9 p.m. – just about the time of sunset, which closes whenever it feels like it.

It’s back to the twists and turns of the coast heading north through Sonoma and on into Mendocino County – the rugged coastline, the roadside wildflowers, the requisite lighthouse, just another pretty day on the California coast before we land in Fort Bragg to close out Day 2.

North of Fort Bragg is the little town of Westport, nestled on a band of coast beneath the wooded hills that spread to the east. In the grand scheme of things, Westport is but a small footnote, and most of that would be taken up with lumber stories from years gone by. And yet theblog westport 1 scene of it has been etched in my mind these past three years since the day Bridget and I drove through the village late one afternoon. To all the world, or at least to all of me, it looked like a part of western Ireland had picked itself up and put itself down here two oceans away. And straight out of the Irish weather book, a deep fog has rolled in and settled about the place by the time Wendy and I arrive mid-morning. I think to myself that perhaps this small place will find a spot in my book, and ever industrious in that pursuit, I find and purchase a little history book of the town that I hope will give me a sense of this place during the last half of the 19th century.

North of Westport, Hwy 1 takes a jig-jag zig-zag east to Leggett, where that highway ends and we now join Hwy 101 as we continue north. But first, a stop in Leggett is a must, for the requisite photo op of Dexy driving through the massive Chandelier Tree, a magnificent redwood that’s a harbinger of what’s ahead of us just up the road. It’s a gorgeous day and a perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.

Hwy 101 isn’t called the Redwood Highway for nothing, and soon we have crossed over from Mendocino into Humboldt County and are making our way to the Avenue of Giants, much of which traverses Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when there is so much grandeur to take in; words become somewhat useless to describe the majesty of this place, and the only hope is that photographs capture at least a fraction of the beauty.

From the Avenue of Giants, it’s back onto 101 and a straight drive to Eureka on the coast, a most charming Victorian seaport that demands a stroll along the waterfront and plenty of window gazing in the many shops and galleries in the Old Town. And that’s how we spend our last night in California – taking in the picturesque, which is just a tiny bit of what the town has to offer.

Our final day in California is all about driving – plenty of miles up the coast till we reach Oregon – but first a stop at Holly Yashi in Arcata, just north of Eureka. We arrive in time for a tour of their facilities, where they design,Blog Holly Yashi Arcata create and make all their jewelry, plus a poke around the store, ogling the finished product. Neither of us can resist (which is the whole point, right?), especially after watching the acid bath that creates the various colors on metal, and we walk out the proud owners of Holly Yashi, in my case an elegant pair of earrings.

Next stop, Oregon!

San Francisco – 2015

Two weeks in San Francisco is a dream come true for me. Three years ago, on my last visit to the city with Bridget, we crammed as much as we could into our four-day stay, absolutely delighted by everything we saw and did. When it was time for us to leave, it wasn’t without regret, but as we got Dexy on the road heading east out of town, I cushioned the regret with the notion that I’d be back, and that I’d spend more time exploring all that San Francisco had to offer.

Haight AshburyThree years later, and I’ve made it back. And while I don’t get to explore all of what San Fran has to offer, two weeks is enough to explore at least a little bit more. It’s great thanks to my friends Art and Carol that I’m even here. When Art and I met up in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, for a couple of Van shows late last year, he mentioned that he and Carol were off to Hawaii for two weeks in June. Before you could say “It’s a marvelous night for a Moondance,” we’d arranged that I would stay at their place in Bernal Heights and look after their cats while they were on vacation. So there we were, Rufus and Mack and me, ready to pounce.

As is my wont, any place I land that excites me, automatically becomes a barbary coastcandidate as a location in my forthcoming novel. San Francisco fits that bill, so before much else, I’m off to the public library downtown to do some historical research about the Irish, and I make a delightful discovery. Unlike on the East Coast in the mid-1800s, where upon their arrival the Irish faced a wall of discrimination they had to leap over to grasp even the lowest rung of the ladder, here in the west there was no establishment and the Irish were as free as everyone else to make their mark on this new frontier. This is surely the stuff of a good story, I think to myself.

StrEATfoodBetween bouts of reading about the discovery of gold up in them thar hills and the goings on along the Barbary Coast, I make a break for lunch to meet up with fellow Free Stater Travis Eden at StrEATfood, an open market of food and drink vendors in SOMA (South of Market) set up in a parking lot on 11th Street beneath Highway 101. Travis and I catch up over a seriously good hamburger with serious amounts of bacon. Then it’s back to the books for me.

Downtown has its places of interest, including City Hall, Davies Symphony Hall and the Asian Art Museum, but it’s farther up Market Street, in the Powell Street/Union Square quadrant, where most of the action is. As well as the shops and eateries, it’s also the best place to catch one of the trolleys heading uptown, toward North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The trolley ride to North Beach is all uphill, cutting along the edge of Chinatown, and it’s times like this that one is most happy not to have to rely on walking to get from point A to point B in this city of hills. And there at the top of the hill, before the headlong descent to the water, is a straight-on view of Alcatraz out in the bay, with Sausalito rising in the background. Fisherman’s Wharf is down there too, but first a side trip to Washington Square in North Beach to sample the food and drink and some live music on stage at the annual North Beach Festival.

Down at Fisherman’s Wharf, Wendy and I stroll along the boardwalk past the piers and take in the shops at Pier 39, and of course the sea lions and the views north, south, east and west. We resist the urge to fill up on chocolate, although it is surely listed as one of the must-do’s for tourists. We’ve made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, and that’s plenty enough to cross off the checklist.

I’m not sure if the Castro District is on the top-10 tourist must-see list, but it’s on mine, based on the glimpse of it I’d got out the bus window when we’d passed through the area three years ago. It looked like a happening dude neighborhood then and the same holds true now. This is Harvey Milk territory, LGBT territory, and all the colors of the rainbow. We can’t resist stopping in at the Harvey Milk restaurant at the corner of Castro and 18th for lunch and liquid refreshment – it just seems like the thing to do – before wandering around the neighborhood. My only regret was not finding what I was looking for in the sex toy shop: an outlandish sticker I could add to Dexy’s back bumper collection. There was lots of obviously very useful stuff in there, but alas, no sticker, so I was forced to leave empty handed.

SFJF 1It was never more obvious than these two weeks in San Francisco just how much I need a music secretary. In a city where on a slow day there are three or four excellent things going on to choose from, it’s never a question of what to do but how do I fit it all in? Except, apparently, in my case. So I opted to stay home and riffle through Carol and Art’s music collection. Oh, we did get out to the opening evening of the SF Jazz Festival, so I suppose I wasn’t totally devoid of music culture.

As gardening nuts, free admission to the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park is all it takes to get us over there and to spend an afternoon wandering through its 55 acres. Bursts of color everywhere – I am camera-happy. Like the song says, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” At least two or three … oh, what the heck, let’s make it an even eighteen.


Central California

Death is on my mind as we cross over the Nevada-California border. The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada, fading into nothing out Dexy’s back window, and Death Valley, California, straight ahead.

Death Valley National Park
Travel tip: Don’t cram too much into one day. Because if you do, something’s got to give.

In our case, Death Valley draws the short straw. Too much time in the Nevada desert means there’s no dawdling in California’s. It’s straight on through – on the Daylight Pass Road, heading east to west. It’s a shame to give Death Valley NP the short shrift because, if you can stand the parched conditions, there is plenty to see and explore in the park: the ghost town of Leadfield at the base of the Grapevine Mountains; Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level; Hole in the Wall and plenty of other canyons; and the many zig-zagging roads and trails that lead up to cliffs with names like Dantes View and Coffin Peak.

But despite all we miss, the Daylight Pass Road offers sights of its own, fromDV 10 windswept dunes to sun-swept mountain ranges, and through the canyons where mirages turn the asphalt highway into rivers of sweat – it must be 110 degrees in the shade, if there is any shade to be found.

The thought of death returns. We’ve passed Devils Cornfield and have stopped by the side of the road to size up what looks like a short hike to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. They look spectacular from a distance and now we want to see them up close. I’m not thinking of death for the first quarter of a mile through the corn stacks, but every quarter of mile – no, every step thereafter, all I can think of is this is how people die out here. At least those people who forget their water in the car. But we soldier on.

The corn stacks disappear and the light-colored sand turns white; we climb one dune and another and another, with the prospect that pure sand, devoid of brush and desert shrubs, is just over that next dune. But we are parched – our hike across the desert sands has done us in; there isn’t another dune in us. As we turn to head back to the car – and the jug of water waiting for us – I look up and it’s all sky, revving up for sunset.


Stanislaus National Forest
From Death Valley, the shortest route west to San Francisco takes us north along Route 395 that slices through Inyo National Forest past Mono Lake2 California Mono Lake (4) and on into Stanislaus National Forest. And so begins our steep climb up to elevations that reach beyond 9,600 feet, along one of those winding roads that are closed in winter but open to the adventurous in May. We’ve been warned that although it may be the shortest route to the central coast, it can also be quite harrowing. It’s a beautiful spring day in the forest, and I for one am very glad to be out of the desert, whose arid conditions impress upon me the need to seek higher ground.

The climb up is glorious – the stands of majestic trees that stretch for miles, and beyond them the mountains still covered in their winter blanket of snow. At one point along our climb up, we stop to smell the roses, and eat our picnic lunch while we’re at it. Although our picnic table – a slab of rocks that seem to jut out of time immemorial – is just a few yards from the road, it feels like we are the only two people in this vast wilderness; not one car passes by to break our reverie. But as peaceful and serene as all that is, it does make me stop to wonder why. Why is no one else on this “road closed in winter” on this lovely spring day?

We brush off the crumbs and wash our hands in the nearby Sardine Creek; it’s time to move on, ever upward. And up we go, watching the roadside elevation signs creep up – 6,000 feet, 7,000 feet, 8,000 feet, 9,000 feet.

At some point we reach the top, and then it’s the descent downward through the trees. Going up is for dilettantes, going down is for the professionals. The winding switchbacks are unrelenting, and I ride Dexy’s brakes for all they’re worth – to the point where smoke is billowing out from beneath the car. Other than to pull off the road and watch the smoke dissipate, I’m not entirely sure what to do next. Fortunately, a young couple in a car pass us, going the other way, and pull in to see if they can help, and they ultimately offer us some professional advice: The only way to save your brakes – albeit do a number on your transmission – is to head down the hill in first or second gear. It seems like a reasonable trade-off at this point, and after a heartfelt thank-you to the couple, we’re on our way at a snail’s pace down the mountain and out into relatively flat land. Crisis averted. It makes me wonder how Dexy is going to take to the hills of San Francisco in the weeks ahead, but for now, we’re on an even course, beetling it across Route 108 through the lush, and obviously well-watered, agricultural heartland of California, where abundance is everywhere. The small towns that dot the route vanish behind us as we make our way west along 120 and then 580, through the congestion of cities and towns that lead to San Francisco Bay, and on the other side of the bay, Palo Alto, where I drop off Wendy at her friends’, before heading north into that city of delights, San Francisco. My westward journey is at an end – a 13-day road trip that began on May 17 has taken me from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. I made it!

san francisco – mission district

day 4 – wednesday, october 17

I like all the neighborhoods there are scattered throughout the city, particularly the human element in it: communities are created by the people who inhabit them and the community reflects that. A tribute to the people of San Francisco for creating such diverse neighborhood communities. So, of the many, many neighborhoods in the city we could choose from, it’s off to the Mission District, where we’re meeting up with Taylor, one of Bridget’s friends from her college days. Continue reading

san francisco – north beach

day 2 – monday, october 15

We left Santa Cruz yesterday, heading to Oakland via Los Gatos and Santa Clara. Los Gatos to check out the final day of the local Burning Man. Many twists and turns off the beaten track up narrow, winding roads, but to no avail. Burning Man was not to be found. As we turned Dexy around to weave our way back to the highway, I was reminded of Jack Kerouac coming down from San Francisco to visit Neal and Carolyn Cassady on one of these roads that winds among the foothills. Unlike us, he probably knew where he was going. Continue reading

san francisco – hardly strictly bluegrass festival

day 1 – sunday, october 7

Bridget and I are driving south out of Sonoma wine country, out on Hwy 101. As we get closer to San Francisco, we see a sign for the San Anselmo exit. I’ve got Van’s Hard Nose The Highway in Dexy’s CD player and on comes “Snow In San Anselmo.” I look longingly to the west, past San Anselmo, thinking another time I’d like to do that Hwy 1 drive north out of San Francisco, through Sausalito and Marin City and up along the Coast Highway, as far north as that little town of Westport – which we’d passed through three days ago – that looked like a picture postcard from Ireland. Ah, but that’s for another day. Today is all about San Francisco and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Continue reading

santa cruz

Sunday morning, we wake up to a sunny day in Sonoma wine country and begin it with a hearty breakfast in Tina’s kitchen. Bridget and I are packing up and getting ready to go, on our way to Santa Cruz. With a pit stop on the way – we just found out yesterday that the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival is on this afternoon at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and it’s right on the way – we’ve simply got to go; Santa Cruz will just have to wait for a few hours. Tina and Maurice and we two are going to meet up at Carol and Art’s and head to the festival from there. Continue reading

northern california

redwood trees

It’s another sunny day on Hwy 101 as we leave Brookings, Oregon, and drive the seven miles to the California border. The landscape loses a bit of its luster here at the top of California, at least where 101 traces its path through countryside away from the ocean on our right and the Redwoods off in the distance on our left. But a short way south of Crescent City, the road takes us through Redwood National Park for a few miles and out the other side and on south to Pepperwood, where the sign says “Avenue of the Giants.” Originally built in the 1880s as a wagon and stagecoach road, this scenic highway runs parallel to 101 for 32 miles through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s majestic. Continue reading