In my previous dispatch, I covered the first half of our recent adventure driving from Portland to San Francisco, specifically the drive from Portland to Eureka, California. In this post, we’ll wrap it up with the drive from Eureka to the Bay Area.

Day 5

On this day, we left Eureka and continued south on Highway 1 towards that night’s destination of Petaluma.

Our first destination was a drive down the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This scenic drive winds through the redwood forest and is a former alignment for U.S. Highway 101.

No Ewoks to be seen!
These trees are incredibly massive!
No Ewok village up there, either!

Unless you’ve visited Northern California and have been amongst the Coast Redwoods, it’s hard to comprehend how massive they are. While hiking through the forest, when coming across a felled tree, it was often quicker and easier to climb over it rather than walking all the way around it.

The visitors center at the park has a cross-section from a tree that gives you a sense of how old these giants are:

After leaving the state park, we continued south and soon found ourselves pulled in by roadside attraction signs, in particular, the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California. This tree is one of the few remaining that one can drive through, so we did the touristy thing, paid our admission fee and got in line to drive through.

The car in front of us going through the tree. It was a very tight squeeze that required us to fold in the side mirrors. I was super-anxious about scraping the sides of our rental, but made it through without a scratch

After leaving Leggett, we cut over to the Shoreline Highway (US-1) and began our epic, harrowing drive down the curviest road I think I’ve ever driven. This segment of the drive hugs the coastline and it constant turns with very few places where the speed limit exceeds 35mph. Adding to that, there’s few guardrails or shoulders, the road is narrow and, at some points, is over 600 above the rocky beach below. We stopped at a few places along the way, but were mostly-content to enjoy the view and try to stay on the road!

 

Hardy Rock

We got a much-needed respite from the scary drive when we arrived in the coastal town of Fort Bragg, where we spotted this somewhat-impressive railroad bridge over the beach:

This 527-foot-long structure is known as the Pudding Creek Trestle and was built in 1915 to carry lumber from logging sites north of town to Fort Bragg for processing. It was abandoned in 1949, but still stands as a testament to its solid construction.

Fort Bragg is also known for Glass Beach. This beach is famous for the large amount of sea glass that can be found there. The sea glass is the result of years of dumping trash in this area of town in the first-half of the 20th Century. Today, it’s a tourist attraction rather than an environmental catastrophe and is worth the visit to look for sea glass.

Our next stop was Mendocino, a well-known small town that sits on a headland surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean.

The most-interesting thing I learned about Mendocino during our brief stopover there was that it stood in for the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine, for filming of the 80s TV series Murder, She Wrote. 

After stopping to take photos, see the sea and buy some chocolate, we returned to the harrowing highway southward. Unfortunately, there are very few places along this stretch of road to safely stop to stretch your legs, relax and take some photos, so we were happy when we finally reached Gleason Beach for a rest.

Once we left Gleason Beach, we headed inland towards Petaluma, where we would have some of the worst Chinese food ever, but have a great night at the Hotel Petaluma in the historic downtown area.

Day 6

This day was always intended as a restful day of an easy drive through the North Bay countryside, stopping at a couple of local places before ending up for the night in San Rafael.

Our first stop of the day was at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese (my wife loves cheese almost as much as Wallace from Wallace & Grommit). Here, a rather curt worker begrudgingly sold us some cheese and sausage to sample and sate our hunger, so I don’t have a lot of praise to heap upon it, but I can say that they had happy cows that had a great view of the Pacific Ocean to look at as they ate their grass.

We then drove through the countryside, taking in the sights and losing count of how many foxes, coyotes and lynx we saw before coming across Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Marshall, along the coast of Tomales Bay (incidentally, the San Andreas Fault runs right down the middle of the bay—luckily, it behaved itself while we were there).

Stopping for lunch and a couple of pints, I have to say that the oyster sandwich I had there is easily in my top ten meals I’ve ever had. The local oysters were incredible, with a vastly-different flavor than the Gulf oysters we usually get at home in Texas (probably because they have a much-lower percentage of petroleum!). 

After lunch, we started making our way towards San Rafael. We wanted to check in early to rest and were pleasantly-surprised to find that the hotel—an Embassy Suites—featured an awesome Eighties hotel atrium!

Why don’t hotels have atriums anymore?

After a light dinner, we settled in for the night, enjoying a deep, restful sleep to recharge our batteries for the final push into San Francisco.

Day 7

This day would find us exploring the North Bay/Marin Headlands before venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

Our hotel in San Rafael was adjacent to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin County Civic Center. This structure is probably best-known among sci-fi fans as the filming location for Gattaca and George Lucas’ THX-1138, his first feature-length film.

After pausing to admire the architecture, we drove into China Camp State Park, named for the historic Chinese-American fishing village that used to be located on the San Francisco Bay there.

We met a dog named Roscoe!

After China Camp State Park, we headed back towards the Pacific and Red Rock Beach.

After Red Rock Beach, we traveled a bit further up the coast to check out the town of Stinson Beach before backtracking to Muir Beach:

You can just barely see San Francisco’s Sutro Tower through the haze at the upper right!

We then headed south back into the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Our first stop was Point Cavallo at Fort Baker, which offers this great view of the Golden Gate Bridge:

It also offers snakes, but luckily this one was a harmless gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer:

Snek, aka Nope-Rope
A bit closer to the Bridge

We then headed up the hill terrain on the west side of the Bridge, where we were treated to a great view of the structure and the San Francisco cityscape:

We then headed across the bridge into San Francisco. After giving my wife a brief tour of some of the major sights in the city, we headed towards Fisherman’s Wharf, where we were staying for the next two nights. 

As we were hungered, we settled on The Grotto for lunch, where we had a so-so meal, an excellent waiter and great beer.

Anchor Steam

After lunch, we went to one of my favorite places at Fishermans Wharf, the Musée Mécanique, which features old coin-operated amusements and arcade games, including this bit of nightmare fuel:

*eeeek*

We then wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf for a bit:

Alcatraz

We then checked into our hotel for the evening, the quirky Hotel Zephyr. Amongst the quirkiness:

A giant Popeye mural
A fire pit that looks like burning computers (aka what happens to your PC when you have too many Chrome tabs open)
A classic camper repurposed as a food truck in the hotel’s courtyard
This bird sculpture in the lobby

We finished out the day with a small meal in our room and an early night of watching TV and getting some needed rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 8

The last full day of our trip, spent entirely in San Francisco.

In the morning, we walked to the nearby San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park, which features several old ships and boats that you can explore:

1886 Square-rigger Balclutha
1907 steam tug Hercules & 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka
1914 paddlewheel tug Eppleton Hall

The park also offers a great view of Aquatic Park Cove, Ghirardelli Square and Russian Hill:

After visiting the park, we wandered over to Pier 45 to see the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien—one of only 2 remaining fully-functional Liberty Ships leftover from World War 2—and the USS Pampanito, another World War 2 vessel—a Balao-class submarine that served in the Pacific:

Boobies!

Next was a quick stop at the Pier 43 Ferry Arch, which originally housed hoists for loading and unloading rail cars from ferries, but is now a historic site:

A quick walk then took us through the most-touristy part of Fisherman’s Wharf—Pier 39. I accuse it of being the most-touristy due to the fact that it features these traps:

  • Both an Alcatraz Book Store and an Alcatraz Gift Shop
  • An aquarium
  • Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop
  • A candy store
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • A magic store
  • A Lids hat store
  • A least 8 San Francisco-themed gift shops
  • A fudge store
  • A sock store
  • A Sunglass Hut
  • A pretzel shop
  • A Dreyer’s ice cream shop
  • A Mrs. Fields
  • A “7D” theatre
  • Caricature artists
  • Carnival rides
  • Escape rooms
  • Street performers
  • A VR theatre

Seriously, there’s a lot going on here. Check out their site for a complete list of crap. The best part, of course, was more sea lions!

After a lunch at one of my favorite places to eat1 at Fisherman’s Wharf—Chowder Hut—we retrieved our car and made our way back towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our goal was to see the Fort Point National Historic Site—a Civil War-era fort that was preserved during the construction of the Bridge by building the bridge over it rather than demolishing it. Having visited the Bridge a few times, including walking most of the way across it, I’d always been intrigued by the Fort, but had never had a chance to visit it before.

Up and Over
The steel arch spans 318 ft (97 m) over the fort

After Fort Point, we took a relaxing drive around the city before returning to our hotel for dinner from Boudin Bakery Cafe, followed by packing and getting ready to return home to Dallas.

Day 9

Before heading to SFO to catch our flight, we drove down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building to visit the shops there. 


Opened in 1898—a survivor of the 1906 earthquake—this ferry terminal has served the crossbay transit since then, though it’s now both a ferry terminal and a marketplace. 


Of course, my interest in urbanism, including the new urbanism of the 1960s, directed my attention across the street to the giant mix-used cluster of skyscrapers that is the Embarcadero Center:

One Embarcadero Center

More-interesting than the skyscrapers, to me at least, is the adjacent Vaillancourt Fountain. This fountain, which has a legacy of controversy due to its unfinished, modern appearance, punctuates the plaza between the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero Center. Having visited it a few times now, I’m still undecided whether I like it. 

Misfortunate? Or a classic example of modernism with a Brutalist influence?

After the Ferry Building, we made our way out of the city and down the 101 towards SFO. Our last stop before the airport would be lunch at Little Lucca in South San Francisco. I cannot stress how good our food was here. It’s a tiny shop with no seating and the line forms early and is long, but it’s so worth the wait. We each got a sandwich, but being that they were the size of my forearm, we couldn’t eat it all and should’ve split it.

This video does a nice job of demonstrating just how huge these sandwiches are!

After lunch, we made our way to SFO, checked in for our flight, relaxed a bit and caught our flight back to Dallas.

All-in-all, it was a great adventure. The problem is that every time we go on an adventure like this, we get home and immediately feel the need to travel again. Luckily, we already have a couple of more trips in the pipeline—an extended family trip to South Texas (mainly Corpus Christi and Port Aransas) to take my mother to visit her hometown for the first time in almost 25 years—and a long weekend adventure to Colorado to explore the mountains and see Nine Inch Nails in concert at Red Rocks.

 

Footnotes

  1. My favorite place is The Codmother Fish & Chips, but we skipped it on this visit due to my spouse’s unnatural aversion to seafood

What are your thoughts?