Road Trip Day 16: Northern California Coast

The Travelodge in Eureka has a pathetic breakfast. It was a tiny counter in the check-in office, offering a couple of different kinds of cereal, some danishes, and coffee. There wasn’t really anyplace to sit, so Dave took his danish and I took my cereal back to our room. We brewed some tea in the room’s coffeemaker (creating tea tinged with a coffee flavoring… yum…), got ready, and hit the road by 9 am.

We continued down Highway 101. The weather was similar to the day before – overcast at times, often bright and sunny, and sometimes foggy. When we got to Humboldt Redwoods State Park the highway was closed, and all traffic was being diverted to the scenic drive “Avenue of the Giants”. Even though we were trying to keep a good pace to get to Santa Rosa at lunchtime, we took this as an opportunity to see more redwoods.

Downed Redwood with Ferns and MossThe Avenue of the Giants is an auto tour through the redwoods located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There are eight different scenic stops, numbered from south to north. We stopped at the first stop on the north end (Auto Tour Stop #8), read a bit about the park, and walked a few yards down the trail to take some photos of the redwood grove. A guy and his teenage son were coming out of the woods and assured us that the 2.5 mile loop hike was quite nice. Unfortunately it was more time commitment than we were really able to make at that point, but it did seem like a nice hike. On the opposite side of the road were some “baby” redwoods that had been planted maybe 25 years ago, and of course they were already tall and beautiful.

Not much further down, we stopped at Auto Tour Stop #7, Chandler Grove. We got out and took a look at the trailhead sign to find that it offered two short hikes through the grove, of 0.2 and 0.3 miles each. We figured we would check it out… until we got close to the trail and discovered that there was SO MUCH poison oak along the trail. The trail we were about to start down was also really overgrown – a guarantee that I would get poison oak rash and end up in urgent care begging for Prednisone. (I’m terrifically allergic.) So that was a no-go. We hiked up the wider trail for a couple of yards just to see a few of the larger trees away from the road, and I was careful not to touch anything. As we hiked back down to the car I tried to be very careful not to slip and fall into the evil plants.

Eel River
We continued down Avenue of the Giants and I admired the tall redwoods through the sunroof while Dave drove. We came to a bend in the Eel River with a railroad truss bridge across it, and found around the next bend that it was Auto Tour Stop #6, Dyerville. Apparently on the spot where the interpretive signs were placed, it had once been a small but busy town. Over time as the town of Dyerville died, the spot basically got bulldozed to become the hill we were now standing on – you couldn’t even tell there had once been a town there. Strange feeling. Not much explanation of the train bridge though, which is what I really wanted to know more about – for some reason one of the spans was shaped differently from the rest.

The detour ended shortly after that, and we could have returned to Highway 101. Instead we decided to go a bit further and stop at the Visitor’s Center. We got some postcards and saw a big labeled redwood stump, which had the bark rings labeled with significant events that happened the year the ring had grown.

We left the Visitor’s Center at 11 am, and were back on Highway 101 by 11:15 am. We were now behind by an hour. We spent the next three hours just driving, driving driving. It was hard to believe that we could drive for that long and make (seemingly) so little progress. The scenery was picturesque, of course – driving through Mendocino and Sonoma counties, there are plenty of vineyards to admire and cute little towns that might be fun to poke around in. But we really were tired of poking around at this point, and just wanted to get to where we were going.

Menu at Russian RiverWe finally arrived in Santa Rosa after 2:15 pm, more than ready for lunch. Our destination was the Russian River Brewery & Restaurant, where of course the main purpose was for Dave to check out the beer. I had a focaccia (which was really more like a pizza without sauce than what I was expecting) and Dave had a chicken sandwich. He also enjoyed the Pliny the Elder beer (a double IPA) and Damnation, a Belgian-style ale. According to the website, you can ask for a tour of the brewery, but Dave wasn’t interested enough, and we were behind our schedule.

The next brewery Dave wanted to visit was Lagunitas in Petaluma. He had read on their website that those wanting to take a tour should call to find out the tour schedule. He called them as we were ready to leave Santa Rosa, and were told that the tour was at 3 pm. Of course, by this time it was 3:45 pm. Dave was told that they had a beer garden in the afternoon, Wednesdays through Sundays, but of course it was Tuesday. We debated whether or not to go, and decided we might as well show up and see what was there.

Lagunitas
We arrived at Lagunitas around 4 pm and just kinda wandered in. There was a gate in front of a yard, indicating that there was a beer garden, so we followed the path into the enclosed area that seemed to be the beer garden. We walked toward the building that we expected to be the store, and found a small bar, and a receptionist desk with some T-shirts for sale hanging behind her.

As soon as we walked in, two guys sitting at a high-top table looked up to see us, and one of them said, “You can’t come in here wearing that T-shirt!” Dave was wearing his newly purchased University of Illinois T-shirt, and the guy explained that he was a Wisconsin guy. He turned out to be the contractor doing the work to turn the part-time beer garden into a full-time brewpub. The two of them chatted with us for a few minutes and the other guy told us that he would be happy to give us a tour once the two of them were done with their meeting, if we were willing to wait about 15 minutes.

Dave and I hung out in the beer garden and chilled out, waiting… not knowing who this was, who was about to give us a personal tour, but suspecting that he might be a pretty important guy there at Lagunitas. We found out later that it was Ron Lindenbusch, whose official title apparently is “Beer Weasel”, but is probably more accurately described as the director of sales and marketing – certainly one of the top guys there. (Can I use the word exec?) When he was done with his meeting, he said, “Come on, let’s find some beer.” He took us over to the main building, walked over to the bottling line, and pulled out a couple of cold bottles of IPA. He and Dave sipped on them as he showed us around the brewery. He was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the high-tech brewing equipment, and allowed us to get up close and personal with the beer-making in process. Our tour was frequently interrupted by passing conversations with employees who were still on-shift (all of whom had cups of beer in their hands), needing to talk to him about various things. The tour ended, not in the store as official tours should, but with the three of us standing around chatting with another one of the Lagunitas employees, getting the dirt on problems they’ve had with some of their distributors. It was fascinating.

Golden Gate BridgeWe finally got back on the road around 5:15 pm and headed for the beautiful city of San Francisco. At least, it’s beautiful when you can see it. We were heading to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, hoping to get a nice photo of it from the overlook just to the north of it. However, as we got closer to the bridge, we could see that this wasn’t going to happen today – the entire bridge and city was engulfed in a fog bank. Just for kicks, we pulled off at Battery Spencer and gamely hiked up to the overlook. We couldn’t see more than 30 feet or so. If we hadn’t been able to hear the traffic going by below, we wouldn’t have been able to tell there was a bridge there – or anything for that matter. Certainly you couldn’t tell that the gorgeous City by the Bay was just a couple of miles away, or that the bay itself was below us.

There is a never-to-be-appropriately-attributed saying that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The couple of hours we spent in the city were true to these words. It was cold and windy up there on the overlook, so we dashed back to our car and drove across the bridge. When we got to the tollbooth, the operator advised us to take down our EZ Pass, because apparently it is common for people to break into automobiles to steal FasTrak transponders, and ours might fall victim even though it’s from out of state. Thanks for the advice! We then drove across the city (up some stereotypically steep and serious hills, thankful for the automatic transmission) and enjoyed being back in civilization.

We had dinner at a brewpub called the 21st Amendment. Not a particularly creative name, in my opinion – I think there’s a pub with that name in every city I’ve ever lived in, and I don’t think they’re related to each other. But, the place was cool. They brew their own beer, so Dave got to enjoy a few more craft brews. We got there a little after 6:30 pm, and the place was packed, seemingly with people about to head over to the Giants game, which was two blocks away. I sorta wished we were going to the baseball game, because I haven’t yet been to AT&T Park, but Dave reminded me how miserable it would be to sit outside in the cold and fog. We enjoyed our dinner (salads) and the ambiance, then headed to San Mateo, where we spent the night at the home of our friends Don and Tarrah. We were highly entertained by their two children, who are 3 1/2 and 2.

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