I had always dreamed of visiting the giant Redwoods of Northern, CA, and since my fourth book is a novel, which is partially set in Northern California, I decided to take a road trip with my mom (who is pretty much my BFF too). We flew into Oakland, as it’s a smaller airport than San Francisco (so a little more easy to negotiate), hired a little car, and began to make our way up the 101.
April and May are perfect months to visit Northern CA because the hillsides are covered in wild flowers and the climate is perfect. I also choose to visit the Redwoods when school was still in because I knew they’d be way fewer tourists. I will take my daughter one day soon (will probably pull her out of school for a few days), because you obviously want to see as few tour buses as possible.
We cruised through wine country where the roads are flanked by multiple vineyards and wineries – pretty. As wine tasting wasn’t our thing, we decided to push on. We kept going until we came to a delightful town called Ukiah, in the heart of Mendocino County. It’s a pretty, historical town with leafy streets and a plethora of adorable Mom & Pop stores. We ate delicious sandwiches at Schat’s, a family-run bakery. We actually stopped on the way back down to buy some of their delectable bread. We had a good poke around a wonderful bookstore called Mulligans, and then get ready for our long drive up to Eureka.
As the freeway meandered over golden, grassy hills studded with emerald groves of trees, and through mountain passes, we were lulled into a state of wonder. Northern California is absolutely spectacular. It reminded me a little of Tuscany, but way more majestic. What I didn’t realize was that the 101 stops and starts. I’d sort of imagined that it was a straight shot of a 6-lane freeway all the way up and was surprised that at times it became a two-lane highway, cutting through mountain passes.
I felt a thrill as we began to see more trees and eventually spotted our first Redwoods. Redwood trees, especially old-growth trees, inspire a state of wonder. They are the tallest living things. It’s incredible to realize that today, more than 95 % of the original old-growth Redwoods stand no more. Mercifully, organizations like Save The Redwoods League, which has worked for centuries to protect the few old-growth groves that we can still enjoy.
After exchanging the driving seat every hour, we eventually made it into Eureka, exhausted but exhilarated by the beauty of our journey. I wanted to stay in a town that was near some of the most beautiful Redwood Groves in the state and Eureka seemed like a perfect spot. Eureka is an old lumbar town. It was founded in the gold rush and in the Victorian era became the center of logging in the region. Many of the old Victorian homes are still standing and the B&B we chose, The Ship’s Inn, is one of them. Perched on a hill just a few blocks away from the historical part of the town, The Ship’s Inn is a perfect place for to get warm, snug and well-fed before venturing forth!
Genie, who greeted us at the front door, is everything you want in an innkeeper: cozy, friendly, and an amazing cook. As you would imagine, the Ship’s Inn has a nautical theme throughout. The rooms boast large comfy, quilted beds, robes and slippers. I can promise that won’t forget Genie’s breakfast in a hurry! We sat down to her signature Mug O’ Muffin, which is as it sounds – a large mug filled with a warm muffin, topped with creamy soy yogurt, and then mounds of fresh organic berries – FYI, this was the appetizer!! Genie followed this up with a stunning breakfast entree of an egg dish with feta and fresh spinach. Thank you Genie for such an incredible spread. You might think you won’t eat it all, or that you don’t need to eat it all, but trust me, if you are going to hike the Redwoods – you’ll be glad you did!
Mom and I had planned to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and then make our way down to Mendocino, however, at dinner we were interrupted by a couple, who saw us squinting at our map. They had just come down from Fern Canyon and insisted that we make the extra journey north because they said it was almost like having a “religious” experience, to walk through those forests. Having come that far, we figured that an extra hour or so would be doable.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove was eerie and misty. A steep road took us up into the clouds and as we walked into the trees, it gently rained – it was as if we were standing underneath a giant umbrella, shielded from the wet but able to hear the droplets like music on the canopy above. We walked in silence. It felt as if we were on a Jurassic Park set – you almost expect to see a dinosaur appear from behind one of the colossal trunks. This grove is perfect for a short hike, which leads you in a convenient circle.
Next stop was Prairie Creek Park, where the couple had encouraged us to go. The road north became narrower and the clouds hung like gauze over the emerald mountains. We were surrounded by Coastal Redwoods. Eventually we came to the park where we saw meadows of wandering Roosevelt Elk. They are native to this region and named for President Roosevelt. You can choose which kind of hike you want to take through this park, where you will see some of the tallest and oldest Redwood trees on the planet. Mom and I were speechless as we walked through one of the most beautiful forests I have ever seen in my life.
Our destination that evening was Mendocino, where we had planned to stay at the legendary Stanford Inn. I was extremely excited because I’d heard it was one of the most eco friendly lodgings in Northern CA. The drive down took us through many more old-growth groves, and I just wished we had days to hike, but time was of the essence, so we drove until until the road took us east along the beautiful rugged coast.
The Stanford Inn is the only vegan resort in the U.S. The Raven restaurant is inspired by the rambling certified organic gardens, which are the inn’s centerpiece, and which produce much of the food that is served. The inn has adopted sustainable practices throughout, and yet it is is sublimely comfortable. Jeff and Joan, the innkeepers, came to Mendocino in 1980 and fell in love with the countryside. They purchased Big River Lodge and eventually transformed it into the Stanford Inn.
Each room overlooks a private patio, the gardens and then the ocean beyond. Mom and I screamed with delight when we pulled our weary selves and our bags into the room – there was a real fireplace ready to light. I wished I could stay in that room and write for months and months – it was so peaceful and had what can only be described as a great energy.
Being the environmentalist that he is, Jeff Stanford, leaves no green stone un-turned. The large pine lobby is filled with tables of books about everything from green living and pet care, to vegan cuisine. The Inn is pet-friendly, which is really useful for the many families who come up for an extended vacation. What to do for families? What not to do! There are guided hikes, horse riding, canoe trips and much, much more. I can’t think of a better place to stay if you want to appreciate the beauty and nature of Northern CA.
The Raven vegan restaurant can only be described as vegan heaven. The menu is mouthwatering and I only wish I could have tried everything. My favorite was a Sea Palm and Root Vegetable Strudel made from local seaweed. The kamut and oat pancakes at breakfast the following morning were to die for! Needless to say, carnivore or not, you will not go hungry when staying at this inn. Many folks come here for a health retreat of sorts. There is a large solarium (pool heated by solar), in which you can take your daily exercise. So, if you are up for a spiritual, mental and physical overhaul in the middle of nature, The Stanford Inn would be a great choice.
The little towns dotted along the Mendocino coast, especially Mendocino village, are charming and well worth stopping at. We packed a picnic and sat on a grassy meadow just outside the village, overlooking the lacy waves that crashed with abandon onto the buttery sand.
I will take a Redwoods road trip every single year now. The beauty of this kind of trip is that it works as well for romantic couples, as it does for a family wanting to see the tallest living things on Earth. I will never forget my walks through those groves with mom. I couldn’t even bear to take out my camera because I wanted to actually experience it, rather than shoot it. I wanted to “be” there in the present moment, enjoying pristine nature with someone I loved. Now that’s a road trip!