Help me make the most of my Northern California trip.
June 29, 2011 6:24 PM   Subscribe

What to do on my Northern California road trip?

I will be in San Francisco for work in the middle of July, and thereafter will be setting off, alone, for a relaxing four-day trip through Northern California. I've read a number of threads on this, and inspired by this one, have decided on this itinerary:

Leaving SF early-afternoon on a Friday (that's when I'll pick up my rental car) drive up 101 to 128 to 1, checking out some of the Anderson Valley vineyards and the brewery. Saturday, take 1 and 101 to Eureka, taking in Avenue of the Giants and maybe stopping somewhere for a hike. Sunday, hang out in Eureka/Arcata, check out the towns and the surrounding coast. Monday, cut across to Redding on 299, stopping somewhere along the way. Tuesday. take I-5 and I-80 back to the Bay Area, also with some stops. Stay at a motel near SFO Tuesday night, fly home Wednesday.

I've gotten some solid ideas from other threads, like Anderson Valley and Lost Coast (if I can get there, it sounds awesome!), but I do have some questions that are specific to my situation:

1) I'm on something of a budget, and I'm not too picky with accommodation, so I'm planning to mostly stay in Motel 6s and the like (I realize this isn't possible in Fort Bragg, but I'll deal). However, if there are any cooler places to stay that are comparable in price, I'd be open to that.

2) Nature! I want to spend some time in nature. Can you suggest any cool hikes, nature walks, scenic drives, or just places to stop and gawk for awhile? I've done some hiking, but I'm not ready to climb mountains or anything.

3) Other cool stuff: I'm particularly interested in local food and/or drink, and cool architecture. But I'd also be happy to check out local events, or bits of roadside kitsch, or whatever you got.

4) I like traveling alone and I'm comfortable being by myself for extended periods. However, as it may be nice to engage with people at some point, are there any good places to meet people along this route? Bear in mind, I am sociable, but very much not the walk-up-to-a-stranger-in-a-bar type.

5) Practical advice. Will I hit crazy traffic leaving SF at, say, 1 or 2 in the afternoon on a summer Friday? Will Hwy 1 be shrouded in fog the whole day? Anything else you think I need to know would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your input!
posted by breakin' the law to Travel & Transportation around California (18 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Jughandle Creek Farm -- cheap lodging & nature stuff just a few miles south of Fort Bragg.
posted by jon1270 at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2011

Fort Bragg: would you have the gear to camp at MacKerricher State Park, just north of town? Almost like camping on the beach if you get a good spot!
posted by salvia at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2011

I graduated from Eureka High School (spent my senior year in high school there) and this is what I can tell you -- mind you, this was in '88 (fuck I'm old)

1. Arcata is cool, it being a college town and all. Humboldt State had at the time a rep as (at least) kind of a stoner school. Hippies. I love hippies.

2. Eureka the town is not so cool. When I was there, it was an economically depressed place and dreary as fuck.

Everything is really really green and beautiful all around. It may be raining -- the area's horrible suicide rate (when I was there) was blamed in some significant part on the rain rain rain until you feel like you're gonna mold up.
posted by angrycat at 7:20 PM on June 29, 2011

If you're into beer, check out the North Coast Brewery at Fort Bragg. Lovely stuff.
posted by Decani at 7:28 PM on June 29, 2011

Best answer: 1) No accomidation suggestions - there are a lot of nice B&Bs up there, but, like all B&Bs, they run pricey.

2/3/4) See below for Humboldt County specifics.

5) You should be good getting out of SF if you do leave at 1 or 2 - the rush generally starts around 3:30 or 4 on Fridays. Fog conditions are completely dependent on the weather that day - there's no way to predict this far out whether it'll be foggy or there will be a nice breeze blowing all the fog away. Do note that the weather, once you get out of Wine Country, is not "sunny California" sort of weather. It's either foggy/rainy and cool, or it's sunny but with a stiff breeze. Dress in layers!

Humboldt County Specifics:
1. Right before Eureka on the way up is Ferndale, where you simply must stop. It's Northern California's version of Smalltown, America - good dairy farming folk, a main street lined with old Victorians, a working blacksmith, etc.

2. Eurkea isn't the greatest of towns, but it's had a bit of a revival since angrycat was there, I think. Old Town is adorable and right on the water. Stop at Bon Boniere for a real old-fashioned ice cream parlor experience. (There's also a location on the main square in Arcata.) Go gawk at the Carson Mansion.

3. Be sure to eat at the Samoa Cookhouse, which is on the bay between Eurkea & Arcata, if the timing works out for you. Great food and a fun atmosphere - the communal feel might make it easier to meet some locals as well.

4. There's some nice trails up behind Humboldt State University at Redwood Park - nothing out-of-this-world, but it's an easy location to get to, and you'll get up close and personal with some big trees and nice ferns. Lots of college folks (both students and professors) as well as just regular locals here typically.

5. The Arcata Marsh is a very pretty walk, especially around dusk - lots of bird sighting opportunities if you're into that.

6. McKinleyville is hick town (I know, I spent my childhood there), but if you've never seen a real totem pole before, there's a pretty big one in the town.

7. If you can manage it, you should really get up to either Patrick's Point State Park or Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If I had to choose one, I'd probably pick Prairie Creek for it's elk herd over Patrick's Point & its tidepools, but they're both incredibly amazing pieces of scenic beauty.

8. Hole in the Wall is great sandwich shop in Arcata, very popular with the students.
posted by Gori Girl at 8:10 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Humboldt county stuff: Arcata-Redwood Park/Arcata Community Forest has a great easy trail through the woods. The marsh is our sewage treatment plant. Ew, I know, but it's all hippie natural and non-stinky and full of birds. Plus, it's unique, and apparently famous among sewage treatment/city planning types.

North of there, Prarie Creek Redwoods State park has fern canyon, which is my favorite nature-y place ever. Also awesome, Big Lagoon, Patrick's Point, Trinidad Head.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:16 PM on June 29, 2011

GG you take me back. Hole in the Wall, Bon Boniere; a true locals list.

I've not been back in a while hopefully these recommendations are still worthwhile:

Los Bagels - Arcata

The Arcata Plaza has several bars that are all different vibes from each other.

It will take longer to get over 299 than you think. Just be prepared for that.

Yes, the chances are good that it will be very foggy. But as you leave on 299 you'll be in a whole other world by the time you hit Blue Lake (less than 15 miles).

You could see some of the lost coast by going through Petrolia and Ferndale. Not sure what the roads are like, it's been a while.

You can walk with your Bon Boniere ice cream to the Carson Mansion. Said to be the most photographed house in the country.

Have fun.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2011

If you can find the time to squeeze it in, if you're going to be in Redding, taking the I-5 up through the Shasta area has some gorgeous scenery and is a really fun drive. Or just exploring somewhere between Redding and Medford.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:19 PM on June 29, 2011

299 leg:

Joss House in Weavervile
Whiskeytown Falls at Whiskeytown Lake
Shasta Dam in Shasta Lake ( hike nearby Chamise Peak)
Sundial Bridge in Redding

I5 leg:

Olives in Corning (Olive Pit and Lucero olive oil)
Last Stand in Maxwell(?)
Granzella's in Williams ( for the polar bear in the bar )

Sorry, no links, they're murder on the iPad.
posted by drwelby at 9:47 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The route to Anderson Valley takes you through the Alexander Valley too. If you like chi-chi shops, winetasting, and art, Healdsburg is a vibrant alternative stop.

Gas up in Cloverdale, which is the last cheapish fuel-stop for a while, then top up before leaving the Anderson Valley.

Bring clothes for July, and clothes for December. Seriously, more than once I've had need of long-johns and mittens on the Mendo coast while it's 90-something all the way through the Anderson Valley.

There's a nice art gallery, and quiet beach beneath a nice trail, in Elk. The town itself a sneeze-and-you-miss-it kind of place, so keep an eye out.

nthing Ferndale.

Make reservations now, at least for the Mendo/Humboldt parts.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:53 PM on June 29, 2011

As a recent grad from HSU I can safely say that beer in Arcata is spectacular. Here is my IMHO on the subject.

North Coast (ft bragg): Amazing beer, expensive food. Big beers.

Eel River. Meh, expensive mediocre food and beer. They are my least favorite place to drink beer in Humboldt.

Lost Coast: Decent beer, alright food, fun restaurant, worth the stop, take a walk through old town, the place is nice.

Redwood Curtain Brewing CO: New to Arcata, they have decent very hoppy beer, no food.

Six Rivers: Tons of beer on tap, they have a huge selection of there own brews to try, a sampler of beer comes out to 2 pitchers worth.

Mad River: aka my favorite spot on earth. You can drink $2 (amazing) pints and watch the sunset over the mountains while local bands play for beer. You can bring your own food, so pick up some Arcata Pizza and Deli pizza and head over. I have a hard time thinking of anything that makes my as happy as mad river brewing co.

Arcata is much better then Eureka, do not stay in Eureka.

Fern Canyon is really neat, they filmed starwars ewok scenes in it.

MeMail me for other questions about the area between 101 and Arcata, I have spend thousand of hours on the road there and will most likely have the answer to your questions.
posted by Felex at 12:02 AM on June 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from Redding (live in Bay Area) and used to spend time in Humboldt (dad's family is from there).

I'll give you some times for the later half: Straight through (ie, no tourist stops), 299 will probably take you 2.5 to 3 hours. It's a mountain road, mostly one lane each way. (You might want to look at some Google street views to get a feeling.) It takes me about 4-4.5 hours to drive from west Redding to Palo Alto--you can probably cut 30 minutes off that since you're just going to SFO. (If you have a cell phone, you can call 511 to get traffic info, but it really only works from outside Vacaville; I'm not sure how far in Marin county it will work. You can specify junctions and points of interest to get drive times and traffic conditions.) Shasta (just west of Redding) is apparently (via wikipedia) a ghost town, although I had friends that lived there. There are some "ruins" along 299; old brick buildings, etc from it's heyday in the 1880s. In Redding, there are a series of walking trails that follow the Sacramento River which are easily accessible from the highways (the Sundial Bridge is part of that network).

Weather-wise, if it's a typical July day (we've had some weird weather in CA so far this summer, so it may be cooler), it'll be warm from about Willow Creek eastward, and from Redding south it will probably be hot--as in 100 degrees, but dry (again, assuming a normal July day).

The drive down I-5 will be boring (IMO), but I suppose the olives in Corning could be interesting; and there's Ide Adobe State Park in Red Bluff, about .5 mile off 5; might be interesting.

I usually stop at Granzella's in Williams for food (it's become somewhat of a tradition); they have a sit-down restaurant, a sandwich bar, espresso bar, and bar-bar (that last one, probably not a good idea) plus a store with various ag products from the region (rices, various types of pickled olives, Italian stuff, etc.).

If you want to MeMail me some specific questions, feel free.
posted by MikeKD at 1:51 AM on June 30, 2011

1) There are fantastic baked goods at Brio Cafe, which is right on the main square in Arcata.

2) There are many excellent places to hike in that part of the world, but I personally enjoyed a couple of very easy (flat) but beautiful trails through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, specifically the Drury-Chaney Loop Trail and Rockefeller Loop Trail/Bull Creek Flats, which seem very different even though they are in the same park because the former is so much wetter, with many ferns etc., while the latter is much more open. Other trails there are probably great as well, those are just the ones I did myself.
posted by unsub at 6:00 AM on June 30, 2011

Go to Mt. Shasta, stay at our place it's empty most of the year.
posted by pianomover at 9:59 AM on June 30, 2011

In going through Philo on 128 be sure to stop at Gowan's Oak Tree road side stand and have some of the apple cider. They have been there forever and the cider is consistently extraordinary. It may be the best cider on the planet.
posted by royboy at 11:05 AM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: Great suggestions, all - thanks for the help!
posted by breakin' the law at 12:07 PM on June 30, 2011

Humboldt alumni here from the 80's (Fuck, I'm old too.) Reading through the comments brings back a lot of fond memories.

Nthing Patrick's Point (Agate Beach there used to be my favorite spot) and Fern Canyon. Also, Ferndale is a very unique town...the cemetery there is really great if you like those kind of things. (I used to go mushroom hunting there.) You have a lot of driving to do if you plan on going over 299, so although the Lost Coast and Petrolia is one of the most beautiful coastlines on earth, maybe that could be a return trip. Personally, I would skip Samoa Cookhouse and save my $ for dinner at Larrupin Cafe in Trinidad. The short hike out to Trinidad Head is also wonderful.
posted by Gusaroo at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2011

Don't know about Motel 6 in Ft. Bragg, but there are definitely a set of cheaper motels on 1 as you drive into town. We stayed in one last time we were there. Maybe a Comfort Inn? Maybe not even a chain motel. The cable TV went out while we were there, during the World Series, so we just went to North Coast and watched the whole game there. Win-win.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:20 PM on July 2, 2011

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