Monday, October 10, 2016

Family Summer Vacation 2016 - Redwood Forests and Pacific Coast

Leaves have changed colors and temperatures are dropping...I guess that means I should get on the ball and write that "how I spent my summer vacation" post. It's a little late, but who's really keeping track, right?

For our family vacation this year we took a trip to the Redwood National Forests and the Pacific Coast. We spent most of the trip in California but as a family we always said we were going to "Oregon". I think that's mainly because Oregon is new to the kids so the novelty of it made it a place to focus the trip.

The vacation started out with a full day of driving from our home near Salt Lake City halfway across Nevada and then North up to Klamath Falls Oregon where we stayed a night. The drive was long and pretty uneventful. Having driven across Utah and parts of Nevada before, the scenery most of the drive wasn't anything terribly exciting or engaging for the group so a lot of time was spent reading or sleeping. A couple of our gas/bathroom pit stops were in fun small little towns with quirky postcards and souvenirs on the shelves so that was fun. When we did get to the Oregon/Nevada border we snapped a few quick pictures before continuing on. We arrived at our hotel in Klamath Falls after dark and just settled in to stretch and sleep before another day in the van.

Our second day immediately started with more interesting scenery and growing excitement as we continued on the road. Driving around Klamath Lake and the Lake of the Woods was gorgeous. After a few hours we were at the California border and embedded in forest. Driving through the forest, the kids kept excitedly asking if these were the great Redwoods yet. My oldest teenager cynically pointed out that if these were THE redwoods they weren't really any better than trees back home and we could've saved our vacation time. I assured him that we weren't quite there and he'd be impressed once he saw them.

It wasn't much longer before the trees got taller and the woods took on a new sensation. The Redwood Forests truly have a different feeling to them. The whole atmosphere seemed to change. I think it's the combination of the enormity of the trees and the lush, vibrant undergrowth that makes the whole thing feel otherworldly. It's a feeling that's hard to explained and really needs to be experienced. We made quite a few pit stops over the next hour...pulling over to take quick pictures next to the mammoth trees or just to gaze up at them.

As much as we all were impressed by the Redwoods, we were equally tired of being in the car. And we knew that this was just the start of the trip and we'd have plenty of opportunity to take in the forest. So we pushed on to Crescent City and our hotel for the next couple of days. As we came out of the forest, the kids eagerly started looking for the ocean. This was their first time ever seeing the ocean and they were as excited for it as they had been for the trees. A light fog was filtered over the town so we couldn't see the ocean until we were just a few blocks away. We had reserved a room at Oceanfront Lodge which legitimately lives up to its name, sitting right on the edge of the ocean (far enough away to not worry about tide, but close enough that there's no additional buildings or roads between the hotel and the beach).

It took a little prodding to get the kids to take stuff to the room rather than just running down to the beach but we managed it. The hotel (wisely) situated all of the rooms on the ocean side of the hotel so that every room has an ocean view. And a gorgeous view it was. The ocean waves lapped against the sandy, rocky beach. Just off in the distance was the Battery Point Lighthouse. We grabbed a quick lunch at the North Coast Ocean Sports Grill (quite tasty) spent an hour or so just wandering the beach, wading/playing in the water and relaxing.

Later that afternoon we hopped back in the van to drive back up into the trees and explore the Redwoods. We went searching for Stout Grove and we're glad we did. Along the way we made a few more stops for great photos and to just take in the awesomeness. Stout Grove has a parking area and restrooms and from there you follow a trail slightly downhill into the grove for a small half mile walk through some gorgeous scenery.

There were quite a few cars in the lot when we arrived and we encountered a number of other groups but honestly once you got down into the grove, it really felt like you were the only people on Earth. It is just so serene and lovely. The trees stretch up forever and the lush undergrowth and path of leaves and pine needles just draws you in and relaxes you. A number of trees had fallen and lay stretched across the ground far into both directions. It's the kind of place that's just refreshing to the soul.

The next morning we spent some time playing on the beach waiting for the tide to draw out enough that we could walk across to the Battery Point Lighthouse. It was fun to walk across the rocky ocean floor and then up to the lighthouse. A number of plaques gave information about the history of the lighthouse and the types of wildlife and weather in the area as well as telling about tsunamis and other disasters over the years. The tour of the lighthouse was very fun and quite interesting. We learned a treasure story about a ship that had wrecked in the vicinity and were told about the foundation of the lighthouse. They showed us some of the unique elements of the construction and took us up to the top to see the working light and the view from the top. It was very cool.

After lunch we hit the road to drive a bit south to the Trees of Mystery. It was listed as a tourist stop for Redwood travelers so we figured we'd check it out. We were mostly interested to take the gondola ride up the mountain in the tops of the Redwood trees. When you arrive at Trees of Mystery you're greeted by a giant Paul Bunyan carved statue...literally greeted by him as they have somebody hidden with a microphone who talks through him to guests as they arrive. A few kids were having fun engaging in a silly circular conversation with him. The trail up to the gondola ride was nice but it wasn't as fun or engaging to us as the Stout Grove hike had been the previous afternoon.

We got up to the gondola ride and zipped our way up the mountainside. It was a very pretty view. Apparently when there isn't any fog you can see the ocean as you stare out across the tops of the Redwoods. All we got was what appeared to be cloud cover as we stared across the top of the fog bank. Still, the view from the tops of the trees was very cool. But sadly the overall experience with Trees of Mystery left us a little let down for the cost was just too commercialized and we'd already been spoiled by the free and very amazing Stout Grove the previous night. So even though Trees of Mystery had some cool sights to see, not even the gondola ride made up for the cost of admission in our opinion.

On our way back to Crescent City we stopped at a little roadside surf shop and bought a "boogie board" and then spent the rest of the evening playing in the ocean. The kids loved trying to "catch a wave" with the body board and just laying down and letting the waves roll over them. Even though it was the end of July, the air and water was a bit chilly so if we weren't in the water we were hunkered down in our beach chairs with our hoodies and towels wrapped around us. We stayed at the beach until evening and watched the sun dip itself down along the waves and disappear. It was very cool.

Our next day started with a little bit more quick sightseeing around the Crescent City area and then a leisurely drive down the cost to the city of Eureka. Along the way we found a beach to stop and do some more playing. This time we found a spot with larger breaking waves. The size of the waves scared the kids a little bit but before long they were plunging in again. Jason unfortunately lost his glasses when a wave submerged him. We berated him a little for wearing his glasses in the ocean but I personally could sympathize a little with his argument that he "wanted to be able to see the ocean while he was in it" because I've done the same thing myself (wearing contacts while swimming). In spite of prayers and searching, we didn't find his glasses washed up on shore but as a fortunate coincidence when I handed him my spare pair of glasses that I had brought, he said they seemed very close to his prescription and he could see almost the same as with his fortunately he didn't have to go through the rest of the trip nearly blind.

We continued driving down the coast, taking a pit stop to drive our minivan through the middle of a giant redwood and then arrived in Eureka by early afternoon. We found a place right on the water for lunch and the kids got their first taste of freshly caught and cooked ocean clams....they weren't especially impressed and I ended up eating almost all of them myself. *grin* We wandered for a couple of hours along the streets of Old Town Eureka enjoying the charm and offerings of the fun seaside shops. That evening we relaxed in our hotel and caught up on some rest.

After our pit stop in Eureka we set off for another day of driving and sightseeing. We continued down Highway 101 cutting off for the parallel "Avenue of the Giants" road that wound through the Redwood forest. We made a few more stops along the way...visiting the "Eternal Tree House", walking through "Founders Grove", driving the van through the center of a couple more trees and making a pit stop at "Confusion Hill" (with the crazy house that defies the laws of gravity). We stopped for dinner in Santa Rosa...thanks to the power of the internet we found a fun English Pub style place called the Toad in the Hole where we had some lovely British style dinner and desert. Around 10PM that evening we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge through a sprinkling rain and heavy fog to arrive in San Francisco.

The entire next day was spent exploring San Francisco and unwinding. We had fun wandering the streets and shops of Chinatown. I embraced my Disney obsession as we visited the Walt Disney Family Museum. We enjoyed the views of the Presidio. We checked out the Golden Gate Museum and wandered along the edge of the bridge.

That night we went to the bustling seaside boardwalk of Pier 39. The kids loved the carnival-like atmosphere of the Pier. We had some "gnarly" dinner at the Wipeout Bar & Grill and then wandered up and down the boardwalk enjoying the fun shops and staring out at the water. We took a ride on the carousel and the boys wandered through the maze of mirrors.

The next morning was our last day and even though we'd all been having a great time and were enjoying it all, it was clear that we were getting tired. Before leaving San Francisco we made our way over to Baker Beach for one last bit of playing in the sand and the ocean. The fog had pulled out a bit and we were also able to get a few nice shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. We then hit the road to begin the long drive home. Thanks to the time zone change and some crazy traffic trying to get out of the San Francisco and Oakland area, it was 3 AM by the time we were back in our beds. After a bit of rest, we looked over our souvenirs and photos and all of us agreed that we'd had a fabulous vacation.

No comments: