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Our 2021 California Dreaming Road Trip!

Written by Jeff Drake
2 · 03 · 22
At long last, here is a review of our most recent trip to California. Over 2500 miles on the road! And as you can see from our itinerary below, we didn’t even get to all the places we had planned to visit. Our intent for this trip was to have a nice road trip and spend Christmas with my sister-in-law, Mimi, who lives in Los Angeles.

I’ll repeat our itinerary here:

(12/15-16) Trinidad, California. This is just a place to crash for the night, about half-way to our next destination.

(12/16-19) Guerneville, California. Wine-central. Okay, maybe not wine-central, but close to Sonoma and Napa and in the middle of the Russian River wine region.

(12/19-21) Carmel, California.  An old haunt of ours, from back in the day when I used to spend so much time in California doing training for HP.

(12/21-22) Big Sur, California. Another old haunt, of mine at least. When I would spend a two-week stint in Cupertino, I would often drive down to Big Sur just for the drive.

(12/22-23) Los Angeles, California. Have to pick up Lisa’s sister, who will be joining us for Christmas in Malibu.

(12/23-27) Malibu, California. Christmas in Malibu. How American is that? Should be interesting, I hope.

(12/27-28) Twenty Nine Palms, California (Joshua Tree National Park). This is my sister-in-laws favorite park and she goes there frequently. We’ve never been there, although we remember getting very lost trying to find it in the days before gps. This has been on our list for years. AND WE HAD TO CANCEL DUE TO WEATHER AND COVID CONCERNS!

(12/28-29) Shoshone, California. Death Valley.  Another bucket list stop. We had intended to go to this park earlier, but gave it up due to fires in Tahoe area and California. So we’re going to make it happen this time. AND WE HAD TO CANCEL DUE TO WEATHER AND COVID CONCERNS!

(12/29-30) Lone Pine, California. Many things to gawk at in this area! AND WE HAD TO CANCEL DUE TO WEATHER AND COVID CONCERNS!

(12/30-31) Carson City, Nevada. Pit stop on the way home. I couldn’t bring myself to stay in Reno, which could best be described as an armpit stop. AND WE HAD TO CANCEL DUE TO WEATHER AND COVID CONCERNS!

(12/31-01) Klamath Falls, Oregon. Woo hoo! New Year’s Eve in sleepy-town, USA. Nothing but us and a whole bunch of flag-carrying Trumpers. Lol! AND WE HAD TO CANCEL DUE TO WEATHER AND COVID CONCERNS!

(01/01/2022 Home! At least we made it home healthy and safe!

Trinidad California was not a destination per se, it was simply a place to sleep on the way to our first actual destination, Guerneville, California. The drive did take us to places where there was elevation, so naturally, there was snow.

We had to alter our departure date to leave a day early, as a big storm was heading to Portland and we didn’t want to get iced in, so we spent an unexpected night in Eugene, Oregon.

The next morning, following Highway 101, we stopped at just about every redwood park we saw. The first park was the one below. Be prepared to see a lot of tree porn in this blog! Tell your kids to leave the room if you have to.

Lisa and I both intended to see as many redwood trees as we could along the way through California, and were blessed with an immediate taste of redwood experience. (So, of course, we missed the Jedediah Redwood Forest on our way to Trinidad, but as you’ll see, we stopped there on the way home.)

I always have a mixed emotional response whenever I see a sign referencing Ladybird Johnson, as in the Ladybird Johnson Grove. You see, on the one hand she gave us the “Beautify America” slogan, an effort that continued for some years, which was great! Then on the other hand, this same plan caused me to spend way too many hours picking up papers with a sharp stick, bored out of my mind,  while stationed at Presidio, California, when I was in the Army. Grr.

The Ladybird grove is in Redwood National Park and is about 1,000 feet elevation. Redwoods seem to enjoy the elevated areas where the air is often heavy with mist. This grove has a very nice 1-mile trail that takes you into a wonderland, at least for those of us who love trees. Lisa and I are crazy about redwoods!

On our way to Guerneville, we had lunch at Noyo Fish Company in Fort Bragg, California. The food was okay, but I think I got some bad fish, the effects of which were not pleasant. Sigh.

Travelling further along highway 101 to Guerneville, California, we stopped at Armstrong Redwood State Reserve. You have to pay $10 to drive through the park, but it was worth it. This park is home to the coast redwood trees – and Colonel Armstrong! These trees are ancient! We are always filled with a sense of awe and wonder whenever we visit redwoods. It’s not unusual to find ourselves whispering in such places. The trees instill both a sense of wonder and reverence. I refer to every redwood grove I see as, “nature’s church.” The Armstrong reserve has trees that are 500-1,000 years old, although it is not unknown to find a few that live to be 2,000! Some stand 250 feet tall! Some have a diameter of 16-feet. Seriously, what’s not to love and cherish?

The day we visited was periodically misty with sun, which contributed to the beauty and wonder of this amazing place.

Here are some sights we saw along the way to Guerneville:

Have you ever seen a redwood tree with a burned-out center? Looks like some serious damage, doesn’t it? Well, it is not actually that serious, and it reveals something about redwoods that I did not know before.  The first thing I didn’t know is that the center of a redwood tree, called the “Heartwood,” is not alive.  Once the wood is made, the cells die and become empty conduits for water, essentially becoming water storage for the tree. Only the newest wood, called “sapwood,” located on the outside of the tree, is used for moving water all the way up to the top of the tree. So when a fire happens, as long as the tree has enough bark, it can survive the fire. The 2nd thing I didn’t know about redwoods is that the tree automatically grows thicker bark around these burned centers, effectively applying a bandage of sort as protection against further damage. How cool is that?

We arrived in Guerneville and much to our surprise, we found ourselves freezing! We thought, “WTF? This is California, why is it so friggin’ cold?” Well, it turns out this is not unusual for the Guerneville area at this time of year (think very chilly and damp).

Guerneville is right on the Russian River and is in Sonoma County, otherwise known as “wine country”.  Wine was another reason we chose this destination, although in the end we didn’t visit any wineries in Guerneville.

We rented a Vacasa home called, Roos River House, which was a very nice place. As the name alluded to, you could see the Russian river from the deck. We both thought it would be a great place to stay in the summer, when it is warm! Emphasis on “warm”! The house had heat, of course, but it was provided via a fireplace. It took a while to heat the house and had the annoying feature that resulted in most of the heat going to the bathroom. So, in the bathroom it would be 80-degrees, and the rest of the house was 68. Go figure. Still, we spent 3 nights there and enjoyed it.

While in Guerneville, we drove over to another town called, Healdsburg. We really liked the look and feel of Healdsburg. In fact, we decided that the next time we come, we’d stay in Healdsburg.  Healdsburg is where we visited our first California winery,  Alexander Valley Vineyards, which was nice and the wine was good! We bought a bottle of 2017 Petit Syrah. The grounds of the vineyard were beautiful, too, I especially liked the owner’s old family cemetery.

The next day, December 19, 2021, we left Guerneville to make our way to Carmel on the Sea, a favorite haunt of ours in California. This day also had an event I planned for before we left. Yet another one of my genealogical events as it turns out. We were going to stop in San Jose and meet my biological half-brother, Dennis, in person for the very first time! I was looking forward to this, but also somewhat nervous about it. You never know how these things will turn out.

However, for this event, things turned out great! Dennis met us at a nice Greek restaurant in the town of Campbell. He called and said his son, Matt, would be joinng us too. In fact, he said Matt might already be at the restaurant ahead of him.

We were seated at a table and mulling over the menu, when a stranger approached our table and asked if I was Jeff Drake. We looked up (and I mean “up”, as this stranger was tall!) and saw my half-nephew. He is 6’4’ or 5, I believe. Like I said, tall! I should have expected this, as our biological father was only 5’8”, which is my height and Dennis’ height, as well. Our son, Jason, who is over 6’ also got the tall Lee gene, it would seem.

All in all, we had a wonderful visit! If you’ve ever had a situation where you meet someone for the first time and suddenly find yourselves talking like you were old friends, well this meet-and-greet was just like that. Fun!

Oh, it was Christmas time and we were in California, of course, so we got to watch the arrival of a herd of Santas on motorcycles outside the restaurant as we were leaving!

Onto Carmel, which looked beautiful, as it always does.

One of the greatest things about visiting Carmel is the food, of course. We were sad, but not surprised, to discover that the one restaurant we visited every time we visited Carmel, called Shabu-Shabu, was no longer there. Time marches on, I guess. However, we ate at two other restaurants that were very special and I had one of the best meals I’ve ever had!

We had a wonderful breakfast at Pangaea Grill. Truly good, we’d go there again in a heartbeat! And then we had dinner at PortaBella. Wow, what a fantastic meal! Not cheap, that’s for sure, but we thoroughly enjoyed it! This is another restaurant I’d visit again anytime!

Our hotel was right on the main street of town, which was so convenient! That’s thanks to Lisa’s great planning, of course! Other than eating, our time there was spent being lookey-loos, walking leisurely around the town seeing what we could see. The stores were all decked out for Christmas, so it was even prettier than usual.

Carmel is conveniently located to other places we love to visit, so we took a drive to another old haunt of mine from my Hewlett-Packard days, Monterey. Back in the day when I was taking HP classes, some of us would hop in the car and drive to Carmel, visit the Monterey pier, Cannery Row, and of 17-mile drive, naturally. Lisa and I would also visit when she came out with me on some of my business trips. All places that we found fun to revisit.

I wa happy to see that a favorite restaurant of mine from my HP days had reopened on the Monterey pier. The name had changed and the menu, but back in the day they made some great clam chowder! I stopped and asked the restaurant host about the restaurant, explaining my previous visits. He then proceeded to take Lisa and me on a tour of the newly reopened and redecorated restaurant while giving us the history of the place. An unexpected bit of fun!

Saying goodbye to Carmel, we proceeded to our next stop, Big Sur. Well, actually we had a hotel booked in Cambria, but Big Sur was what this day was all about. A few years ago I thought I had read that another haunt of mine, this one in Big Sur, from my HP days – and a place I’d taken Lisa to before – had perished in a forest fire. I was bummed, because I really loved going to this place. It had a restaurant with a simply fantastic view of the ocean.

I remember asking about the history of the restaurant years ago and was told that like many other places (e.g., Mill Valley), it was originally bought by hippies before the land rush turned California dirt into gold. They soon became quite the capitalists themselves! Before we left for our trip, I discovered that the restaurant, Nepenthe, was in fact open. Yay! So, I called and found that rumors as to their burning up in the fire were not true, probably a mistake on my part.  It was great to stop and see the place again. Lisa and I both love it! The restaurant is nothing to brag about, but the burger I had was fine, the bloody Mary was good, and the view from the restaurant is hard to beat!

I have to say that this was a wonderful day on the California coast! Throughout our entire road trip we found ourselves repeating the phrase, “California is so beautiful!” And the coast is amazing! Along the way to our next stop, Hollywood, we managed to visit Point Lobos and do a couple hikes.

We happened upon a “rookery” for elephant seals, which was a surprise and fun to see. A rookery is a designated safe place the state sets aside for animals to mate, breed, and chill out. If there hadn’t been a sign there, I might have thought it was a elephant seal graveyard. These beasts know how to relax! And when they aren’t sleeping, the huge males are barking their fool heads off, telling all the ladies to “Come and get it!”

Our hotel in Cambria was a very nice find (thank you, Lisa!). We were across the road from the sea and a beautiful sunset!

Moving on towards Los Angeles to meet Lisa’s sister, Mimi, we stopped by Solvang, a town that we thought was based on Germany, but instead discovered it was based on Denmark, so a Danish tourist trap of sorts. It looked like a fun town to peruse if we’d had more time. We had lunch, some coffee and continued our trip towards Hollywood.

On December 23rd we arrived in Hollywood. Sadly, my brother called us and informed us that his son, Matt, whom we had met a couple days before in San Jose, had tested positive for Covid and was sick.  So, before we could see my sister-in-law who was going to join us for Christmas in Malibu, we had to get tested. Ugh! Fortunately, Mimi had 2 at-home testing kits which she graciously let us use. So we met Mimi at her apartment, well, actually we were parked in our car outside in the pouring rain and she handed us the test kits through the window of our car and instructed us how to use them. Both tests were negative. Whew!

We stayed at a Best Western that night and the next morning went to pick up Mimi. She had a previously scheduled PCR Covid test she had to do before leaving town. She has a lot of friends, some with kids, so exposure is routing it seems. UCLA requires their professors to get PCR testing if they think they might be exposed. She checked with the place doing the testing and they said they would do walk-ins, so Lisa and I joined her and got the PCR test, too. They would call us with the results in a couple days. So, finally, we were off to our place in Malibu for Christmas!

The house we rented in Malibu was great (yep, Lisa did it again!)! We were on a hillside overlooking the ocean, so the view of the ocean from our yard, where there were chairs and tables, was wonderful!  Next to our house was a vineyard, which was still pretty, although I don’t think any grapes had grown there in a while. In fact, the land behind us we initially thought had been burned in one of the many fires around Malibu. However, upon a closer inspection during a hike Lisa and I did, it appeared the ground was not burned, but severely parched due to drought. it was so dry and hadn’t see rain in some time, so the rain we brought with us to Malibu was probably a blessing.

We booked a nice dinner for Christmas Eve at a very expensive restaurant called The Sunset Restaurant. My meal was great, I thought, but Lisa and Mimi were only so-so about their food.

On Christmas we booked another restaurant in town, Geoffrey’s Restaurant, this time for brunch.  The food did not disappoint. We loved the food and the view from the patio was stunning! What a great place to eat! Or dink. Or just hangout! We highly recommend it!

We had fun tooling around Malibu with Mimi. We visited the Malibu pier, too, which we hadn’t seen in some years.

Finally, it was time to leave Malibu. Due to concerns about what the hell we were going to do if one or both of us got Covid in California and the news that severe winter weather was hitting all the places we were supposed to go to after Malibu, we cancelled our upcoming reservations and decided to make a mad dash back home.

But, before we left California, we had to revisit one of our favorite redwood parks, Jedediah Smith. The last time we visited this park, we were completely by ourselves. Not this time! Still, what a place! I didn’t remember seeing the Champagne Tree the last time we were at the park, but we saw it this time. It has a road going through it. I chickened out at the minute because I was concerned our car’s mirror’s might get dinged.

Waving goodbye to the redwoods till we see them again, we made our final way up the coast into Oregon and then home.

It was one helluva road trip, for sure!





























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  1. Kathleen

    What a great writing about your California excursion! Your flexibility is laudable! Thanks for sharing. What a delight to meet your brother and his son!!!!

    • jeffdrake-wp-admin

      Thanks, Kathleen!


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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