Willits, Scotia, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Bodega Bay, family wedding and whale watching!

My niece is getting married in Scotia, a lovely little 'company' lumber town on Highway 101 in Northern California on Saturday, Jan 3, 2015. Scotia proves to be a tad more than eight hours of travel away, all the grands have to be back in school on Monday, so we head out on our own to represent this side of the family. Road trip! We've had so few really worthy vacations of late, so this one is welcome and we will take our time on the way back, especially when David mentioned whale watching off the coast is prime. With the entire house packed up we are finally on our way Friday, the second. It's been 32° lately, so most of the plants are in the greenhouse, Amanda is stationed at the house keeping our pets company, life is good. Even my fingernails are perfectly done, pale 'pink splash', courtesy of my fashion minded daughter.

Our first stop is at the Red Robin in Woodland, 1:25 pm. We've been there before, a safe enough stop. Where did that shopping center come from? Who would think any establishment could ever run out of knives? Freezing cold and the music is so loud I am grateful the waitress is willing to turn it down. Back on the road again at 2:20. Where does that Old State Highway road go? If we weren't in a hurry, we would have found out! We hit State Highway 101 at 5:04, good timing, my stomach cramps from my hamburger hit about three minutes later. 258 miles and major roadwork, and we get to Willits at 5:24, drop everything off at the Best Western Inn we are trying for the first time, then off to the Broiler in Redwood Valley for a family dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Susana, Tom, Matt and Elise, Sandy and Alison, Great food and service from Tammy, good laughs, so grand to see everyone. Top that off with a book Susana had been saving for me ("5000 spells", imagine that) and a matchbook cover she discovered in her old things - from my favorite haunt from the 70's; St James Infirmary in Mountain View. It even had one remaining match in it, what a real treasure for me!

We returned to the hotel about 9, late for us, and had very little sleep, probably just because we have entered the realm of older age and unexplained disturbed sleep.

We woke Saturday to a foggy am, met the family at Gribaldo's for a quick hello (we rarely eat early) and headed south to Ukiah for a quick hello to Mom. The Dragon's Lair was screaming for me to stop (don't you LOVE that when it happens?) and I own three lovely tie dye pieces. Breakfast back in Willits at the Lumberjack's, Willits for a reliable breakfast (sans the part about the waitress taking my order and leaving without taking David's, weird) and we are BOTRA (Back On The Road Again) by 11ish, a tad later than planned.

25 mile an hour curves with David speeding all the way. Did you know you could actually curl your hair in a traveling vehicle? I dressed, too. Arriving a scant 15 minutes before the wedding, we got the video set up in time. What a shame the two professional female photographers were rude enough to continually stick their elbows in my view or walk in front of my video camera. Otherwise, the wedding was grand, Sandy looked fantastic, her dress was gorgeous, and her husband to be literally fainted just as they kissed. Poor man, what DID they do to him at his bachelor's party?

The reception followed the photos on the Scotia Inn front steps, dinner and dancing, and then someone said the hotel was haunted. Oooh, well, we had fun. Two rooms were particularly uncomfy (lo and behold, I had my house cleansing chant in my purse!), they refused to allow us on the third floor, but we truly had fun. Seeing cousin Lynne and her Donna, daughter Sabrina, semi sister-in-law Pat and daughters Molly and Sarah.

We settled into our comfy room, 209, hoping Peace and Sheri felt better about theirs. The hotel is quaint, to say the least. Built in 1923 in the company town, it saw some real history over the years. The hallways actually look like something out of the Shining, with their lengths and steady, repeated appearance of doors, most of which are not numbered. That fact alone will play with your head! You can also easily imagine a ghostie running past waaaay down the path in the adjoining hall. Maybe a little girl in a white nightie. Room 901 was angry. I walked by later, when everyone had settled in and the occupants were involved in a very loud, very terse argument that could be heard several doors away. Residual influence is amazing.

Sunday morning brought most of the family to the breakfast area, a minstrel's balcony over the lobby. We decided we cannot wait for another wedding (or funeral) to get together. We have many family relatives buried in Auburn and Nevada City (and there is a haunted hotel in NC) so where else would be a better place for an annual family reunion? June sounds good . . .

Botra, gas was $2.62, thirty cents higher than home. Instead of heading back onto 101, we went further along Main Street and ran into a sweet little town called Rio Dell, taking home a sprouting redwood burl wood and a carved redwood tree from Adam at Dias Artistries. The weather is so perfect there it makes it a tempting retirement location. Adam recommends the Avenue of the Giants, a name that stirs childhood memories of when Dad took us camping every summer. That drive was nothing short of spectacular, with many stops to ooh and awe, including the disbelief to see the December 1964 flood level mark, a post with a cross arm well above ten feet over our heads.

Lunch was at Deb's Great American Burger in tiny Redway. The menu looked like an old fashioned frosty (yes!!!!) the wait was considerable (good food is always worth the wait) the shakes to die for (butterscotch and blackberry), but the tuna melt tasted funny. Dissecting it did not help and I basically left hungry, eating only the yummy garlic fries. $23 was a tad stiff I thought. If we lived locally, we would be more than willing to give it another try.

The Legend of Big Foot in Garberville was next. We saw this on the way up and we KNEW we had to stop on the return trip, it just screams a place to make fun of things, and search for fun things to hop into our car. I didn't find a wooden Bigfoot within my budget, but the items I would have liked to have owned were plentiful. I did leave with a gorgeous redwood snowflake for next year's Christmas tree, a redwood butterfly magnet for the frig, and three giant sequoia baby trees now proudly adorning our greenhouse, and hopefully will someday loom large above our cabin. And yes, the clerk on duty admitted there had never been a Bigfoot sighting in the area, but it seemed a great name for the place when it went up years ago, and has proven to be successful. The front fountain is amazing, the bathrooms are horrid.

We finally reached the coast via Highway 1 at 4 pm, what a sight. You make another 25 mph curve and wala, there is the ocean. You can't help but feel humble. It is stunning, to use my grandson's word, awesome. The signs that said, "Warning, Entering Tsunami Zone" were amusing, we drove through enchanting eucalyptus groves, past Westport Cemetery, then Fort Bragg Cemetery and arriving at long last at the North Cliff Hotel, room 214. What a shock that was! We have stayed in some very nice establishments, but for the price, this was by far the nicest place I can remember.

It is a huge room. The window at the end of the room looks out over the shore and the sea. The fireplace and the jacuzzi in front of it beckon you, as does the elegant, tastefully dressed king sized bed with matching end tables and lamps. The bathroom is comfortably sized with a large counter, wall sized mirror and side lights. Behind you is a closet with mirrored doors with two thick white robes, as well as a tall cabinet that contains the refrigerator, microwave and safe. The next room houses the john and a one piece walk in space age shower with goodles of built in shelves we fell in love with. (Dash the old tile look, this would be easy to maintain!) Let's see, private balcony, huge tv on swivel, VCR player, desk and chair, couch and coffee table, wine glasses, glass drink glasses, ice bucket and a bottle opener. Add a gentle fog horn, mist, a soft wind, oh goodness. We never looked for the bible. May I stay forever? All for $189. We have spent that much in the city for a sensible room. We arrived too late to sink into the jacuzzi and watch the sun go down at 5pm, so we decided to stay another night.

Off to Silvers at the Wharf and their "Bad Cat" sign. Classic seafood establishment, lots of windows to the water, full bar, interesting dishes, oyster shooters, you can spend between $20 and $65. We were rather disappointed, my salmon was basically burnt, David's chicken marsala was nothing exceptional. $100, ouch. I doubt we will be back.


Monday. Playing around Fort Bragg is our perfect kind of day. Breakfast at Eggheads, a small place, obviously a local favorite, great food, a tad pricey at $36 with $2.50 for syrup. The menu is so fun we asked for a copy. Jena has asked when will we be home.

Shopping in town is next, and it is just a teensy bit cold. The locals are in sleeveless shirts and shorts. David had not brought a heavy coat, so off to The Outdoor Store (a Patagonian shirt, David's new Columbia windbreaker and a cool lantern, oh and a tiny flower book). I needed a neck scarf so we shopped our way down to a thrift store we had noticed. Frankly, it called me as we drove by. Windsong Books (Mushrooms, an old recipe book, an enchanting Russian toy store storybook, and, a rare copy of The History of Merced County!!), Rubaiyat Beads (weird experience), Coast Hardware (we do love the local, jam packed hardware stores) and a Disney waffle maker for Landon at the CVS. We finally made it to the thrift store where I found what called me and bought this beautiful, warm, blue pink and purple hairpin lace scarf (that has received a jillion compliments) for two whole dollars. Don't you love it when that happens? Coffee at the Headlands Coffee Shop, what a rude cashier!! Whale watching at the Westport Cemetery; David would watch at the fenced edge above the ocean and holler when he saw whales, I would document the cemetery. Tiny, delicate, whirled pink flowers sprinkled all over the ground were a delight. Thanks to my new flower book these would prove to be Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana. A stop at the next cemetery, we met Tammy at the Fort Bragg Grange, and back to town, missing the second sunset in the tub. A drink the the BarBelow, dinner at The Restaurant. Oh my. Wish we lived there! We repeated the previous night's choices but this time the result was heavenly. Crab cakes yummy, the salad superb, salmon perfect, chicken marsala lickable. No bar, but the food? You treasure each bite. My photos of their doors are fun - "The Restaurant" on the outside and "The Rest of the World" on the inside. Back to our lovely nest at the North Cliff Hotel and another good night's sleep.

Tuesday morning brings another lovely day, check out (do we HAVE to leave?) and our drive down the coast. We checked out Mendocino point and saw a pod or two. They are so hard to photograph without a tripod and hours of filming or waiting. I took hundreds and got two semi-worthy shots. Off to Mendocino, what a sweet place! Very Carmelish. A stop at the Mendocino Yarn Shop, and back on the road.

Point Arena Lighthouse, a bit more whale watching, two posing crows, and we reach Gualala at 2 pm. Great looking place on the side of the road next to the beach, Bones Roadhouse. There is a sign in the parking lot where the handicap usually is, it reads "Reserved for church visitors." My kinda place. Reminiscent of Saint James Infirmary. I told the girl at the bar we had just gotten out of church, parking there is ok? She laughed and said sit anywhere you like. The tongue and groove knotty pine ceiling is covered with dollar bills and business cards. The walls are 90% window. Bright, airy, fun. The menu is sooo big I had to ask her for a copy. Just the appetizers take up one full 8 1/2 x 11 page, single spaced. The food? Oh yum on the burgers, and the thick chips were good and bad, depending on which one you picked up. Best hamburger I can remember. All for a ridiculous $19 for two, including tip. Thank you, Heather! Wish we could say we will be right back.

Bonta with more winding curves, drop off cliffs that make you dizzy, a sign that says Ninive, another graveyard or two, oh we need to come back! Bodega Bay at 4:15, Bodega Harbor Inn was our choice of several local places. I thought this had some less than wonderful reviews so we were skeptical at first, but once we got there, it was like driving into a separate little community. The side street to access the place is off the windy, slender road through town and on a curve, so it is easy to miss.

Hotels are generally either upscale and classy (modern, fancy and expensive), a workingman's place (basically cheap, no extras yet functionable), chains (moderately priced, perfectly acceptable, reliable) or cottagy, quaint, cute, lovely, delightful, independent places just like Bodega Harbor Inn. The rooms and houses are decorated so sweetly, perfectly and in my favorite mellow colours, lol! They are clean, perhaps a bit tight in some cases, every extra has been thought of, (a clock is needed in the single house with the hot tub) there are two bed side tables (a big thing for us, we both read, and rare to find) extra tables and chairs, just as homey as you can make it away from home. You almost don't want to rate it for fear it will become so popular you can't get a room!! Totally awesome experience, and thanks to the ladies, Nickey and Lisa. I don't think it would be the same without them. We would make a point of returning to the area to stay here!

Lucas Wharf Restaurant & Bar was recommended, and this time we make it, at least to the bar, with a drink in our hand to sit and watch the sun go down. Alas, it was quite windy and we came off the deck as soon as the stay qualified us for the event. Learning about the slime eels boxed up on the nearby dock and being rinsed, was, well, interesting. Next time, I want to find some lone brick wall and dangle our legs and watch the sea and the sun together. Ah, such a bucket list!

Dinner was, well, disappointing. The friendly barmaid, Dani, had braces and made me miss my daughter. This is a typical seashore bar restaurant, wide windows, white tablecloths, etc. Chicken, New York steak, some seafood, pasta, but no salmon. The bread was cold and hard, not a good start. When the busboy brought water with lemon I asked for water without lemon and he was extremely unhappy about it. We settled on crab cakes (two small one each) and a crab louie salad. Both were good, but certainly not worth a whopping $107 before tip??

Morning is cold and windy, it is Wednesday, two days past our predicted return. We have to stop to see the Tides where Hitchcock's Birds was filmed. It still has the appearance of the original cafe from a distance, but that is it. It is now a tourist trap with a gift shop, wine shop and extremely expensive restaurant. We bought breakfast snacks, my $9 banana bread was so hard I fed it to the seagulls on the veranda facing the ocean. We drove out to the headlands, saw seals but no whales, kissed the Pacific Ocean goodbye at 9 am, passed the Bodega Calvary Cemetery on our way to Howards in Occidental.

Occidental always had this, well, mysterious ambience; someone would be classy, and rich enough to pick up your model drop dead gorgeous girlfriend in your brand new Corvette and casually drive to "grab a bite to eat" in Occidental. It was like someone had a reserve ticket to a special island. Evidently, the place to go was Negri's Italian Family Style Restaurant, although I thought it would end up to be something a bit more sophisticated than that when ever I finally got there. Maybe the Union Hotel? David insists we have been here before, but that happens a lot. What a shame I can't remember half the stuff I have supposedly done!

Howard's Station Cafe is trendy. Yuppie. Most people had laptops and organic, designer coffees. We just wanted a decent breakfast that did not include tofu. Selecting our meals made me feel we were deciding from the loudly proclaimed "Not so Healthy" section of the menu. "Absolutely no substitutions" speaks for itself. They do have an extensive menu, 17 tables, a wood wall atmosphere in an old, quaint building that is just dark enough to relax in. David had corned beef hash and whites after a slight dispute on how whites were to be cooked, I had the simple delight, eggs, potatoes and a biscuit. The presentation was so well done I had to take a photo. Then I took ahold of my honey for my tea and almost had to use the rest room to get sticky off my hands. Thank goodness for Landon's baby wipes in my purse. The potatoes were quite good, but my eggs had been chopped up into three million tiny pieces. Interesting. The heart shaped biscuit was hard, and a disappointment. About $30. Yikes.

Botha as it warmed up to 45°. Through the most beautiful redwood forests, back to 20 mph curves, moss covered road banks, beckoning side roads and intriguing coves that shelter elves and fairies. We made it all the way back to the entrance of Bohemia Grove and the loud "No trespassing" sign. Wonder who the three guys casually walking a dog past that gate were? Guernville by eleven, slam on the brakes at a store with gorgeous tie dye (to no avail) and observe all the drop outs still there, some going through garbage cans. Very sad. Sebastopol then the first freeway in five days.

Going through Sonoma was still hard, even though it has been twenty-eight long years since Dad left. Twenty eight? Wow. Back into the smog, highly visible as we drop down into Rio Vista for a quick green burrito at Taco Bell, and I make notes on the very last page of my little notebook as we end our first real vacation since 2013. Perfect.

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