The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken makes its final stop with a tour to through northern California. Woody Guthrie referenced northern California in “This Land Is Your Land” when he talked about the redwood forests. There are indeed towering redwood forests in northern California, but there is a lot to love about the area beside big trees.
How much do the people around here love their part of the world? So much that there is a conflict in the towns up here over what can actually be called “northern” in California. San Franciscans confidently believe they belong. They are unaware that folks behind the redwood veil (so-called because of the persistent fog enveloping the top of the trees) in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties beg to differ. In the minds of those in the way far north, northern California stops in Santa Rosa, or even Ukiah on the coast and in about Yuba City inland. They believe San Francisco is “central California” at best. If not southern California!
Where do we stand? How do we get this done without offending anyone?
We’re holding strict adherence to the latitudinal truths on the map. For our purposes, northern California begins in San Jose with an imaginary line across the state and into Nevada. Northern Californians should be pleased. They get one of the world’s most beautiful alpine lakes and one of the world’s great cities.
Uh, huh. Some of them have bleeding eyes right now.
Northern California is bordered on the north by Oregon and on the east by Nevada. The crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean provides the western terminus. Like the rest of the state, northern California is all Pacific Time all the time, with Daylight Savings Time. Sea level is, of course, the lowest point in the state. The top of Mt. Shasta, 14,180 feet above the top of the waves, is the high point.
Major Airports in Northern California:
Sacramento International says “hello” and “goodbye” to 4.2 million flyers per year. San Jose International enplanes 4.3 million passengers annually. Oakland International serves almost five million flyers a year. San Francisco International serves well over 20 million passengers per year. Los Angeles is the most common destination from all four major northern California airports.
Top Movies Filmed in Northern California:
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Star Wars Episode Six: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
The Majestic (2001)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Famous Northern Californians:
Military/Politics: Elmo Zumwalt, Anthony Kennedy, and Spencer Stone.
Actors: Zendaya, Natalie Wood, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Schneider, David Strathairn, Bruce Lee, Tom Hanks, Danny Glover, Pat Morita, Lisa Bonet, Ben Affleck, Max Baer Jr, Sam Elliott, Adrienne Barbeau, and Molly Ringwald.
Entertainers: Isadora Duncan, Courtney Love, Vince Guaraldi, Sara Bareilles, Jerry Garcia, and Margaret Cho.
Authors: Larry Gonick, Joan Didion, David Belasco, Ted Sillanpaa, Jack London, Robert Frost, and Herb Caen.
Athletes: Tom Brady, James J. Corbett, Mike Holmgren, Randy Niemann, Jason Kidd, Phil Smith, O.J. Simpson, Johnny Miller, Joe Cronin, Chris Bosio, Buck Martinez, and Cody Hoffman.
Weird and Wonderful Things about Northern California:
Alpine County is the least-populated of California’s 58 counties. It has no high school, ATMs, dentists, banks, or traffic lights.
The largest three-day rodeo in the United States is held at Tehama County Fairgrounds in Red Bluff.
Located in Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum is the largest museum of its kind in North America.
Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge contains the largest winter population of bald eagles in the continental United States.
San Francisco Bay is considered the world’s largest landlocked harbor.
It is estimated there are approximately 500,000 detectable seismic tremors in California annually. Many of them are along the San Andreas Fault which runs through northern California and slides into the sea near Ferndale.
During his engagement at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Otis Redding stayed on a houseboat in Sausalito. While there he wrote his last song and greatest hit: “The Dock of the Bay.”
There are more than 300,000 tons of grapes grown each year in California. The vast majority are grown in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino Counties.
Let’s Take a Trip Through Northern California!
One last time, let’s do this thing! Open up that Golden Gate, California here we come! We will see the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of different ways on this trip, but, before that, we have some other spectacular things to witness. What are you waiting for? Let’s go!
Lake Tahoe is our first stop. By itself, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful stop in one of America’s most beautiful places. We’re going to take a drive along the lake, and perhaps stop at a hotel/casino for a little gaming. Then we’re going for a gondola ride.
Called The Gondola at Heavenly, it is a trip up the side of a ski mountain. Gorgeous views of the mountain and the lake below abound. What a way to start this trip!
We drive away from the Nevada border on the way to Mt. Lassen. On the way we will stop at the Super 8 Susanville for $78.
Perhaps the hidden gem in the National Park system, Lassen is unspoiled and not tourist-infested. Except, I guess, for us. We chose Lassen over Shasta for one reason. That would be McArthur-Burney Falls. Renowned as California’s most beautiful waterfall it lives up to its reputation and then some. Mt. Lassen National Park is a lovely cross between Yellowstone and Mt. Shasta. We’re glad we came.
On the way to the coast, we will stop at the Thunderbird Lodge in Redding. The room is just $61 a night.
We’re up early the next day. Redwood National Park is our next stop. The trees may have been just as tall in Sequoia National Park down south, but Redwood N.P. is where the big groves of big trees live…and live…and live. We are going to walk through a couple of the groves, aware that these trees were full-sized when Jesus walked the Earth. Take a moment, in the silence of the grove, to imagine that.
There is a serenity in Redwood National Park that isn’t found anywhere else. Take a jacket, even in the summer, but the peace to be found is worth being a little chilly. Trust us on that. After a half day at Redwood N.P. we will drive to Eureka and spend the night at the Bayview Motel for $100.
The next day we will spend 2-3 hours enjoying the scenery on Highway 101. We will pick a small town to stop in for lunch. Maybe Ferndale or Fortuna. Anywhere we pick will seem like a little bit of Mayberry near what those from outside the area call “The Lost Coast.” Locals know it isn’t lost. They just aren’t telling many people about it.
We break off from Highway 101 at Petaluma. Napa is our destination for the day. Why would we do such a thing? Look, it’s wine o’clock!
The O’Brien Estate Winery is going to be where our wine country immersion will take place. Bart and Barb O’Brien will host us.
Their wines tell a story about an ever-evolving relationship between two people in love. The wines are part of the atmosphere and designed to seduce us. Each bottle is marked on the label with poetry from the heart of Bart O’Brien. This place turned out to be the ultimate Napa Valley destination. Color us seduced!
Napa is an expensive town through which to travel. We are well-satisfied at Cabernet House, an Old World Inn (That’s the official full name of the place) for $149 a one-night stay.
The next day we return to busy Highway 101. Less than 100 miles to go on the Greatest Road Trip, but we may have saved the best day for last.
We have fashioned our drive to enter the City by the Bay over the Golden Gate Bridge! We would have entered the city through The Gate even if we had to drive 100 miles out of our way. It is that important to enter San Francisco over this bridge if you are here for the first time.
First-timers who haven’t seen pictures might be surprised to learn the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t gold. It is bright orange, repainted constantly to maintain its shine. That’s what salty sea air does to paint. We are tempted to stop and walk across the bridge, but, the beautiful city of San Francisco beckons us across the bay.
How will we spend our last day? First, we will drive down Lombard Street. The famous most crooked street in the world draws thousands of slow-moving cars and trucks a year. We’re glad we got to do this today, because there is some talk among the locals of closing Lombard to vehicle traffic. Sacrilege? Yes, unless you live on Lombard and want to get out of your driveway.
What did you say? Oh, first world problems. You make a good point.
Are you hungry? How about some chocolate, or would you rather have a hot-fudge sundae? How well do I know you, fifty states into this trip? At any rate, no matter your choice, I have you covered.
Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf, is home to the best hot fudge sundae we have ever enjoyed, but there is more than ice cream sundaes and chocolate to be had here. There is shopping and fine dining, as well. For now, the sundae is enough. We are going to finish this trip in style.
We walk from Ghirardelli Square to the rest of Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoying the cool breeze off the bay the sights of this beautiful place. A million people a year come to Fisherman’s Wharf to buy trinkets, eat the world’s greatest sourdough bread and ride the Red and White Fleet boat to Alcatraz.
Once prison home to the world’s most-dangerous criminals, Alcatraz is a California State Park and a walking tour now. If we were to take the tour at our favorite time we would choose the night one. The mood of Alcatraz is most evident after dark, but tonight is for something else. Something truly special.
Just before dusk, we board a boat from Pier 3. It is a Hornblower Cruise vessel. Tonight we are going to cruise San Francisco Bay while having dinner.
After dinner, we stand at the rail as the boat comes about headed for home. As the city comes into view, the loudspeaker crackles just a little. Tony Bennett’s voice comes on, mellifluous and clear. He serenades us with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” as we steam for the lights that welcome us into the bosom of The City By the Bay.
That’s it. We’re done.
The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken has been an enormously rewarding undertaking. We learned that everywhere we go there are fun places to see. More importantly, there are wonderful people everywhere wanting to show us what makes their town the best one ever!
It is! Your town, or your favorite town, is the best, because your memories of good times there make it so!
Thank you from all of us to all of you. Ciao, Aloha, Buenos Dias, and goodbye.