At the close of 2017, we spent the better part of the week among the giants, so to speak. Having spent a previous holiday break to visit the California Redwoods, you have to go in with the mindset that you will probably get rained on (though we didn’t this time!), and you will probably be cold. If neither of those elements are deal breakers, then you will be treated to some seriously majestic scenery and more solitude than you would normally experience during the peak season. On this particular trip, we made a loop which began at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, up to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, through the Anderson Valley with a stay at Hendy Woods State Park, back down to Petaluma to celebrate New Year’s, and ending in a treehouse 30 feet high up in a eucalyptus tree.
1st Destination: Botha-Napa State Park
We hit the road in the wee morning hours on the 26th, which after last minute packing and a Starbucks stop means 6:30 am. Hours later, we stopped and had lunch at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. If you are ever in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, you have to stop at Russian River. There will most likely be a wait, and you will wait because the beer is phenomenal and the pizza isn’t too shabby either. I recommend getting the sampler that includes every beer they have on tap, and chasing that down with a pint of Pliny the Elder. At that point, you will probably respect your Elder enough to purchase bottles to go. After picking up a few supplies, we headed over the hills due east of Santa Rosa to Napa Valley for a two night stay at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. For the wine enthusiast, this park is located right in between Calistoga and St. Helena, serving as a perfect base for wine tasting in the area. We rented a yurt for two nights, which is a great option to have as an accommodation in Napa Valley. The park has about 9 or so yurts for rent in addition to tent campsites. Each has a bed with additional cots and a table inside, with a picnic table, storage cabinet (wine opener included!) and a fire ring outside. During the warmer season, the park offers a shuttle to downtown Calistoga for a dollar. For the cost and proximity to both nature and wine this can’t be beat!
Having spent much of the day driving, it felt great to sit around the fire that evening, enjoying some drinks and thinking about the days to come. The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast before hitting the Redwood Trail for a short hike. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park contains the furthest inland redwoods found in the state, and the Redwood Trail follows Ritchey Creek and through small groves of redwoods scattered amongst oak and pine trees in a mossy landscape. After the hike, we returned to the yurt and proceeded to have our first ever Christmas road trip gift exchange. The yurt was decorated with lights and a small Christmas tree for the occasion.
In the afternoon, we ventured out for some wine tasting. Our first stop was Chateau Montelena in Calistoga. If you have seen the movie Bottle Shock, you may be familiar with this winery. As you walk up toward the tasting room, you first encounter the picturesque chateau. Stop for a picture, they have a camera phone holder in case there is no one around to assist. While known for their white wine that shocked the world at the Judgement of Paris wine competition, the 2013 Estate Cab was damn good, keep your fingers crossed for a re-visit. After Chateau Montelena, we stopped at Beringer in St. Helena for a glass and short walk around the property. Once again, this is a gorgeous property, and also a California Historical Landmark. While walking the grounds, we encountered a resident winery cat, who appeared to be living the life on a rooftop not far from the tasting room. Clearly, we are easily entertained. After another evening around the fire, we packed up and headed 3 hours north to Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
2nd Destination: Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Mendocino Coast
Part of the greatness of visiting Humboldt Redwoods State Park lies just as much in the journey as the actual destination. The drive on the 101 North through Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties has to be one of the prettiest drives in California. This stretch of road is lined with rolling hills, grapevines, and small communities shrouded in morning fog, quite a mystical setting as you make your way toward true Redwood Country. After a few hours on the road, we stopped at the One Log House gift shop near Richardson Grove State Park in Garberville. On a previous trip, we stopped through the same gift shop on the way to Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, and meant to hit it again on the way back down to pick up one of the cool redwood tree carvings. By the time we passed through this area again, the shop was closed, and the driver was given the silent treatment all the way to San Francisco. Needless to say, we made sure to buy one this time! Shortly thereafter, we reached the Avenue of the Giants. We stopped to walk through Franklin K. Lane Grove, and hit the famous Shrine drive-thru tree before arriving at Burlington campground at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where we pitched our tent for the evening. While Burlington campground is located adjacent to the park visitor center, it is still a beautiful place to camp in the middle of the redwoods, with access to the Eel River nearby. The visitor center also offers free coffee in the morning, so be sure to grab a cup after enjoying the exhibits inside. Before driving our next destination, we took short walks through Founder’s Grove, and the Rockefeller Forest. These are both must see areas to check out in the park, especially the Rockefeller Forest, where if you look closely, you can see little gold markers that list the height of certain trees along the walk. After the Rockefeller Forest, we set off for Hendy Woods State Park. Rather than heading back down the 101 the whole way, we hopped on to Hwy 1 for a side trip to Fort Bragg
Highway 1 from Leggett to Fort Bragg is quite the road. Until you hit the coast, you are winding your way down through a redwood canopy-covered road at 15-20 miles an hr. At one point, we found ourselves leaning into every curve like we were playing an arcade racing game. Every now and again you find yourself stuck behind a slow driving white-knuckled tourist, but with such beautiful scenery along the way, you just roll with it. As we rolled out of the trees toward the coast, we encountered two large Tule Elk on the side of the road and stopped to take pictures. When you actually reach the coast, the road turns left around a mountain side, and opens up toward the ocean in dramatic fashion, making for a great photo op. The Mendocino Coast is reminiscent of Big Sur in the way that the Redwoods and jagged coastline meet. The first stop when we reached Fort Bragg was the Glass Beach. In a nutshell, the Glass Beach was previously a town dumpsite in which the broken glass items that were discarded there had been smoothed out by the sand and waves over time. I suppose this would be an unintended beautiful result of deciding to turn your phenomenal oceanfront into a dumping ground. After years of people taking glass, there is still enough glass on the beach to take great pictures. There are signs warning that people who take glass could be fined. While it is not likely that you will be caught taking glass, I would advise against it. After our visit to the Glass Beach we hit North Coast Brewing Company for lunch and a couple of flights. I would recommend getting an Old Rasputin on your visit. If you’ve heard of Old Rasputin, this is the source. They should have drinking fountains dispensing Old Rasputin around town, we would visit more often. We then continued our drive down Highway 1 as the sun was setting, quickly cruising through the town of Mendocino before hitting the windy and dark Highway 128 towards Hendy Woods State Park in the Anderson Valley.
3rd Destination: Hendy Woods State Park
That evening we reached Hendy Woods state park, located near Boonville in the Anderson Valley, all places that you are probably unfamiliar with. If you are like us, you have only heard of Boonville because you are a fan of Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Yes, love of beer can lead you to some pretty interesting places that may not have initially been on your radar to visit. Thus we ended up at Hendy Woods on this particular night, driving a few miles down a pitch black road off of the main highway to the park entrance and our accommodation for the night. Having decided that we wanted breakfast in the morning, we had to head back out into the dark abyss that is Highway 128 to Boonville for a carton of eggs. When Heidi went up to pay for the eggs, the cashier (female) said to her, “Are you new around town? I don’t remember seeing your face around here before”. Way to blend in, babe! In all seriousness, this is a great area with really nice people. Hendy Woods has a few rustic cabins for rent which include bunk beds, a table, and wood burning stove. Our cabin was located away from the main campground area that stayed open during the winter, so it really felt like we had the place to ourselves. The bathroom closest to us was closed for the season, so we had to walk to the bathroom located in the main campground. While a successful trip to the bathroom is almost never a memorable affair, this time certainly was. It finally happened. After multiple trips to the redwoods, you might have thought we found gold. Right outside of the bathroom, there it was: a huge banana slug slithering about. Normally, if you see a dark log looking object outside of the bathroom, you wouldn’t bend down and shine a light on it for obvious reasons. We later found three more near our cabin, along with a friendly newt. For much of the night, we hung around the fire before hitting the cabin for some sleep. The wood stove kept us plenty warm until the fire went out. In the morning, a park ranger passed by and said “You guys didn’t freeze last night?” If the local is asking you about the temperature, you know it had to be pretty cold.
Before leaving the park we ventured into Little and Big Hendy Groves, both of which are short hiking loops, with Big Hendy Grove also having access to the Navarro River. Both groves contain beautiful old growth redwoods. We could not leave the Anderson Valley area without a stop at Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Not only is the beer great, but the tasting room and property has a unique quirkiness about it that is worth checking out. There is a Frisbee Golf course, and usually a friendly brewery cat hanging out in the tasting room. We found one sitting on a rack of shirts in the gift shop. While we only had time to visit the brewery, there are a solid number of wineries located along Highway 128 with reasonable fees for tastings. It would definitely be worth another visit to check them out. After our stop at Anderson Valley, we were off to Petaluma for the last couple of nights of our trip.
4th Destination: Petaluma
As we made our way to the Hotel Petaluma, our home for the next two nights, we made pit stops at Henhouse Brewing and Lagunitas Taproom & Beer Sanctuary. This area of Sonoma County (Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg etc) is home to some great breweries, so you would be doing yourself a disservice if you are a beer lover and haven’t visited. After dinner at Lagunitas, we checked into the Hotel Petaluma, which is located right in Downtown Petaluma, and conveniently close to the Mystic Theatre where we had tickets to see The Brothers Comatose that night. The Brothers Comatose are actually from Petaluma, so the concert was sold out and extra lively. The band set up a bar on stage for their friends and family to hang out during their performance. The Mystic Theatre is a great place to take in a show. We actually caught a Nahko and Medicine for the People show on our way up to Crescent City a few years back, met Nahko in the bar attached to the venue, and have now seen them six times since 2015.
The next day we walked around the Downtown Petaluma to check out the shops. Downtown Petaluma maintains a very historic look with picturesque Victorian style buildings. Our hotel was built in 1923 and still used the old lifts where you have to slide open a gate to enter. We walked around town for a while before going back to rest up before heading back out to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Our hotel had a pre-New Year’s Eve celebration in the lobby, so we hit that before enjoying a sushi dinner and walking around to find a place to ring in the New Year. While there were many lively bars downtown, we opted to hang out at restaurant named 256 North, which had live music and a champagne toast at midnight. After multiple rounds of Pabst/Fireball combos, we facetimed family and friends and enjoyed some music before calling it a night.
5th Destination: Petaluma Tree House
2018 had finally arrived, meaning our trip was nearly coming to an end. Thus far on the trip, we have stayed in a yurt, pitched a tent, rented a rustic cabin, and stayed in a historic boutique hotel. Where does one go from where? What would be a fitting way to spend the first day of the New Year? Perhaps having stayed among the trees for much of the time, we figured it would be a good idea to sleep 30 feet up in one. Just a few minutes from Downtown Petaluma, a family has chosen to share with the world two perfect wooden treehouses as accommodations. The Treehouse at Swallowtail Studio sits 30 feet above the ground in a 100 foot Eucalyptus tree, located in a rural area framed by rolling green hills and open pasture. Upon check-in, the owner Bill showed us around the property and gave us the rundown on the treehouse. The treehouse itself is phenomenal. To reach the treehouse, a narrow, steep wooden staircase was crafted, which leads you onto the deck outside of the house portion. The deck was an awesome place to have a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset. The interior of the treehouse was constructed to have a small living room type space, with a sleeping loft above. There was a toilet so that you didn’t have hightail it down to the main property area to use the restroom. You are provided much of what you need to stay warm on a cold night, and enough battery-powered lighting to keep the treehouse lit when you hang out in the evening. And hang out we did, recapping the trip and playing games before retiring to the loft. Breakfast was included the following morning, as Michelle, Bill’s wife, was gracious enough to cook breakfast for us, and chat for a little bit. We went back up to the treehouse to pack, and enjoyed the deck for a little while longer before hitting the road. This was surely a great way to begin 2018.