The drive from San Francisco to Portland is really a beautiful one. There are certain things in this area that you really cannot see anywhere else.
Our plans had to change when we discovered that most of Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mt. Shasta would be closed due to snow in those earlier summer months. Coming from New York and California, when my friend Stephanie and I think of May, we think summer. We had to rearrange our plans, refund our Air BnB, and figure out a different route. We decided to head to the coast, stopping to see the iconic Redwoods on the way.
Our itinerary now included, from Napa, the Avenue of the Giants and the Pacific Coast. We only had one day to complete the trip, but really there are a few different options for you if you have some extra time and the weather permits! Hopefully my descriptions, short history, and photos (mostly taken and edited by the lovely Stephanie Naru, check out her photography by clicking on the link) spark your interest and your wanderlust to explore this amazing country!
Here we go!
1. Napa/ Sonoma – Of course the first place you have to visit when leaving the bay area and heading up North is California Wine Country. Napa and Sonoma both have rich histories. You can go there just to have a good time and taste some amazing, award winning wine, but if you have a chance, take a tour or ask your host about the politics, geology, typography, and climate of the area. All make the Valley unique and exciting. Did you know that the valley is on a fault line, and seismic activity formed the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains on each side of the Valley? This makes the 33 soil types found here to be incredibly nutrient rich and water retaining. Also, the valley’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific, in addition to the elevation differences from the valley floor to the crest of the mountains makes for particularly unique climate conditions. Add to this the history of the California Gold Rush, and later the detriment of Prohibition, Napa and Sonoma are goldmines of history and culture (pun intended.) And of course…. there are a lot of great wines.
The patio at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar
2. Lassen Volcanic National Park – so we didn’t actually get to do this, but it was on our original itinerary, so I figured I’d write a little about it so that you can see all your options when driving from SF to Portland. Granted, this might be one of those either/ or situations, as this National Park is a little farther inland then the coastal itinerary we redirected ourselves to. Though if you plan on making your journey more then one or two days, its definitely possible. Lassen is a pretty cool place. the main feature of the park is Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world (one I really wanted to hike for sunrise!). The park is one of the few places in the world where you can see all four different types of volcanoes: plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato. the volcano is still active, read about it here! The park began as two separate national monuments established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, but when the volcanoes began having small eruptions from 1914-1917, Lassen was named a National Park in August of 1916 due to its magnanimous and active beauty. Other features of the park are steaming fumaroles (an opening in the earth’s crust that emits steam or volcanic gas), bubbling mud pots, clear mountain lakes, and hot springs.
3. The Redwoods – Unique to Northern California and Oregon are these beautiful, ancient giants that have been looming over our heads since prehistoric times. There are three types of redwoods: the Sequoia and the Sequoioideae, which are the larger of the group and only found in Northern California and a few miles into Oregon, and the Metasequoia which are found in China and are much smaller. These trees are the largest in the world and unfortunately are endangered. One cannot describe to you the spiritual impact of standing among these trees, though John Steinbeck, in his Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1961) wrote “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” Safe to say, they are definitely worth the visit to a national or state park. Steph and I drove The Avenue of the Giants in Humbolt Redwood Park, which runs parallel to 101 and were truly in awe!
Stephanie and I inside a fallen down and hallowed out redwood tree
4. The Pacific Coast – we stopped in Crescent City to have dinner on the beach before heading to Springfield where our Air BnB was. If you are traveling up the coast, however there are a number of different coastal towns with beautiful beaches in Northern California and Oregon (Example: Fort Bragg, Gold Beach or Coos Bay). Since we were on a bit of a time constraint, Crescent City was the perfect stop for us. After Avenue of the Giants, we made it to the coast at Eureka. After that if was a beautiful drive of rolling waves to our left and redwood covered mountains to our right. You wont see that anywhere else but Northern California! There were times we would emerge from the redwood forests to swerve the car into a turn out because the view was so exceptional. At Crescent City, an adorable fishing city, we unpacked a picnic dinner to have on the beach with a beautiful view of Battery Point Light, one of the first California lighthouses, a registered historic landmark, and survivor of the 1964 tsunami caused by the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the northern hemisphere! The city is only 20 minutes from the Oregon boarder but we still had 4 hours to our Air BnB. It would have been a nice sunset over the pacific, but we did not want to be rude guests.
Battery Point Light
5. That being said…. If we weren’t pressed for time, I would have liked to make the trip a two day adventure and have visited Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is the United States’ deepest lake (9th deepest lake in the world, but if you take it’s average depth instead of just its deepest point, it is the deepest in the western hemisphere and 3rd in the world), formed when a violent eruption caused a volcano, Mount Mazama, to collapse. Native Americans witnessed the collapse of the volcano and kept it alive in their legends. Three gold prospectors were the first white men to discover the lake, and in 1870 William Gladstone Steel dedicated his life and fortune to the establishment and management of a national park there. In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt granted that wish. If only we had one more day and perhaps were traveling a little later in the year, since, like Lassen and Shasta, weather closures were still in effect.
Get out there and go explore your country! More to come of the rest of our trip! We still have a long way to go!