Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Drive from Seattle to LA

Alright, I'm only a week late in recapping our West coast adventures. It was a rough re-entry after 12 days of fun. I'm SO glad that we came home on a Saturday, thus giving us Sunday to do absolutely nothing before trying to behave like semi-productive citizens again.

I had a romantic notion of driving the Pacific Coast Highway. And yes, there truly is something romantic about the way you can come around a curve and find yourself inside the most beautiful postcard shot with shimmering waves and majestic's breath-taking. It's also a lot of driving.

The way I planned the trip didn't actually have us getting to the coast until the 4th day, which I almost felt bad about, like I was cheating by calling it a "PCH trip." The most accurate name for the trip would have been "A Drive from Seattle to LA" and the subhead could have been "Mostly on the PCH." But whatever, it was my vacation and I called it the PCH trip.

The highlights:

We flew into Seattle at night and I loved it right away (well, right after the hour-long wait at the Hertz rental counter) - it felt different than most cities I've visited and I liked that. We checked into our super cute room at the Maxwell Hotel (whose slogan, "Meet me at the pineapple," is so adorable that they almost didn't even need to be as good as they were, but they were).
The Maxwell Hotel
When we woke up in the morning, we saw that we had a clear view of the Space Needle right out our window. Nice. Breakfast coffee was had at the flagship Starbucks and then pastries at Three Girls Bakery at Pike Place. Yum.
Three Girls Bakery
Of course we visited the famous fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market - no fish were flying, as no one was buying, so we made the obvious decision to buy a King Salmon and have it shipped to my mom for safekeeping so we could enjoy a taste of Seattle for weeks to come. It wasn't cheap, but it was probably the best souvenir of the trip.
Our salmon!
We really only had one day in Seattle so we had to be power tourists (note: I have to get back there when I can spend more time). The Experience Music Project was featuring a Nirvana exhibit, which was a very happy coincidence. Having fallen for Nirvana as a 14-year-old high school freshman, it was weird to be in a museum with my kids saying, "See, sweetie, this was Kurt Cobain's guitar." My kids know Nirvana - they've been fans since they were three, which is more than I can say for a lot of the whipper-snappers at that exhibit. (Overhead: "Mom, was Nirvana good?")

It just doesn't seem possible that people are walking around having no clue who Nirvana is. And that, my friends, is how you know you're old. Sigh.

The exhibit was good. It made me a little sad, but it was mostly good nostalgia. The rest of the museum was fine. A little Jimi Hendrix, a lot of instruments that my kids would have liked to play had there not been 500 school groups hogging them all (they did get to play bass, which was cute), a room full of computers where you sit and watch videos of musicians telling stories...not quite sure what was delivered that couldn't have been delivered via a web site in that case. Anyway, it was fun.

We ate some ridiculously good sushi for lunch. We ordered Owen fried gyoza, and then he had the revelation that he actually likes shrimp nigiri and California rolls, which is a pretty enormous breakthrough for a picky eater with texture issues. (Seriously, getting him to try the stuff was more than I could have hoped, but the fact that he likes it is amazing.)
I could have skipped the Space Needle. I mean, we stood next to it and noted how tall it is...but Owen was adamant about wanting to see the view from the top. There's a chance this is because Aidan is scared of heights, but I like to believe that Owen does not have a sadistic bone in his body.  So up we went. It was a pretty view and Aidan managed to overcome his fear enough to walk out onto the viewing platform, so, you know, both kids made progress that day. (And to think, I hadn't even set any development goals for this vacation!)

Dinner that night was at Ivar's Salmon House. It came recommended somewhere as being kid-friendly and having a nice view. Both of these things are true. The salmon was great. The kids were happy. That made us happy. We all went back to the hotel and slept.

The next morning was the first day of road tripping! After a repeat visit to Pike Place (the kids really loved those pastries from Three Girls) and a stop at Freeway Park (which we had seen on as the site of the parkour competition on Jump City: Seattle), we were on our way to Portland.

Although it could have been just a 2-3 hour drive, we decided to detour over to Astoria to visit the Goonies house. The one were Sean Astin and Josh Brolin's characters lived (a.k.a., the reason they needed to find all that gold) Yes, it's a real house! People actually live there though, so you can only see the outside.
Astoria is a really cute little place. I fantasized about moving there and writing my series of best-selling novels (yes, it's a series now) while gazing out at the ocean and drinking Rogue ale. The closest we came to this was stopping at the Rogue Public House for lunch. Here's what you need to know: beer cheese soup.

Soon we were back on the road for Portland, where we arrived just barely in time to get ready for our fancy dinner because...I forgot to mention was our 10-year wedding anniversary! A 6 o'clock dinner with my children was not how I pictured my 10-year anniversary, but in the grand scheme of things, it was perfect.

We ate at the Portland City Grill because it appeared slightly fancy, had a nice view (it's in a skyscraper) and seemed doable with the kids. I had noted in our reservation that it was our anniversary and when we arrived, the table was decorated for the occasion and we got a card signed by the waitstaff...I mean, seriously? It was really a sweet gesture.
Thanks, Portland City Grill!
Dinner was delicious (ahi tuna!), the kids held it together as best they could given that they'd spent the day in the car and were now sitting in a white tablecloth restaurant. After dinner, we headed to Voodoo Doughnuts, where I ate a Portland Cream and the boys had things with Oreos and Cap'n Crunch and my husband had a long john with a whole strip of bacon on was good.

Voodoo Dougnuts
I regret not spending more time in Portland. I didn't really get the chance to fall in love with it, but we did have breakfast at an adorable place called Slappycakes, which was recently written up in Racheal Ray's magazine (which is where I heard about it). They have griddles built into the tables and then they serve you squirt bottles of batter so you can make your own pancakes! Despite the obvious hazards of having a hot surface inches from where you eat, it was great. The kids order chocolate chips and bananas and whip cream and I don't know what else to put on and in their cakes and everyone was happy. Plus, they make a real good latte.

A note about the Hotel Monaco Portland: The hotel is really nice, but I thought I had booked a suite with a bedroom that is separate from the living room with the sofa bed (because, hello, it was our 10-year anniversary), but instead, we found that the "wall" was actually a fancy curtain. It was all one big room. An expensive big room.

After Portland, we headed straight out to the coast. Here's where my trip planning began to break down. I hadn't noticed that we'd be passing directly through Oregon wine country. We seriously passed a dozen vineyards and wineries and didn't stop at any of them because 1) we needed to get to our next stop before dinner and 2) I didn't think the kids would enjoy it. Lame, I know.

We ate MN State Fair-quality Pronto Pups on the side of the road for lunch and then we finally hit the 101 and the ocean! It was so exciting to finally see it after that long day of driving through grassy fields.

The drive down the Oregon  coast is really gorgeous. Scenic views and lots of tiny cute towns.
Oregon coast
Unfortunately, we stayed in Florence, which wasn't as super cute as I'd hoped (our hotel faced the Dairy Queen). I found myself wishing that we weren't tied to hotel reservations with 24-hour cancellation policies and could have been free to stop when and where we wanted for the night, but the reality was that it was the weekend and most of the motels were fully booked, so that would have been a bad idea.

So anyway, I didn't love Florence as an overnight destination, but the next morning it redeemed itself when we went to the Dunes. If you've never seen them, the Dunes are just the craziest thing...sitting there between ocean and forest, is just miles and miles of sand. It looks like the desert.

We decided to go for a sandrail tour, which is basically someone driving you through the dunes at 60 mph for 30 minutes. It was amazing and also terrifying at times, as the drivers are trained to shoot straight up a dune, only to then make a sharp turn and fly back down it, and repeat.

You can't see the terror behind the goggles.
It was more like a roller coaster than I had anticipated and I felt bad as Aidan clung to us and whimpered for it to be over. I feel quite certain it will be stored as a traumatic memory for him.

Owen, on the other hand, loved it. He could not get enough. While Aidan sobbed about it being the worst thing ever, Owen exclaimed that he would like to go on it a million more times. So I guess that sort of balanced out my parental, it was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I'm glad we all did it together.

From here it was a lot, a lot, a lot of driving. Scenic driving, yes. But still a lot of driving. And I say this as the person who never did any of the driving. Thank goodness my husband loves to drive.

We eventually found ourselves among the redwoods, which is always magical. Those trees make you feel so tiny.
Misty and everything
Our destination for that evening was Klamath, CA. All I can say about Klamath is that there's really no need to stop there. If you like to camp (I don't), then I'd totally recommend camping the forest, but otherwise, just keep going. Had I known better, I would have positioned us so that we could have passed through Klamath during the day and been well on our way to San Francisco by nightfall, but as it was, we stayed at the Motel Trees (which I thought would be kitschy, but is really just a run-of-the-mill highway motel), did our laundry in what I swear was an abandoned laundromat, and ate a really crappy dinner at the motel.

The next morning, we crossed the street to see the Trees of Mystery attraction, which is pretty much a path through a section of the redwoods and then a gondola ride up the mountain. It's lovely. I'd recommend it as a stop as you're passing through this section of the redwoods, but not as a must-do destination.

I was more than ready to get to San Francisco by this time. However, I think I was a tiny bit ambitious in the distances I expected us to cover everyday. This day had a few mishaps with switching to the 1 from the 101 and we ended up on the windiest, narrowest roads I've ever experienced in America (again, thank goodness I wasn't the one driving). But, in the end, we made it to the Golden Gate Bridge right at sunset.

We stayed in a nice hotel in San Francisco and I was more than happy to oblige the kids' request for room service dinner. Ahhhh, amenities.

I ♥ San Francisco. Truly, deeply, I do. We got to stay for two full days, which was wonderful but not even close to enough. Of course we rode the trolley, saw the sea lions, had ice cream at Ghirardelli, Irish coffees at Buena Vista, dim sum in Chinatown, and pasta in Littly Italy. We even hit the playground in Golden Gate Park, which was a surprise highlight. It's easy to get so focused on "sights" that you forget that kids really just want to play.

I definitely entertained a fantasy of moving there to write novels and take the kids to the playground every afternoon. I believe I even suggested that maybe we try it for a year...there's only the slight issue of my husband trying to run his improv theater from afar.

None of us wanted to leave San Francisco, but the kids had Legoland to look forward to and my husband and I were excited to finally see some friends on this trip, so off we went in our Nissan Rogue...

Again, it was a long drive for a single day and it was hard to fully enjoy the scenery when all you really wanted to do was get there. What I'm saying is, if I had truly wanted to enjoy the PCH, I should have booked more stops in between cities, but the reality is that I like being in cities better than enjoying nature...a point I might have overlooked slightly when imagining this trip.

We got to make a pitstop at Pismo Beach, which I had never heard of, but my husband recognized as an old favorite of Bugs Bunny, which led us to discussing the "Kill the wabbit" song and thanks to technology, I was able to pull up the full  "What's Opera, Doc?" cartoon and show it the the boys in the backseat as we drove. I love the future!

(This might be the appropriate place to tell you that no, we did not have a DVD player for the trip. The boys each have a Nintendo DS and an iPod Shuffle, but Aidan gets carsick, so we actually talked a lot.)

Pismo Beach was worthwhile if only because I got the shot that I already showed you, but will show you again because I love it so much.

We also had a lovely McDonald's dinner in Santa Barbara (which Aidan pronounces like Hanna-Barbera) before rolling into LA at 10 p.m. There was brief unpleasantness thanks to there being no bedding on the sofa bed where the boys needed to sleep, but that was remedied and we all went to bed.

LA was all about friends. We met my former editor from the college paper(!) with his wife and son at Legoland, which was super fun. We got to meet our friends' baby (who is now 1) for the first time and catch up with several other friends. And I got to go out without any children with one of my oldest BFFs. Yay!

We even got to spend an afternoon at the pool...the pool on the roof of our hotel, looking out at the Hollywood Hills. It was awesome. And I had a pina colada in the sun...and then I was struck by the notion that we could have so easily just gone on a beach vacation for those whole 12 days. Rather than driving next to the ocean, we could have been laying next to it..ah, yes, but that wasn't the point of this trip.

The point of this trip was to see the coast, take the kids to places they'd never been, and have an adventure...and to cross off #11 on my 40 by 40 list! Success on all fronts.

But the point of the next trip is definitely going to be to do as little as possible.


Julian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julian said...

That was a great read, you're an amazing storyteller!

I'm headed up the coast myself this week (LA to Seattle), and I'll definitely be keeping some of your advice close to heart along the way!

Thanks for sharing!