Week 37 – US Pacific Coast down to Napa Valley

Week 6 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 9,640kms so far (that’s 1,608kms this week). We headed west from Portland and traversed the coastal road through Oregon and California down as far as San Francisco. Then we took a slight detour to Napa Valley so we could remind ourselves of the sophisticated lives that we used to lead, by trying some wines that cost more than $10. I’m writing most of this after a day long winery tour so I’m guessing it’ll be brief and to the point. It took us 5 days to make our way down the coast and many of the names won’t mean much so I’ll keep this to highlights only. Plus it’s mostly about scenery so Anna can take charge with the photos.

Map 6
Our drive this week (week 6)

Our first coastal stop was Cannon Beach, a quaint little town at this time of year, but in summer it is chaotic apparently. I was hopeful that we’d make it up to Astonia which is the coastal town that The Goonies movie was based in. The house is still there and I could’ve had my picture taken out the front which would’ve been awesome, but time didn’t really permit. We joined the Hwy 101 which turned out to be our only road for days. That doesn’t mean it was all the same though. Some parts were coastal, some parts rainforest, and the remainder were agricultural. On our first day we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a look and they handed out so many cheese samples that we didn’t need lunch. Well we did buy a 2 feet pepperoni for $1 because we needed some protein so I guess that was our lunch.

We went to a number of lighthouses this week, with the first being the Yaquina Head lighthouse near Newport. We drove up to the entrance gate and found it was $7 to drive in or free for pedestrians, so we backed up and parked. It was about 1km to walk each way but every little bit counts. Unfortunately it started raining on our walk to the lighthouse so we couldn’t really get many pictures. We also visited Haceta Head lighthouse that same day but we couldn’t escape the $5 parking charge that time. It’s intriguing how lighthouses were so important 100 years ago and now they’re considered useless. I wonder what modern infrastructure will suffer the same fate.

As we made our way south we found the forest areas that are famous for the large redwood trees. There were two small detours in particular that provided the best opportunities to get out of the car and go for a walk along the bush tracks. The first was through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park where they have a 1,500 year old redwood which is over 6 metres in diameter. The other is appropriately named Avenue of the Giants which is a 32 mile road that closely follows Hwy 101, but it works its way through the redwood forests. The trails were great to walk along even when it was raining because the coverage stopped most of the rainfall. Seeing fallen trees also helped to put their grand size into perspective. The roads through the forests were just as scenic with the trees growing right up to the edge of the road. Some parts of the forest were so dense that even in the middle of the day you needed headlights to properly see where you were headed. The opportunity arose to drive the BRZ through one of the redwoods that had the centre carved out so I jumped at that. It’s a bit kitschy but a unique experience.

Along the coastal sections through Oregon we saw miles and miles of pretty coastline with loads of turnouts to stop at to admire the view. We saw plenty of rock arches and caves along the water’s edge caused by the constant battering of waves. On one section Anna was driving and we had a rock slide come down with large stones landing on the other side of the road. I’m glad Anna hit the gas and not the brakes because we got out of there before more came. The best stretch for coastal views is definitely Hwy 1 though. I drove the Los Angeles to San Francisco section back in 2011, but the section north of San Francisco to Leggett is far better for coastal views and for driving pleasure. The first 45 minutes of Hwy 1 was an endless twisty section that crosses a mountain range to get back to the coast. From there the road tightly follows the coast along cliff faces and windy valley crossings. Anna was happy with the camera snapping and I was loving the driving. It was a win-win.

We drove all the way down to San Francisco but we didn’t cross over the golden gate bridge because we’ve both been there in recent years. It was quite an eye-opening occasion for us when we arrived at the San Francisco bay lookout because it dawned on us just how far we have travelled on this road trip and we still have so much more to see. We were fortunate that the rain cleared a little to allow us to take some photos and to see right across to the city. After visiting a few of the lookouts, we popped down to Sausalito for a look. This is the small village where San Francisco’s wealthy live, so it was strictly window shopping followed by a Starbucks coffee. We did splash out and bought 2 handmade chocolate truffles from a chocolatier which cost us more than our lunch did. They were very nice but sometimes quantity is preferred than quality. After this we made tracks for Napa Valley.

With us both unwilling to be the designated driver, we decided that a wine bus tour would be the way to try out the Napa Valley. Along with two older couples we visited four wineries in total and we had a picnic lunch. All of the wines we tried were quite nice but I think Napa wines on a whole are overpriced, driven by the prestige of the Napa brand. I may be bias but we’ve had better Australian wines at a significantly lower price point than the ones we had. That’s also due to my father being very generous with his wine cellar! And while I’m having a rant I should point out that the wineries charge for tastings which is absurd. It was between US$15-25 and that’s not even for the reserve wines. I hope they don’t catch wind of this at the Australian cellar doors. The first winery we visited was Castello di Amorosa which is Italian for Castle of Love. Built in 2007, the castle is based on the Italian style and cost over US$40mln to build. This is largely due to the stone and tiles imported from Italy which were often sourced from abandoned castles. The building was very impressive but felt phony at the same time. Apparently an Italian woman visited the building and described it as the Love Shack not the castle of love given its artificial heritage.Of the 110 rooms, we found the tasting room to be the most enjoyable.

Next we headed to Rutherford Grove for more tastings and the picnic lunch which was supposed to be an optional extra but the driver provided it to us all. The only bottle we bought was from Rutherford Grove because if you spent a certain amount then the tasting was free. The Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely my favourite so it was an easy decision. Next up we ventured across the road to Franciscan Estate which owned a brand of Napa altitude wines where the high altitude puts the vines in stress creating big and bold reds. They tasted great but were all too expensive for our budget. Since there was only 6 of us on the tour we got to make requests for what wineries we wanted to visit. Luckily I had mentioned to Gerrit, a Californian native, that we were heading to Napa and he provided me with his favourites. Rutherford Hill intrigued us because you could do a wine tasting while doing a cave tour. With a glass in hand we walked to various check points where the guide would explain the wine making process and we’d sample some at each stop. The caves are 16 degrees year round making them the perfect environment for aging the wines. Corridor after corridor were lined with casks in cask racks. We even got to sample some of the wine midway through the maturation process. At the end of the tour one of the couples gave us a business card and invited us to stay with them in South Carolina on our way back to Canada. It was very nice of them and we might take them up on the offer if it fits into our trip.

Unable to drive after the tour, it was a taco salad and cheese quesadilla for dinner from the Green Burrito next door. Over the next week we’ll be back into the national parks visiting Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Death Valley etc. It should be great.



Fail of the Week
It was 4:30pm when we were ready to leave Sausalito we were toying with two ideas. 1. wait around for two hours to take some night shots of the golden gate bridge and the bay, or 2. make a dash for Napa and beat the rush hour traffic. Since we had laundry to do we went with the safe option and headed off. Well there was an accident on the first motorway which caused some congestion and then the second motorway was at a standstill due to traffic. It took 2.5 hours to make the 50 minute drive. The safe option isn’t always the best option.

Meal of the Week
TripAdvisor steered us to the Chowder House in Newport, Oregon. They served clam chowder in a jumbo bread bowl so we shared it. It was the perfect thing for a cool overcast evening.


More photos


One thought on “Week 37 – US Pacific Coast down to Napa Valley

  1. topochinesvino says:

    I love this post – and the overall adventure you are on. We live in Napa and love it but also are sad that the prices are so out of control. There are reasonably priced tastings and wines but never on the tours. Check out our wine country blog: http://www.topochinesvino.com. Right now we are in the Balkans, and having a bit of an adventure ourselves getting to know this region better.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s