At the beginning of July 2010, we were supposed to be on a flight to London for a 3-week whirlwind tour of Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and England. Unfortunately in April, I found out that I was restricted from flying due to a pituitary tumor which may have ruptured in my head. We regrettably canceled the trip, got our money back thanks to travel insurance, and decided instead to embark by car to explore the great state of California. What follows is a recap of our adventures with Bumblebee, our transforming trip mascot.
We left Gilbert around 6:30am for our drive towards Los Angeles. Along the way, we stopped to see the Robotic Dinosaurs and had lunch at Bob’s Twin Kitchen, a crazy little dive with great food in Indio. Once in the LA area, we visited the McDonald’s Museum which has a vast array of Happy Meal toys, product advertisements and fun memorabilia. We stopped at several Toys R Us and Kmart locations which we continued doing throughout the whole trip, shopping for elusive Transformers for Andrew’s immense collection. On one of these stops we aquired our travel mascot and transforming companion known as Battle Axe Bumblebee. We stopped at the Graber Olive House and purchased some canned olives for later. Then it was a quick visit to the Nethercutt Museum to photograph a 1930 Cord for my DaD, who is really interested in model cars at the moment. Dinner in Santa Clarita was at Rattler’s BBQ which was tasty, but not worth the expense. Our hotel was the Courtyard in Valencia which was occupied by hundreds of college kids going to Six Flags. The fire alarm kept going off time and time again which I was not thrilled about. To escape the noise we went swimming for a while in the hotel’s nice pool and hot tub.
Breakfast was at Eggs ‘n Things in Santa Clarita – voted best breakfast ever by Andrew. He loved his omelette and free crepe. We then got stuck in an I-5 traffic disaster for over an hour due to tanker truck falling over and catching fire across the freeway. Eventually we made it through and stopped at Murray’s Farms, a quaint little family farm with delicious cherries and concord grapes. We picked up some orange honey for Bee. It was here that we paid the highest price for gas during the entire trip at $3.79 per gallon. We had lunch in Kettleman City at a crazy busy Taco Bell. Then it was time for the Super Secret Surprise stop – something I planned that Andrew was unaware of. We stopped off to see a giant Bumblebee statue on private property in Lemoore, California. We spoke with the homeowner whose son made the statue and placed it on her farm. After some pictures and a donation of $20 to their effort, we were back on the road again. The next stop was Chukchansi Casino where we won $10 for Bee! Then we drove up to Mariposa, through crazy landscapes including surreal meadows and winding roads. We stopped in to see the California Mining & Mineral museum but they were closing in 10 minutes, so let us run through it really fast. We checked into Comfort Inn in Mariposa, a family business with no customer service skill where “1st floor” includes stairs anyway. The place had uncomfortable beds, but given the alternatives, it is still probably the best place to stay in Mariposa. Dinner was at the Happy Burger Diner with the best damn garlic fries in the universe, great food, great burgers, grilled cheese, tater tots and onion rings. YUM!
Breakfast this morning was at a small diner called the Sugar Pine in Mariposa. It was good, but nothing to write home about. We then made the 75 minute drive into Yosemite National Park. Somehow we were able to find parking immediately and hopped on the shuttle to the visitor center. We walked to the Ahwanee for brunch reservations, and arrived at 10:00 for our 10:30 brunch. We sat on the couch outside the restaurant for a few minutes to cool off and dry a bit before heading in for food. Brunch at Ahwanee was pretty terrible – the brunch buffet was $55 each so we passed on that, getting standard menu items and spending a total of $50 for terrible food. We then took the shuttle from Ahwanee to Yosemite Lodge and picked up our tickets for the 12:00pm Valley Floor tour. We took pictures of the Yosemite waterfall from outside the visitor center while waiting for tour which boarded at 11:45am. It took us through the valley on regular roads, with two short stops between narration. The first was at a meadow by the river and the second was outside Tunnel View, but we did not go through the tunnel. We saw Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan and more on the 2-hr tour Valley Floor tour. After the tour, we walked to lower Yosemite Falls and took pictures in the mist. We skipped the full shuttle buses and instead walked to parking the area. On the way, we walked across a beautiful windy meadow and stopped to take glamor shots of Bee. We left Yosemite after making a PB&J sandwich to tide me over for the long ride ahead. From there we headed northwest, driving through crazy windy road landscapes through mountains and meadows to Stockton. We tried to eat at Angelina’s Spaghetti House but they were closed for 4th of July, so instead of checked into the Courtyard in Stockton. Thoe hotel was under construction but had extremely comfortable rooms and very easy parking. Dinner was at Olive Garden in Stockton, where I had the delicious Parmesan Polento Encrusted Steak. Andrew had the same with chicken, and both were yummy!
We slept in a bit and got started late at 8:00am. Breakfast was fantastic at America Waffles in Stockton. We drove into Sacramento and tried to visit the Hayes Antique Truck Museum but they weren’t open yet, even though it was after 10am (their posted opening time). Instead we drove back into Sacramento and went to the California Automotive Museum, where the docent let me behind ropes to capture photos and video of the GM EV1 and 1932 Lincoln for DaD. The docent was really nice and photocopied information about the Lincoln for DaD, too, without even asking. We passed by Jamie’s Bar and Grill and decided not to eat there, opting instead for lunch at Whitey’s Jolly Kone in West Sacramento. This dive had great food cheap, and is worth the wait and the outdoor seating. We took a pic of Bee with sign, and the Sacramento Bee newspaper stand just for fun. We drove from there to see the giant Coke cup, where Bee managed to sip some from the straw with some crafty camera angles. Bee lost $20 at Colusa Casino in Colusa, California before heading over to visit the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico. We drove all over downtown Chico, a cute boutique town with lots of shops. Then Bee won $20 at Win-River Casino and he was happy again! Dinner was at Lumberjack’s in Redding – super good top sirloin which came with a whole loaf of bread as a side. We checked into the brand new Fairfield Inn in Redding which had been open 5 weeks.
When arising on this morning we found a cockroach on the camera bag. When I approached the front desk to tell them about it as a courtesy, the manager replied, “Oh yeah I know. We’re totally infested with them. The hotel had a delay in opening and we’ve fumigated twice but they just won’t die.” Lovely. I suppose it should be standard procedure to ask the hotel if they are infested with cockroaches before making a reservation. My bad! Breakfast in Redding was at the Gold Street Cafe where they make real sun tea outside like a real country place. The food was great! We visited the Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park before shopping for a bit at Kohl’s, Target, and Toys R Us. From Sacramento we drove up to Dunsmuir but the burger stand wasn’t open yet, so we moved on to Mt. Shasta City. We stopped at visitor center to look at brochures and found one for the Lavender Fields at the base of Mt. Shasta. After a 45-minute drive and a dirt path up the hill, we were stunned to find an absolutely gorgeous lavender field with the most picturesque snow-covered Mt. Shasta we could ever have imagined. We enjoyed the fresh air and cut some lavender, and took lots of pictures of Bee in the field. From there we drove to Oregon and had a quick lunch at Abby’s Incredible Pizza in Medford which was okay (better than we expected). We went shopping in Medford looking for Transformers at Kohl’s and Toys R Us before stopping at Barnes and Noble so Andrew picked up some books to read from the Scott Pilgrim series. We got some Calamine lotion at Target for Andrew’s mosquito bites, then drove on through the southern Oregon region to Crescent City. We checked into Arbor Beach Inn in Crescent City. The place was motel style but had a great cable channel lineup with 80 channels, fantastic high speed internet wireless access and decent rooms. I was quite impressed with it – Anchor Beach Inn ended up being one of the best places we stayed at. They even had a laundry room and an in door jacuzzi. We ate a quick dinner at Burger King and got some Twilight (Eclipse) kids meal toys just for fun.
Breakfast in Crescent City was Denny’s before we headed up to walk the Simpson Reed Grove trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We walked through it once with the rented Canon 10-22mm wide angle lens I had from Tempe Camera, which captured some amazing shots of the Redwoods. We stopped off at the Hiouchi visitor center for postcards and discovered some of the park roads were closed for grading that week. We ate at the Hiouchi cafe for lunch which was grilled cheese and tuna melt, then drove back and walked the Simpson Reed Grove trail again with my 3D lens. We also walked the Peterson Memorial Trail portion at the back of Simpson Reed and got a few new shots back there. Since we could not drive Howland Hills Road in the Stout Grove due to grading and construction, instead we drove up to Brookings, Oregon for some sightseeing. Our stop at Lone Ranch Beach proved to be a beautiful one and we got lots of nice shots here with Bee on the rocks and in the water. We went back into the town of Brookings for dinner at O’Hollerans – steak, prawns, and the king salmon special were pretty good! Then we drove north to Mack Arch in the Boardman State Scenic Corridor for more photos. We visited several other stops on the way south as the mist/fog rolled in and got very heavy along the coast. Along the way we stopped at a 1.5 story Fred Meyer grocery store where I bought some scratcher lottery tickets and won $5. Then we returned to Crescent City for the evening.
For breakfast we ate at the Apple Peddler which wasn’t that good. Then we drove south in Del Norte State Park to the first overlook which was fogged over. We drove back to our room for a bathroom since they were hard to come by, then returned back on the road south for adventure. The drive was steep and very foggy. We tried to stop at a few overlooks but everything was fogged over. We drove the entire Coastal Drive but there wasn’t much to see along the way. We drove the Scenic Drive to Prairie Creek Visitor Center and had a small picnic lunch with Bee at the visitor center. We drove to Big Tree and took some photos while walking Circle Trail. Then we visited and drove through Tour Thru Tree, and Bee transformed to drive through it as well. It was very funny, except another tourist almost squashed Bee because he wasn’t looking. Andrew drove my Envoy through the tree while I video taped it, and I nearly hyperventilated because I didn’t actually expect him to try and drive my baby through that tree. He BARELY made it. We left the Tour Thru Tree and went to the Trees of Mystery, a kitchy tourist trap costing $14 per person. We hiked around for a bit and got to the “summit” which is 105 feet above the parking lot (woo!). Andrew rode the Sky Trail with Bee and took more pictures as I went back down for an ice cream cone. The gigantic statues of Paul Bunyan with his ox Babe were “talking” to visitors via a loudspeaker and some strategic cameras. I watched as “Paul” commented to visitors and tried to get them to do cartwheels and buy him ice cream. After Andrew and Bee returned from their Sky Trail adventure, we drove back into town and did laundry at the Inn. Dinner was at the Charter House where we had a steak and seafood combo which wasn’t that great. The wait was really long and they were crazy busy, as it’s the only nice restaurant in Crescent City.
We checked out of Anchor Beach Inn and had breakfast at Gold Harvest Cafe. We then made a visit to Ocean World where we signed up for their kitchy tour. I got to hold starfish and pet two sharks before we watched their little sea lion show. The kids on the tour seemed to love it, and I would recommend it if you have the time and want to pet a shark! We then left Crescent City and drove south to the Avenue of the Giants, stopping to visit the One Log House along the way. We got the code from the cashier and paid our $1 each, then Bee punched in “today’s code” and we checked out the cabin. It too was kitchy, but fun to get pics of Bee in. We had lunch in Eureka at Hurricane Kate’s, a trendy little pizza joint with too much trend and not enough good food. We took our time walking around town of Eureka eating ice cream cones and stopping at little shops along the way. Once back on the road we began our crazy drive down Highway 1 South from Leggett. Dinner was at Jenny’s Giant Hamburger in Fort Bragg – another tiny dive with cheap food. We checked into the Best Western in Fort Bragg for the night.
This morning we checked out the Muir beach overlook on our drive to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Bee enjoyed his view out the front window and we snapped lots of pictures of him on the bridge. Once in town we checked into the Courtyard Fishermans Wharf and had dinner Lucy’s Diner in Ghiradelli square. We bought chocolate (of course!) in the madhouse that was Ghiradelli Chocolates. Since Andrew and I had lived in the San Francisco area in the summer of 1998 together, we had already done pretty much everything there is to do in the city related to tourism. We walked out on the pier towards Alcatraz and took some novelty pictures of Bee, then walked back to the hotel with some Cold Stone in hand.
In the morning we drove to the Mission district and had breakfast St Francis Fountain, which I was none to thrilled with at all. We stood in line across the street and secured six Dynamo Donuts for breakfast the following morning before driving to Golden Gate Park to visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden. We walked around for a while but I was not impressed, so we headed back to go to the California State Institute of the Arts. When we arrived they were having a fire alarm and the building had been evacuated. We decided to leave there and drove north over the Golden Gate bridge. We were trying to meet up with my friend Bryan who lives in San Francisco but that didn’t work out since he had plans already and couldn’t get away. We went Toys R Us hopping all over the surrounding areas. Since we found ourselves in Danville, we decided to try and find the Blackhawk Collection which I had an appointment at the following morning to photograph a car for my DaD. Along the way we discovered there is also a Blackhawk Museum we didn’t know about! We stopped there and I got on the phone with DaD to describe all the cars to him and find out which ones he wanted pictures of. I got the shots he wanted, then struck up a conversation with the Librarian in the gift shop who pulled books with information for DaD on the cars he wanted. I purchased one of them for DaD as a birthday gift. We drove from Danville to Campbell and visited the home we stayed in while interning at HP in 1997 and 1998. We ate dinner at A Bellagio in Campbell which was pretty bad. Then we drove back into San Francisco and got in line at Humphrey Slocomb for ice cream! Unfortunately for us, the New York Times had just featured an article about the place so the lines were longer than usual. I was able to get Tahitian Vanilla, while Andrew enjoyed his Peach ice cream with Frosted Peanuts. We took the long route back to the hotel up the entire stretch of Embarcadero Street before retiring for the evening.
We got up early and ate the donuts from Dynamo which were dynamite and delicious! Then we packed up our car again and left San Francisco to visit the Blackhawk Collection in Danville. After a quick stop at the Bagel Shop in Danville, we arrived at the Blackhawk Collection which is in a private gated community and under 24 hour police surveillance. This place houses some of the most expensive cars for sale in California, and I was lucky enough to photograph a 1929 Stutz Jones Special Indy race car for my DaD. The staff at Blackhawk were very nice to us and we appreciate their hospitality very much. We left there so as not to take up too much of their time, and drove towards Santa Cruz hitting Toys R Us locations along the way. We had lunch at a mall food court before hitting the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and arcade where Andrew got to play actual arcade games. We paid $11 to park in a full lot and had to wait for a spot which was not very fun. I got a postcard of old cars from an old time arcade machine and sent to Dad with a leftover postcard stamp in my wallet. We left Santa Cruz and drove Highway 1 to San Simeon, stopping at Pea Soup Anderson’s in Buellton and the Loleta Cheese Factory along the way. Dinner was at an unexpected roadside stop with a fancy restaurant on Highway 1 which had terrible service and if possible, even worse food. We checked into San Simeon Lodge for the evening.
Breakfast was at San Simeon Lodge restaurant before we checked out and headed over to Hearst Castle. We got our tour tickets and sat down to watch the 8:15am showing of the Hearst movie. Once complete, we hopped directly on the bus to drive up the hill and to the castle for our standard 1 hr 45 min tour. Andrew had seen it before when he was much younger, but this was my first visit. Neither of us were impressed, I suppose because the things at Hearst are “modeled after” things we had already seen in Europe for real. I guess we are completely spoiled like that. It was pretty, but not as pretty as the “real things” were. We left San Simeon and drove toward LA stopping at Santa Monica Pier for an original Hot Dog on a Stick. Lunch was quick at McDonald’s before doing some more Toys R Us hopping and hitting up some of the Recycle Bookstore locations for more of DaD’s birthday gifts. We stopped off for some Spudnuts before checking into what must be one of the shittiest hotels in the LA area: The Beverly Laurel Hotel. This place was absolutely terrible. The parking was horrible, and the check-in staff jammed my credit card in their machine and made me wait 20+ minutes for them to pry it open. We didn’t trust the elevator not to break down so we had to cart our luggage up a flight up stairs to our “ground level” room. The bathroom door didn’t even shut, and the bathroom tiles had been painted over with so many layers you could practically leave a thumbprint in it if you pressed down a little bit. By far, this was the worst place we stayed during this entire trip, and it still cost $140 for a single night. It was horrible. The only redeeming quality is the diner downstairs called the Hollywood Swingers, which allowed adults 13-59 to order from the kid’s menu with a $3.00 surcharge. What a concept!
We woke up and ate our Spudnuts for breakfast, which were might tasty. Then we took off toward downtown Los Angeles to visit Berger Beads. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the owner to show up and open the store, but this place was amazing. They had all kinds of beads and notions I had never seen before. I picked up a few fun items and then we headed over to Galco’s for a soda fix. Just $86 worth of soda later (we stocked up – way up!) we were on our way to the Petersen Automotive Museum to photograph a few more cars for DaD. They didn’t allow me to bring in my tripod so I got what I could with the flash. We got to see a few new additions to the museum displays such as the original Grease Lightening and the actual Batmobile! Those were really neat to see. We had lunch at the Johnny Rockets inside the Petersen, then hopped on the road one last time towards home. We stopped at Mom and Dad’s for a quick visit on our way through Chandler, then grabbed a Hungry Howie’s pizza and landed at home to see our four kitties at last.
It was a fun, exhausting, adventuresome trip and we’re glad we went! Someday though, I’d still like to visit Paris like we were supposed to in the first place.
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