Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pacific Coast Highway and Redwood Forest

In making plans and preparations we debated how many days to drive. How to balance a leisurely road trip with plenty of time to stop and sightsee, with the knowledge that the kids would likely not tolerate too many days in the car? Should we spend 3 days of less driving each, or 2 days with more driving but getting to San Francisco sooner? Two days would cut down on an extra food and hotel stays. However, would the days be too long? Would we feel too rushed? Bryan and I discussed at length our goals of the road trip and eventually decided on two days in the car, but in order to have plenty of time to stop when we had a hankering to...we made plans to start our drive plenty early each morning.

So we got our little crew up at the crack of dawn, placed all three of them in the back seat and pointed our rental car south towards Oregon and eventually California.

The kids fell asleep pretty much immediately. Which in some ways was kind of nice because it gave Bryan and me a chance to talk one-on-one a bit with the pretty Washington scenery flashing by. The kiddos woke up right around the time we hit the Oregon coast. And...oh. Just wow. You know? Driving along the coast with the waves crashing just off the right of the highway...only to then climb up into the mountains for a bit, twisting and turning and coming out on a cliff with the ocean down below. Just incredibly beautiful...I wanted to stop at every single viewpoint, but decided that the whole drive was a viewpoint and to just be alert to everything out my window. And really, if I wanted to stop, Bryan was more than willing to pull over.

When we weren't staring out the window in awe, we played a Harry Potter trivia game, read Fablehaven out loud, and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. (Bryan sure was a good sport about it all...especially the Hamilton part.) ;)

We stopped at the Tilamook Cheese Factory for a late lunch. More grilled cheese sandwich varieties than you could shake a stick at! We sampled the cheese and took the tour, and then continued on our way with ice cream to go.

We were told that of all the beaches and cute little towns we'd pass, we really needed to make sure to stop at Cannon Beach. Umm, yes! I would happily go back and spend a week there...the town was darling and the beach was likely one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. It was overcast, windy and super chilly, but again,, you know? (And yes, Haystack Rock look familiar to you because Goonies was indeed filmed here. Admission...I've never seen Goonies so this fun fact was pointed out to me by my husband and son.)

We finished up our long, but memorable day of driving in Coos Bay, Oregon. Strangely enough, I think this was one of the kids' favorite parts of the trip. I'm not sure why, but Brandon to this day still talks about that little motel in Oregon where we all climbed into bed and watched Home Alone on TV together before falling asleep for the night. "That was SO awesome, Mom!" Maybe it was all of us together, or laughing so hard, or the idea that we were watching a Christmas movie in August...who knows. But for some reason, it was a highlight.

The next morning we left super early and continued on our way. It wasn't too long before we entered California and into the Redwood Forest. And of course no one could stop themselves from singing This Land Is Your Land...seeing as every single one of us, including Bryan and me, had learned it in elementary school:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me. 
Because we are just that kind of family...who knows a song for pretty much any occasion.

We pulled over at a place that was called Trees of Mystery that yes, does sound rather touristy. And maybe it was. But after paying the entrance fee, we got to hike some very cool trails and see some ridiculously large Redwood trees. And then take a gondola ride up into the tops of the trees where the view was nothing short of spectacular. Then because we decided that we were "experienced" enough hikers, we decided to hike down the steep and rocky trail rather than take the gondola back. I figured all the over the top warnings were purely to dissuade older folks or families with young kids, or people wearing inappropriate hiking shoes from taking the trail...because really, how hard could it really be, right? Umm...we figured out pretty fast that they were seriously not kidding! It was intensely steep and very rocky and my poor legs were jelly by the time we made it down. But it was so worth it!

(This picture of my tree hugger Julianne, is one of my very favorites from the whole trip.)

I wish I had got a picture of it, but at one point we started seeing what looked like smoke up ahead. We debated for a minute or two thinking surely it must be fog, but then started smelling that tale tell campfire smell. It wasn't too much later that traffic slowed way down and we found ourselves witness to a forest fire. It was right on the side of the road. Flames jumping up into the trees, right there in front of our eyes. Firefighters were on site already and climbing up the bank from the road into the masses of trees to fight the fire. Cars were pulling over to the right so they could watch. Frankly, I kind of wished we had too because well, wow. That's not a sight you see every day. But we continued on...and smelled that smoky smell for a good long while afterwards.

Towards the end of the Redwood Forest I instructed Bryan to follow the signs to a place where for five bucks you could drive through the middle of a Redwood Tree. Bryan was very reluctant to make this detour, thinking it a rather silly tourist trap. And yes! It completely was! But am I glad we did it? You betcha!

We drove through wineries and farms and small towns...and finally made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco right as it was starting to getting dark.

Up next: San Francisco

Recap of our time in Seattle

Thursday, January 19, 2017


With the thought of Julianne moving away from home and heading to college looming large in my mind, I started thinking about a family vacation. One last hurrah before she left. Similar to our Kauai trip before Rebekah went to college. After some thought and research, I started toying with a Pacific Northwest road trip. What if we: 1) flew to Seattle and spent a few days exploring that city, 2) then took a couple days to leisurely drive down the Oregon coastline with the idea of stopping whenever we saw a pretty view or beach to explore, 3) do some hiking in the Redwood Forest while passing by, and 4) end up in San Francisco where we stay another few days exploring and then eventually flying home from there. After finding an article detailing pretty much that exact trip where the writer claimed it to be the best and most beautiful vacation she had ever taken, I went to Bryan with my plans and ran it past him. He thought it sounded intriguing and fun and gave me the green light to start booking flights, hotels, and a rental car. I'm always surprised at how long it takes to book arrangements. Maybe its just me and my indecision as I search long and hard for the perfect hotel (for example) that will be a good fit in terms of price, size (there were 5 of us after all), and location. Schedules and flights...which week works best with Bryan's work, Brandon's gymnastics and Julianne's upcoming move to college. Do we want to fly early in the morning or should we do a red-eye? I pour over google maps, become way too acquainted with Expedia and their traveller reviews, intently study weather forecasts. Seriously, I put myself through such craziness as I overthink every last detail. Surely it should be easier than this? (And then don't even get me started on packing the actual suitcase.)

But it all turned out well and was a super memorable vacation. The only downside...I felt slightly guilty that we were on a "family" vacation without Rebekah!
Ready for vacation picture palooza?

We flew into Seattle early morning, rented our car and drove straight to the hotel, which was just one block away from the Seattle Space Needle. Even though we were there hours before official check-in time, our room was ready and we were able to get settled before heading out to find some breakfast and start our day's adventures.

I truly think Pikes Place Market is one of my happy places. I can't get enough of the hustle and bustle, the fish and veggies and flowers, the eclectic little shops, the cafes, and the unexpected hallways, tunnels and alleys leading this way and that. Something about that place just makes my soul smile really big and wide.
Julianne and I got maybe a little overly interested in some of the shops we discovered in our explorations of the lower floors of the market. Bryan and Brandon finally got bored following us around and decided to just sit until we were done. But seriously...when you find an awesome used book store, or a shop selling nothing but old copies of magazine covers, newspapers, posters and maps, and...the best yet...a store called Holy Cow Records where we happily searched through all the many, many boxes and shelves of vinyl (and even brought home some Michael Jackson, Chicago, Tears for Fears, Carpenters, etc) just takes time, you know?

We found the famous gum wall. The kids were equal parts fascinated and grossed out. As was appropriate for the occasion. Why has this gum wall become a thing? I mean, I realize that people have been sticking their gum in inappropriate places for years...usually under restaurant tables and school desks. But how did one person stick their gum on a wall in a dark alleyway in Seattle, and others follow suit until it became a tourist attraction? How did that even get started to begin with? Seems a little bizarre. But certainly colorful and interesting. In a very "ewwww" sort of way.

And not that we were really anywhere near close to being done with the awesomeness that is Pikes Place Market, but we decided we needed to give the boys a break so we walked for a few blocks further to Pioneer Square and I convinced everyone that we should go on Bill Speidel's World Famous Underground Tour. The rather humorous tour takes you below the city to see what's left of storefronts and sidewalks that were original to Seattle before the great fire of 1889 when Seattle then rebuilt on top of itself. There's lots of history, lots of ghosts stories and lots of laughing.
And then to Bryan's joy, we found Utilikilts...the store he bought his new kilt from online just a few weeks earlier. Yes, Bryan now owns and proudly wears a kilt. I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it. So we traded places. He and Brandon happily explored that store, while we girls hung out in the square outside.

The next day we woke up early, walked over to the Space Needle and headed on up. It was super chilly up there. But oh so beautiful! And what a view. We spent quite a few hours on top of the needle. Because not only could you walk all around the observation deck outside, but there was much to see inside as well...lots of interactive displays about the Space Needle specifically and Seattle generally. They also had a little a Starbucks (of course) so we grabbed some hot chocolate to warm us up when we were outside.

The Space Needle is just one attraction in the middle of what is called the Seattle Center, housing multiple museums, playgrounds, grassy areas, fountains and a convention center...just a really neat place for people to gather. When we got down from the Space Needle we discovered that a huge virtual reality gaming competition sort of thing was going on in the convention center. Outside were various activities for spectators. Bryan, Julianne and Brandon got the opportunity to go inside a big tent and try out some virtual reality gaming. Supposedly they were actually inside the game...which meant they could see and react to what was going on, though the actual players were not able to see them, so they weren't interrupting real play.

Afterwards, we found a big screen that was showing what was going on inside the game, inside the convention center. Brandon, Julianne and Bryan watched for quite awhile, obviously highly interested having just had their own virtual reality experience inside the game. Lilian found more interest in a nearby fountain.

We took the monorail back down to the waters edge and to the Pikes Place Market for some more shopping and lunch in the afternoon. Brandon discovered the very first Starbucks. And I rediscovered the awesome map store that was one of my very favorite finds of my first trip to Seattle. Have I mentioned that I am a little bit obsessed with maps and globes? And Pikes Place Market? Happy, happy, happy.

A little anecdote: we were walking down a side alley and Julianne was singing, as she is prone to do. Up ahead a girl was packing up her guitar into a case when she heard Julianne. She flipped around and walked right over to her. She was a street musician, she told Julianne. Had Julianne ever considered singing for tips? Because boy howdy, with a voice like hers, she could make lots of money. Julianne said she'd think about it and then the girl went on her way. But it was fun to see the little smile on Julianne's face as we continued down the alley. You could tell she kind of liked the idea.

Eventually we made our way back to the Seattle Center and decided to spend the rest of our evening there. We looked around in the Experience Music Project Museum, pointed out the cool Dale Chihully glass sculptures, watched street artists draw, considered joining in a group zumba class on the lawn, and eventually settled down with our books to read in the neat atmosphere and cool evening air while Brandon and Lilian ran around the playground areas.
Seattle, though. So pretty, am I right? Fascinating and eclectic and such a fun vibe. Beautiful and full of history. I wanna go back.

Up next: Oregon coastline and the Redwood Forest.