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Up and Down the California Coast in 7 Days, from the Ancient Redwood Forests to the Birthplace of the Golden State


Wilfredo (Sonny) Valenzuela
January 31, 2010



December 26-30, 2009 and January 2-3, 2010

 
Author Wilfredo Sonny Valenzuela
 
The morning was chilly but clear as I drove from my house in Orange County, California to my brother Boy’s (Orestes) house in Los Angeles County. There, I met the rest of our small tour group – Boy, his wife Teng (Estella), my brother Jun, his wife Iou, and our special guests from the Netherlands for the holidays, my sister Quiding and her husband Eddie. We were going to San Francisco in a rented van, after celebrating Christmas 2009 in Boy and Teng’s house the previous day. I have lived in California for over three decades, but this was the first time that I would tour the Golden State north to Eureka towards the Oregon border, then south to San Diego near the Mexican border.

The drive to San Francisco was uneventful but pleasant until we reached the outskirts of the city where heavy downpour greeted us. We worried a bit that Eddie’s first visit to this charming city by the bay would be marred by inclement weather. But after breakfast at the hotel the following day, the sun started to shine through the quintessential San Francisco morning fog as we headed to Twin Peaks. The two hills of Twin Peaks gave us a panoramic view of the city through the thinning fog and mist.
 
San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
 

 
San Francisco Wharf Board Walk
 

By the time we arrived at the Fisherman’s Wharf to saunter along the piers with a view of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, the day had turned bright, though it remained chilly. Quiding just had her birthday, so she treated us to a delightful lunch of fresh seafood in one of the restaurants at the wharf.
 
Capistrano a Guided Tour inside the Mission Courtyard
 

Not far from the wharf is the famous Lombard Street. Since the van was too big to drive down the steep and tight hairpin turns of Lombard, we drove down a street a couple of blocks away from Lombard. It was impossible to see where we were heading as we started to go down the steep street. But the last portion went straight down what seemed to be a 45-degree angle. The thrill was too much to experience just once, so Jun who was driving decided to go back down the same street a second time, in spite of vehement objections from Teng, who could only close her eyes and pray during the roller-coaster-like ride down the precipitous path.

A short walk on the Golden Gate Bridge to enjoy the marvelous view, followed by afternoon coffee in the beautiful city of Sausalito completed our day’s tour of the San Francisco Bay area.
 
Humboldt Park Measuring the Base of a Giant Redwood
 

The following day, we proceeded to the redwood forests of Northern California. In Humboldt County about 200 miles north of San Francisco, we took the Avenue of the Giants, a scenic alternate route to the main highway. The Avenue of the Giants weaves through groves of giant redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There, we stopped a couple of times and parked the van on the roadside to be amazed by the magnificent trees that surrounded us. The giant redwoods tower hundreds of feet above the ground, making it a challenge for us to take pictures of an entire tree. It was discovered in the 1990’s that through their canopies, redwood trees may get up to 50% of the water they need from fog, thus enabling the trees to grow to incredible heights. It is theorized that in very foggy places in Northern California, redwoods may grow as tall as 450 feet. The height of the tallest tree measured so far is 379 ft. California coast redwoods may live more than two thousand years.

Not far from the road is a downed ancient redwood. Its wide hollow base seemed capable of engulfing all of us at one fell swoop as we stood beside it. There is another tree with a hollow trunk in another part of the park. This tree is alive, though supported with big cables to keep it upright. The cavity of the tree is so wide that cars drive through it.

Outside the protected boundaries of national and state parks for California coast redwoods, redwood preservation has been an on-going battle over the last 20 years between tree-sitting anti-logging activists and lumber companies.
 
La Flores Reunion
 
 
La Valenzuela Reunion
 

When gold was discovered in Northern California in the mid-nineteenth century, droves of people came to the then remote redwood region. The redwoods suited the new inhabitants’ need for lumber. Around the same time, railroad construction started in the western United States. Vast stands of ancient coast redwoods were cut down to build homes and railroads. The lumber industry thrived in Northern California. The size and durability of the enormous redwoods made them prize timber. Redwoods are resilient. They are resistant to destruction by insects, diseases and fire. They can grow from a seed the size of a tomato seed, clone themselves from a stump, or regenerate new sprouts from a fallen tree’s root system.
Humblodt Park Driving through the Hollowed Base of a Living Redwood

Wealth accumulated through the logging industry in Northern California is still evident today in such places as Eureka and Ferndale. The lumber magnate William Carson came to Northern California in search of gold but found fortune in the redwoods instead. His lavish Victorian mansion still stands prominently in Old Town Eureka. The imposing mansion is now home to the Ingomar Club. Ferndale has its luxurious Victorian Inn.

Less than two weeks after we visited Humboldt, a strong 6.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the county, cutting power out in Eureka and neighboring towns but leaving the fine Victorian structures unaffected.

We spent our evening in Northern California in Fortuna, enjoying delicious “all you can eat” food in a Chinese restaurant before retiring early in the hotel to be prepared for the long drive south to Monterey the following day. Such “all you can eat” restaurants are ubiquitous in America and our family loves to eat.
 
Monterey Beach
 

In Monterey, we were pleasantly surprised with the hotel recommended by my long-time friend Paul’s son Danny. The father of Danny’s former roommate owns Lone Oak Lodge in Monterey. One of the spacious suites we got was the size of a house. We spent the following day in the Monterey Peninsula visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach. Early in the morning, divers were already on the rocky shores of Monterey, preparing for their dive in the cold Pacific Ocean. Our tour along the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach offered stunning views, beneath blue skies, of the rugged coastline and its inhabitants such as seals, sea gulls, herons and deer. Waves swelled and crashed dramatically against the rocky promontory on which the landmark Lone Cypress tree stands.

After spending New Year’s Day in the Los Angeles area, we visited San Diego over the week-end. Eddie wanted to see if the swallows still come back to Capistrano. So before going to Temecula in San Diego County, we passed by the old mission in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, just a short drive from where I live. Built in 1782, the chapel of San Juan Capistrano is said to be the oldest building in California that is still in use.

After another “all you can eat” lunch at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in the Pechanga Indian Reservation in Temecula, we were ready for some wine tasting at Callaway, one of the vineyards in the Temecula Valley. We went on a walking tour of Old Town Temecula late in the afternoon, then drove to San Diego.
 
Calaway Winery
 

In the evening, we strolled along 5th Avenue of the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. Originally intended to be the main business district of San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is now a site for many festivities, and 5th Avenue is lined with upscale shops and restaurants.

That evening, as we drank wine purchased in Temecula, we could see from our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter a panoramic view of Coronado Bridge over the San Diego Bay. So the next day, we were compelled to drive across the bridge and take a quick tour of Coronado Island with its tree-line streets and stately Spanish and Victorian structures, before enjoying, what else, another tasty “all you can eat” lunch in a Filipino restaurant in San Diego.
 
San Diego 5 Star Hotel del Coronado
 

Our tour of California ended where the state had its beginning in Old Town San Diego. Recognized as the first European settlement in California and often referred to as the state’s birthplace, Old Town San Diego is where the Franciscan friar Junipero Serra founded the first Spanish mission in California in the 18th century. Father Serra established several other missions including the ones in Carmel and San Juan Capistrano. Old Town San Diego now serves as a museum of 18th and 19th century California, in addition to the many handicraft shops and Mexican restaurants that can be found there.

When we got back to my house in Orange County, I played for our tour group the National Geographic television special on the California coast redwoods that I previously recorded. We watched it with much greater appreciation for what we saw during our tour of the Golden State.

The southernmost redwood is said to be in Big Sur just south of Monterey. But now, we occasionally talk about one much farther south; the tiny redwood needle that Teng stuck in a flower pot in their living room. The needle appears to be thriving and verdant weeks later. It does seem that the ancient giants would continue to do quite well if humankind just left them alone.

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