Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the beginning of a road trip has to be one of the most inspiring moments of travel. San Francisco Bay glistens below, while the huge hanging towers rise in front of them.
The feeling of escape and adventure is palpable as you go over one of the American symbols at 45 mph (the speed limit).
What a way to start a 1000 mile drive from the center of the dot-com world via Highways 1 and 101 to Seattle, Washington State.
“Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the beginning of a road trip has to be one of the most inspiring moments of travel,” writes Tom
The secret is to speed yourself up and learn to love the life on the freeway, with empty roads and some of America’s most beautiful scenery to marvel at. There is no need to rush.
This became a mantra for me and my girlfriend almost from the start, and we picnicked on the coast just a dozen miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where cliffs tumbled several hundred meters and the ocean spread out before us.
Seagulls rose. Turkey vultures drifted in the thermals. Waves crashed on boulders far below. You already felt far away from somewhere.
So began a journey that quickly brought us to the small town of America. Tiny spots on Highway 1 with picket fences, clapboards, oyster shacks, and old-style salons came and went as the road hugged the coast.
Our first stop was a little place called Little River, where we booked a room at the old fashioned Little River Inn.
The eye-catching Trinidad State Beach is about a five-hour drive north of San Francisco
There we put our bags down, drank ice-cold beer in a no-nonsense bar and put ourselves in spicy fish tacos. Locals in baseball caps chatted at the bar. A ball game flickered on TV.
Otherwise there wasn’t much going on. Smalltown America did what Smalltown America does best: stay down to earth.
In the morning we made our way to Trinidad and snaked our way into the legendary redwood parks of California.
Driving among the giant sequoia trees felt like traveling back in time to prehistoric times. Everything seemed so big. And you seem so small especially when you visit the chandelier tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park.
This 276 foot tall redwood has a hole in the base and for $ 10 (£ 7.10) you can drive through the center. We did this (by sliding the side mirrors in as it is tight) before continuing down the Avenue of the Giants – even more sequoias – to Trinidad.
This was really a very small town in America, with a pizza place, diner (where the locals stopped talking when we walked in), grocery store, and not much else.
The chandelier tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park. This 276 foot tall redwood has a hole in the base and for $ 10 (£ 7.10) you can drive through the middle
We lit a fire in our cabin, cooked a meal, and drank buds. After a long journey – already 300 miles north of San Francisco – it was good to relax.
Oregon was expecting the next day. In this part of Northern California, just off the Oregon border, it’s up to date: pawnbrokers, sprawling RV camps, discount stores, and legalized marijuana stores (“Need weed? Turn right at the lights”).
On the other side of the state line, logging towns sprang up with strips of fast food bars and motels, behind which we crossed a beautiful Art Deco bridge over the Siuslaw River and found ourselves in Florence.
The beautiful Art Deco bridge over the Siuslaw River that Tom crossed on his way to Florence
No Uffizi Gallery or Michelangelo’s David in this Florence, a tiny wooden and fishing town, but there was a pleasant motel and inviting steak and fish restaurants on the riverside.
It was a perfect place to plan the next day’s route and see some sights including the impressive Florence sand dunes – ‘Oregon’s Sahara’ – and the equally extraordinary sea lion caves, home to hundreds of the noisy creatures.
From Florence the road goes up and up past an “Gun Shop: We Buy Guns”, along a stream covered with yellow lilies, and then inland between vineyards as snow-capped Mount Jefferson rises majestically before us.
Here you are driving on Interstate 5 in the midst of trucks. Again, you can choose to stop at a Nike discounter in Woodburn (like us … prices are half the UK). Then we arrived in Portland, one of the hippest cities in America.
Oregon’s extraordinary sea lion caves, home to hundreds of noisy creatures
From Florence, writes Tom, the road leads forward and upwards past an “arms shop: we buy weapons”, along a stream covered with yellow lilies and then inland between vineyards, while snow-capped Mount Jefferson (pictured) rises majestically in front of us
Our hotel was in a neighborhood full of craft breweries. Buskers sang Jimi Hendrix songs. The markets offered delicious Korean and Japanese dishes. Glasses clinked in bars.
Forbearance seemed the way to go, so we indulged ourselves.
We were sad to leave, but it was cloudy and rainy on our last day: the drive to Seattle.
Interstate 5 was full again when we set off in the Chevrolet, with Mount St. Helens somewhere on the right. And then the skyscrapers rose. We turned off an overpass and checked into a downtown hotel.
Mount St. Helens volcano is east of Interstate 5 and about 180 miles south of Seattle
In Seattle, Tom took boat trips, ate at a fish market, entered the pop culture museum, and took the elevator to the 605-foot-tall Space Needle (seen here on the left).
Another big smoke awaited: boat trips on Elliott Bay; Lunch at the lively Pike Place fish market; a visit to the excellent museum of pop culture (Hendrix and Nirvana were from Seattle); a ride to the top of the 605ft Space Needle.
A week’s drive in the US can take you to many wonderful places.
All that was left was the short drive to the airport. Almost exactly a thousand miles, said the odometer … and just as many memories.