Vanlife diaries #2: Southern Oregon, Redwoods & California wine country
With the first week of vanlife under our belts, Dan and I launched full-steam-ahead this week into more adventures in Southern Oregon, through the Redwoods, and all the way down the coast to central California, where we met up with mum for a whirlwind weekend of wine tasting and excellent food (that most certainly exceeded our budget, but oh well).
What we’ve been up to this week
On Monday, we woke up to absolutely superb weather in Brookings, OR and spent the majority of the day exploring half a dozen small hikes and scenic pull-outs less than 20 minutes from where we’d camped. The crown jewel among these was Secret Beach, which, despite being clearly marked on Google Maps, didn’t have any signage or other visitors and therefore may actually be a bit of a secret.
We spent ages exploring little coves and scrambling up rocky outcrops until Dan was nearly swept away by a sneaker wave (see the very amusing photo below) and we had to retreat, soggily, back to the van.
All our adventures along the Oregon coast, both this week and last, totally blew me away, challenging childhood memories I had of a colourless and bitterly mundane seaside. Instead, Oregon delivered perfectly clear days, rugged coastal trails, and impossibly secluded beaches— when we did eventually cross the border into northern California later that day, we both agreed it simply wasn’t as nice.
We spent the next couple days wandering through the Redwoods and gawking at 1500 year old trees, enjoying the feel of dirt under our boots on several 5km walks in Praire Creek Redwoods State Park and later a very scenic drive through Avenue of the Giants.
Always a wealth of Visitor Centre information, Dan said that thick coastal fog rolls through these forests and gets trapped beneath the canopy, providing plenty of moisture for soil that would otherwise be too shielded by trees to get many nutrients.
Consequently, Coastal Redwoods in these areas are the tallest living things on the planet— although the photos fail to do justice to the sheer size of these trees, some soar above 100m, a height almost incomprehensible from my tiny position on the ground.
More than a few times, I nearly fell backwards trying to peer up at the top branches, and we passed dozens of tree trunks that dwarfed our large van.
Leaving the trees behind momentarily, we scooted over to the coast for a beautiful hike along the Rim Trail in Patrick’s Point State Park, a surprisingly cool addition to our time in the Redwoods.
By Wednesday, we were a day and a half behind where we intended to be (which would be absolutely no problem if we weren’t scheduled to meet mum in Paso Robles on Friday morning), so we spent most of the day hustling down towards Santa Rosa. And like any good driving day, that meant brewery pit stops.
After popping in at Eel River Brewing, it was a straight shot to Russian River Brewing in Windsor, a long-time bucketlist brewery for Dan. Even more exciting was the news that we could “urban camp” in their carpark for free, easy stumbling distance from the restaurant and bar.
Distracted by the Redwoods and stopping to gawk at one too many tree, though, we managed to cut it a little close on time, our Google Maps ETA distressingly showing an arrival 7 minutes after the kitchen closed.
Over the course of no less than 3 phone calls, Dan finally managed to put in an order for us and apparently make friends with the entire staff— when we arrived, one of the brewers was waiting to greet us at the door (“You must be Dan”) and the GM even ushered over some free tastings before we’d hardly sat down.
The rest of the evening passed with much excited conversation and such peculiar fanfare that I began to feel like the partner of a celebrity. And with the perks of free beer, I could certainly get used to this.
Thursday involved another long stretch of rainy driving, but stops at Henhouse Brewing, Humble Sea, Alvarado Street, and Fieldwork kept the day interesting.
By Friday, we were in sunny San Luis Obispo picking mum up from the airport, ready for a big weekend of wine tasting in nearby Paso Robles.
Unbeknownst to us, this weekend marked the annual Zinfest celebration (although it was still less than the usual festivities, thanks to COVID) and Paso was a flurry of activity as weekenders from all over the state descended upon restaurants and tasting rooms.
Ever the planner, mum had already organised our tasting reservations, so we were able to visit an impressive list of her old favourites and new finds— dinner proved harder to coordinate, so the infamous van Instant Pot came in handy once again.
Over the course of the next 3 days, we managed to squeeze in 10 wineries and 2 breweries, ending each day with new bottles, purple teeth, and (in my case) a rather serious sunburn.
Although we enjoyed just about every spot we visited, the indisputable highlight was our afternoon visit to Mystic Hills, a winery located out in the country surrounded Paso and owned by the most incredible couple— it’s hard to say whether we liked the people or the wine better, but either way, we were completely starstruck by our experience here.
We arrived to their house slightly late for our scheduled tasting, with both Joel and Judy running around the property hoping we hadn’t been lost. Judy wrapped each of us up in a hug like she’d sorely missed us and ushered us out over to a table around the side of their home where we tasted their 2016 reds more like old friends than customers.
All said and done, we spent nearly 3 hours at Mystic Hills, meeting a rotating cast of friends who’d stopped by for wine, chatting to the farmer and his wife about the vineyard, listening to stories about Joel’s long-running editing role with Clint Eastwood, and even giving a tour of our van to a dozen energetic family friends.
It’s hard to even describe the warmth and welcome we experienced with Joel and Judy, but we all left (two hours after intended and an hour after our final tasting reservation at Bon Niche had come and gone) feeling like we’d just spent the evening with family. And what a way to wrap up our second week in the van!
Where we stayed this week
We are delighted to have pulled off yet another week with no accommodation costs, primarily “urban camping” in the city, but also enjoying a free night at the Roadway Inn courtesy of Dan’s reward points. It may have been a less scenic week in terms of van views, but it was a real budget saver (and we sorely needed it with all this wine tasting)!
- Pull-out on Humboldt Lagoon near Orick, CA (free; 15 March)
- Roadway Inn in Eureka, CA (free with points; 16 March)
- Urban camping out the front of Russian River Brewing Co. in Windsor, CA (free; 17 March)
- Urban camping out the back of Fieldwork Brewing in Monterey, CA (free; 18 March)
- Urban camping out the front of mum’s Best Western in Paso Robles, CA (free; 19-21 March)
What we spent this week
Unsurprisingly, this week came in well above budget ($579) thanks to all the wine and beer we stocked up on— but as Dan never fails to remind me, these costs should really be amortised across the next several months, since we easily have enough alcohol for the better part of 2021.
And now that we’ve completely overflowed our fridge and under-bench storage with bottles, next week should hopefully prove far less expensive!
- Groceries: $184
- Eating out (including wine and beer with meals): $101
- Fuel: $175
- Accommodation: $0
- Activities (including wine tasting and brewery flights): $119
Some other fun weekly stats
- Distance travelled: 1338km / 832mi
- Amount of time Brooke spent driving: absolutely 0
- Wineries visited: 10 (Jacob Toft, Desparada, Pianetta, Diablo Paso, Derby, Ranchita Canyon, Mystic Hills, Rangeland, Levo, Opolo)
- Breweries: 9 (Eel River, Russian River, Henhouse, Sante Adairius, Humble Sea, Alvarado Street, Fieldwork, Barrelworks, Firestone Walker)