Kate and I took the week of Thanksgiving off work and ran away to northern California for a much needed vacation. We visited the redwoods and the Lost Coast and enjoyed some miraculously good weather. The redwoods were peaceful and the Lost Coast was gorgeous and felt really unique. Well worth a visit!

First off, here are the photos!

Read on for the blow-by-blow.

Day 1, Nov. 23: Portland to the Redwoods

The sun came out as soon as we left Portland which felt like a good omen. The drive along 199 and 101 was gorgeous curving highway and big trees. Stopped at Cristina’s Mexican Restaurant in Crescent City which was everything you hope for in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a small town. High energy place where they knew everyone else’s usual order by heart. Kate said, “just water for me, but you’re getting a horchata right?” They knew what was up and brought us two horchatas anyways.

Elk Creek Campground was fully booked, so it was definitely good we reserved ahead of time. The campground had a pretty quiet vibe despite being full. I bet it gets loud in the summer though. As promised, we saw several elk as we arrived. It was cold and wet, and we had breakfast sandwiches for dinner (egg, bacon, cheese, English muffin). We slept in the car, which is slightly too small for both of us (mainly because I like to thrash around a lot at night), but also very convenient and very warm.

Day 2, Nov. 24: Redwoods to the Lost Coast

Started the day off visiting the Big Tree (which is indeed a big tree), then hiking a loop in the redwoods. The big trees are magical and nice to touch. A particular highlight was a burned out tree on the Rhododendron Trail with a gorgeous charcoal interior that you could walk through. If you looked up it had an oculus at the top letting in beams of light that highlighted the charcoal. I’ve always wanted to visit Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, and I think this tree might have satisfied that desire for me.

Next we drove down to the Lost Coast, through the charming town of Ferndale, which we knew we definitely wanted to stop at on the way back. The drive into the Lost Coast was amazing and reminded me of driving in Iceland, except with cows instead of sheep. This drive was another trip highlight. I didn’t use to be a big driving person, but I’m slowly becoming more appreciative of scenic drives. Kate had to stop me from getting out of the car to try and pet the cows. They had their winter coats and looked exceptionally soft.

Mattole campground is a first-come-first-serve BLM campground that supposedly never totally fills up, despite only having 15 sites. It was 2/3 full when we arrived. It’s a cute but windy campground and seems like a great base to explore the north half of the Lost Coast. Notably, it doesn’t have water, so make sure to fill up before you arrive! Once you’re hiking, there are lots of streams in the Lost Coast area where you can filter water, but you’ll probably want to bring in water for camp.

We had Annie’s Mac and Cheese for dinner and slept in our new luxurious 4-person car camping tent. We were glad we brought earplugs, because the wind flapping the tent walls was extremely loud. We’re still experimenting with car camping setup, since we do more backpacking than car camping, we don’t exactly know what we like yet. Sleeping in the car is pretty great, except that our 2005 Subaru Forester is just slightly too small to be super comfortable. I think in general I prefer the big car camping tent unless the weather is truly horrendous and the solid walls of the car are worth being a little cramped. On a solo trip, sleeping in the car would be easy and I’d probably go for it every time. Maybe one day we’ll be blessed with a cute 4WD imported Japanese van.

Disaster struck when I woke up in the middle of the night with the hiccups and they lasted for at least an hour, which was bizarre and kind of miserable. I read an ebook on my phone until they went away and was eventually able to go back to sleep. Disaster averted.

Day 3, Nov. 25: Thanksgiving on the Lost Coast

Several sections of the Lost Coast Trail are impassible at high tide, included one section between the campground and the lighthouse we wanted to check out. The tide tables were not in our favor, unless we wanted to hike in the dark, but luckily there was a trail that went up into the bluffs that avoided the impassible section. The detour turned out to be a worthwhile hike regardless of the tides. Great views and a nice change of pace from walking on the beach.

Punta Gorda Lighthouse was incredibly charming, and the ladder up to the top looks like it’s been maintained to some extent to make it easy to climb up and check it out. The lighthouse was delightful, both practical and whimsical. The main building was about 10’ x 20’ with three rooms and a symmetrical plan: entry room, circular ladder room, kitchen/workbench room. The leftover spaces formed by putting a circular room into a rectangular building created 4 closets. Up the ladder is the lighthouse platform where presumably the lamp use to be. A smaller building a few steps down the path appeared to be for storing fuel.

I love this little lighthouse. So much of my architectural thoughts are spent on figuring out what our clients like, and I sometimes feel a little lost when I think about what I like. Exploring the Punta Gorda Lighthouse was grounding and rejuvenating.

On the beach were two large groups of elephant seals sleeping and flopping around. We had a snack and hung out at the lighthouse and watched the seals for a while before eventually heading back to camp.

Our Thanksgiving dinner consisted of instant mashed potatoes, gravy, stovetop stuffing, canned cranberry sauce and bacon. It was great. Stuffing might make it into the camping food rotation more often! It’s very satisfying on a cold windy evening. We even had leftovers for lunch the next day, which seemed like an important part of a Thanksgiving dinner.

Day 4, Nov. 26: Back to the Redwoods

The drive out of the Lost Coast was just as lovely as the drive in. Didn’t seem like much was open in Petrolia the day after Thanksgiving, so we headed on to Ferndale where we parked the car to explore. Ferndale has a remarkable collection of historic Victorian homes and shops and a charming touristy/artsy vibe.

We got a coffee at Mind’s Eye Manufactory and Coffee Lounge, which would have been cute enough if it was just as a coffee shop, but it’s attached to a wood shop where local artists rent bench space and you can take a class to learn to make a traditional skin-on-frame sea kayak. The wood shop and the coffee shop are owned by the same couple. Truly a dream setup, and maybe a pretty serious model for Kate and my future someday! I could imagine running a coffee shop as the storefront to a design studio.

Continuing on the road trip theme of the day, we did the short Fern Canyon loop at Prairie Creek Redwoods. Despite the seasonal bridges being removed, it was a zoo! Lots of families with kids having a blast climbing around and getting wet and adults trying to carefully pick their way through balancing on logs and rocks.

We headed back at Elk Prairie Campground and did a short walk on the Prairie Creek Trail and Nature Trail, which ended with Kate getting her feet wet and me balancing on a somewhat slippy log, as the seasonal bridge had been removed from a stream crossing at the very end of the loop. Our final camp dinner of the trip was Knorr instant Spanish rice, Santa Fe instant refried beans, salsa, avocado, cheddar cheese, and corn chips. We call it the Fancy Skurka. (The traditional Skurka is instant rice, instant beans, cheese and Fritos, and is a backpacking staple). It is a close cousin to Frito Pie.

Day 5, Nov. 27: Back to Portland

On the way home we bought a box of amazing Alfajor sandwich cookies in Gasquet, visited “It’s a Burl” in Kerby (just go look at the photos), and finished the trip with a burger at the K&R Drive Inn, which has a very cute sign.

Along the way we did a lot of thinking and talking while we are a little out of practice at taking vacations, I feel more well rested than I have in quite a while.