Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Poky Road to Mendo

I'm not an early riser but I've found that adding a little extra time into driving plans makes a weekend qetaway more pleasant. When you can stop along the way for a long lunch, a walk or a visit to a park or museum -- and not rushing to get somewhere -- it feels like a real vacation. The strategy is to get an early start on Saturdays and Sundays; on weekdays, hitting the road early could backfire. It might mean bumping into commuter traffic.
Last Saturday, an early start served me well. I'd told friends in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, that I'd arrive a little before dinner time. The next morning, I left San Francisco at 8 a.m.
I wasn't sure what my plans were, except to stop at the Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg for breakfast and then take Highway 128 through Boonville and slowly make my way to the coast.
I never made it to the bakery because when I got off Highway 101 in Healdsburg, a big sign pointed to the town's Saturday morning farmers' market. The market was in full swing, a jazz band playing and hefty slices of tangy, delicious carrot cake being passed around to shoppers to celebrate the market's 30th anniversary. The array of produce and fruit was astounding, all of it tempting. I bought some local juicy peaches, tomatoes and tiny, deep-red strawberries.
Back in the car, my small cooler now half full, I headed toward Cloverdale and the drive northwest. The Anderson Valley, one of my favorite places in California, was glorious on this mid-summer day. I loved milling around at Bates and Maillard Farmhouse Mercantile and getting a snack at the Mosswood Market. I wasn't in the mood for a lot of wine tasting but stopped at Husch (photo below) because I enjoy their sauvignon blanc and the friendly atmosphere of its cozy, flower-covered tasting room, on old grain shed.
When you're in the area, make a quick detour to the Philo Apple Farm, (photo at the very top, left) a popular place for its cooking school, but open to visitors who want drop in for cider, jam and other apple products. If no one is around the honor system applies: just sign your name, write your purchase on the log and put your money in the cigar box.
The drive to the coast, through the shady redwood groves, is always a thrill, particularly the first glimpse of the Pacific at Navarro. I stopped at Russian Gulch State Park (photo below) for a quick look (tell the ranger you aren't planning to stay long and they'll let you in without paying the $6 day use fee)

and then headed to Mendocino, where the annual Music Festival had the streets and sidewalks busy. If you get to town and are looking for some wonderful bread for a picnic stop by the bakery at the town's most heralded restaurant, Cafe Beaujolais. A tiny bakery at the back of the restaurant's pretty garden opens at 11 a.m. and by 1 p.m. most of the bread (and there is a large menu of varieties, including bagels) is sold out. You get to peek in and see the bread being pulled out of the brick hearth.
Finally, I wanted to take another look at the Point Cabrillo Light Station, where last year, while researching the book, I spent an hour. This time, I walked the gentle sloping half mile road from the parking lot to the light station and took my time in the museum, which has some fascinating photographs of the Native American tribes who lived in the area and the wreck of the Frolic, the opium-running ship that ran aground near the shore here -- factor in the founding of Mendocino. The light station was home to three hard-working lightkeeper families, who operated the large lens -- with hundreds of prisms -- with kerosene lamps. The entire station has been restored, including the families' homes that have been turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn -- and the lens is back in operation, its light visible up to 15 miles from shore.

No comments: