Carolina: Cruising Past 70: TRAVEL AWAITS: 5 Quaint Stops from Washington to Oregon to California

Friday, November 19, 2021

TRAVEL AWAITS: 5 Quaint Stops from Washington to Oregon to California

Iredale Wreck
                            

                                     This article first appeared in Travel Awaits

This is about our fascinating drive down the US West Coast. We had just come down from a two-month road trip driving through Alberta, Canada, the Alaska Highway to Alaska and the Arctic Circle, and then down through the Yukon and British Columbia. We were making our way to a Thanksgiving reunion with my family in Mazatlan, Mexico, and a road trip through five Mexican states.

There were many highlights of this great adventure, but I cannot forget the hidden gems of towns we discovered as we drove from Washington to Oregon to California. These small towns may not be as well-known but I feel the urge to write about them.

1. Blaine, Washington

Outdoor Sculpture Collection, Western Washington University

Blaine (population under 6,000), is the first US town we encountered after crossing the US-Canada border. It is home to the two main West Coast ports of entry between the US and Canada: the Peace Arch Crossing — the primary passenger vehicle port of entry — and the Pacific Highway Border Crossing, about a mile east — the primary point of entry for heavy truck traffic. After we had admired the Peace Arch, we drove to the Beachwood RV Resort, which has many cabins for rent and plenty of amenities — pools, hot tubs, sauna, billiards, table tennis, foosball, video arcade, tennis, golf driving range, a playground, and a general store.

Behind the store, we found a 10-minute walk through the beautiful Birch Bay State Park that led to Birch Bay, a popular spot for crabbing and clamming. We were there in fall, and the autumnal colors were spectacular. At the bay, we discovered big and artsy birch driftwoods that adorned the beach and that, close by, is a whole touristy community of vacation homes. So there were lots of recreational opportunities with kayak, bike, and golf rentals, and a large mini-golf course.

Just 30 minutes from the campground is the city of Bellingham. Although the city is smaller than the neighboring metropolitan areas of Seattle or Vancouver, there are many attractions that are popular among residents and visitors alike. Cliffside views of the San Juan Islands and the glaciers of Mt. Baker can be seen from the city. But it was the campus of Western Washington University, with its Outdoor Sculpture Collection, created by 36 contemporary artists, that gave us one great afternoon.

2. Seaside, Oregon

Bridge to Nowhere, Astoria Bridge


From Blaine, we proceeded to Seaside (population under 7,000). It is right in the area that was the last stop of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We own a timeshare at Club Wyndham’s WorldMark Seaside, one of the state’s best waterfront locations, so we treated ourselves to a week’s vacation from our cozy RV. We were lucky that the American Kitefliers Association’s Annual Kite Festival was going on during our stay. The beach and sky were littered with giant colorful kites dancing to the hum of the ocean and the songs of the winds. The festival included surprising indoor contests held at the Seaside Convention Center.

We thoroughly enjoyed a lovely stroll on the Seaside Promenade, taking photos with Lewis and Clark at the famous Seaside Turnaround, playing around the expansive beach, shopping at the Carousel Mall and the Seaside Outlet Mall, and dinner at a boardwalk restaurant with great beach views.

A few quick day trips completed our stay. The first was to Astoria, just 30 minutes away. The 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America, dramatically spans the Columbia River. It photographs as a “bridge to nowhere” from the southern approach.

Fort Stevens between Astoria and Seaside was built near the end of the American Civil War. It has a favorite photo stop, the Iredale Wreck, on its beachhead. And just 15 minutes away is the famous Cannon Beach that is known for 235-foot-high Haystack Rock, often accessible at low tide, especially in summer. Part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, it is another photo stop, especially with the two eye-catching tall rocks called The Needles beside Haystack.

3. Red Bluff, California


Red Bluff (population under 15,000), was really just a waypoint. We parked at a campground here for only one night. The reason for our stop was to visit a hidden gem: the not-so-well-known Lassen Volcanic National Park whose dominant feature is  Lassen Peak. At a little under 11,000 feet high, it is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southernmost in the Cascade Range. The national park is one of the few areas in the world where all four types of volcanoes — plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato — can be found in one place.

The area is still active with boiling mud pots, stinking fumaroles, and churning hot springs. At the end of the main park road, we were treated to a spectacle that I had never seen before. Right by the roadside were fumes of smoke rising from the ground. All around were hills of different hues of red, orange, and brown. It foreshadowed the trip we would later take to Yellowstone National Park.

4. San Simeon, California

Next, we took a short detour to the town of San Simeon (population under 500), to see two bucket-list attractions.

First, we visited Hearst Castle, an opulent exhibit of the decadent lifestyle of the rich and famous during the time when William Randolph Hearst was making waves in the publishing industry. It is a National Historic Landmark (and a California Historical Landmark). With money and the estate — including the hill at San Simeon — of his father, he developed his media empire and built the castle. He called it “a museum of the best things that I can secure.”

Among the things he brought into the castle were over 30 ceilings, doorcases, fireplaces, mantels, and paneling, and even entire monasteries and a medieval tithe barn, all from Western Europe. His high-quality collections included the largest collection of Greek vases in the world. Hollywood parties were held in the castle, with its famous Roman pool, theater, grand rooms, and guest house. When Hearst died in 1951, the Hearst family gave the castle to the state of California.

elephant seal rookery

Second, we drove to the Elephant Seals Vista Point just eight minutes away. The beach is home to thousands of huge animals. It is the largest elephant seal rookery on the West Coast, located just south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

Elephant seals are large oceangoing seals. They were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century, but numbers have since recovered, and the northern species have chosen the Pacific Coast of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for mating. Elephant seals take their name from the large proboscis of the adult males, which resemble elephants’ trunks and produce extraordinarily loud roaring sounds. The bulls reach a length of 16 feet and a weight of 6,000 pounds.

5. Dana Point, California

Dana Point Harbor

From San Simeon, we went toward San Diego, where we again treated ourselves to a short vacation at another timeshare, Diamond Resort International’s Riviera Shores, on the Pacific Coast Highway. We were to meet my husband’s fraternity brother — who had relocated to the area — at Dana Point Harbor.

Dana Point (population 34,000), has one of the few harbors along the Orange County coast with ready access via State Route 1. The city was named after the headland of Dana Point, which was named after Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast which described the area and neighboring San Juan Capistrano as “the only romantic spot on the coast.” The harbor contains a replica of his ship, the Pilgrim. It is now used as a classroom by the Ocean Institute, which is located on the harbor. Dana Point has been designated a California Historical Landmark. It offers miles of walkways, more than 30 specialty shops, a wine tasting room, and 20 waterfront restaurants and taverns around a 2,500-boat and yacht marina.

Of course, we visited nearby Mission Capistrano, founded in 1776 by the Franciscan Order. It includes the oldest building in California still in use, Serra’s Chapel, built-in 1782. But the Mission is perhaps best known for the annual “Return of the Swallows,” a celebration of the swallows’ migration that’s observed every March 19 and has become a favorite subject of renowned artists. Mission Capistrano has been immortalized in books and films more than any other mission because of this event.

We loved this road trip down the West Coast and all we got to see before hurrying to Mexico and our long-awaited family reunion.

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53 comments:

  1. Blaine and Bellingham, Washington, Seaside, Astoria, and Cannon Beach, Oregon, and Red Bluff, San Simeon, and Dana Point, California.

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  2. this was a realky great trip! Awesome stops along the way

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  3. One of the road trip ideas that we haven’t done yet. I will make sure to stop at these places when our time is arrived.

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  4. Great idea to go slowly and take in some of the smaller towns. I love the iron bridge in Seaside Oregon and would like to see that in person. I am also quite interested in the Lewis & Clark expedition, so visiting the last stop would be interesting too.

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  5. Always looking for new and exciting stops to take along my next road trip! I would want to see all of the elephant seals in San Simeon! Looks like you found some really great stops!

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  6. Nice list of places to see on a coastal trip. Thanks for the tips. Hearst Castle is a must-see, I think and I love visiting the missions of California.

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  7. Wow, a two month long road trip! I think that's incredible, I'd love to try that myself someday. Side note but I really enjoy how you include the population counts next to these small towns. We get to see just how 'small' they really are!

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  8. Great stops! That must’ve been amazing driving through all that beautiful country.

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  9. I love road trips too and I love how you always have these comprehensive lists of places to visit while you’re on a road trip in a certain part of the country. The elephant seal rookery looks like the kind of place I’d love!

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  10. We have travelled this route before from Washington to California. So it was interesting to see where you stopped and find several new spots for a return road trip for us. The only one we have done so far is San Simeon. Fun stops for a future visit.

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  11. I love Oregon for its variety, and it's one of my favorite states in the US. I was also in Washington. But as always, you surprised me with some interesting places to see along the way that I hadn't heard of before. So I add them to my list. I haven't been to Red Bluff yet. But Lassen Volcanic National Park is on my list. I hope to visit it soon. I would love to visit Hearst Castle and Elephant Seals Vista Point as I love wildlife photography.

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  12. Comprehensive and informative post! With a long distance travel like this, I'd probably also make a stop somewhere with a seaview like at the Seaside Promenade. Also, I'd be ready with a nice playlist on cue while driving through the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Great stops!

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  13. Washington is BEYOND beautiful! I guess we need to go back and hit these stops along the coast!

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  14. It's so wonderful understanding the size of a town to get a feel of the place. This looks a great trip and being spread over two months is such a lovely way to enjoy a long holiday.Thanks for all the tips.

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    1. that's why I make it a point to state the population of the town.

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  15. I love that these are smaller towns! I only stayed in Seattle so I didnt get to many of the places you mention.

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  16. Washington is love for sure. I would love to visit Washington in future. You really portrayed this article with such information. Nice write up.

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  17. This is such a great post and quite helpful. I have heard so much about Red Bluff, California and so want to visit it. Your post has reminded me that I should plan a trip very soon. Hope the Covid situation improves and we can plan a trip to the USA soon. Loved reading the post.

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  18. Looks like there are possibly more elephant seals living in San Simeon than people! I always thought US folk loved our castles (in the UK) because they didn't have any of their own. But Hearst Castle is pretty old... granted, not as old as many UK castles, but still almost 200 years old.

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    1. the other US castle is Biltmore Estate in North Carolina!

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  19. So many wonderful places to visit. Your refernce to Hearst Castle reminded me that I've always wanted to visit there. Moving that one up on my timeleine.

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  20. Some very interesting stops you two made along the west coast. We recently made a run to Seattle and back, but only had the pleasure of a few coastal stops. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

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  21. We love finding those small, sometimes quirky little towns, too! Did you have any trouble taking the RV on the PCH or were you on a different HWY? I've heard different recommendations about RVing and the PCH.

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  22. Miami of Ohio has an Outdoor Sculpture Park with a very similar sculpture to the one you have pictured. I love to see the larger than life sculptures.

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  23. My daughter, her hubby, and their dog recently moved to Tacoma. Once it's done snowing up there, I want to visit and explore some of these gems along the coast!

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  24. As someone who would always prefer small towns over larger, impersonal cities, I just loved this post. I have always wanted to do a road trip down the west coast and will plan to do so before too long. Having a post like this to refer to is just fabulous because of the detail you have provided of the things you found to see in each of these lovely spots. Thanks so much for sharing the small, but much more rewarding places.

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  25. My sister lives out that way, I will have to check these stops out. Although I haven't been to Astoria, she has and it seems like a cool place for a day trip.

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  26. You saw some great places on your trip! I've never heard of any of them, so it was interesting to read. It's a dream to see this coast one day.

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  27. We have done the travel south from Washington to California several times. And I can’t believe we have not yet stopped in Blaine. Especially since it is so close to BC we could do it as a short trip. The views from there of the San Juan Islands and Mt Baker alone would draw us.

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  28. So many great places to visit! Oregon has always been one of my favorite places to visit so I most definitely would be making a stop here along my journey. This looks a such an awesome opportunity and I like the fact that you spent 2 months on the trip so you really could enjoy yourself. Thanks for sharing!

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  29. The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful area to explore, especially at your own pace. But I hated driving over that Astoria bridge, lol. Way too high!

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  30. I missed all these amazing sites when I was in the Pacific Northwest. I'll definitely have to make sure to visit them the next time I go.

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