Cloverdale – “Don’t Despair You’re Almost There”…

We almost skipped the wine country in the Sonoma area because we have been there so many times. I know… sacrilegious right??? I came to my senses after further reflection and a glass of wine of course. Hwy 101 would take us right through the Russian River, Anderson Valley and Dry Creek area so we finally decided that a four day stop over would be just perfect. I also hemmed and hawed because the RV Parks in this area are not great nor plentiful. After a lot of research, I reluctantly booked a site at the Cloverdale KOA. The reviews were okay but the road getting there was going to be interesting in our big ass coach. Four miles of narrow but well paved roads that were windy and steep according to what I had read. After the 16% grade at Laguna Seca, I figured it would be a piece of cake. Easy for me to say since I wasn’t going to be driving!!

The one piece of Hwy 101 that we both agreed to divert around was in SFO…as much as I loved the idea of cruising over the Golden Gate Bridge in the Road House, Wally was adamant that he didn’t want to drive through all the traffic in SFO. We took the Richmond route around the bay which is really scenic as well. The traffic was still heavy but it wasn’t bad at all.

Heading into Richmond…

Definitely not as exciting as the Golden Gate Bridge but very pretty.

Soon we were toodling along through the vineyards and reminiscing about the areas we had visited before as we passed through Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg and on up the valley. The temperatures were also climbing, down right hot compared to the coastal area we had just left behind.

The four mile adventure up the windy, steep but well paved road was a bit of a white knuckler, especially for me as I was sitting on the side of the road that dropped off, had no shoulder and no guard rail. Little did I know that there was more of this to come on our Hwy 101 road trip. Wally is a great driver so of course we arrived no worse for wear.

Yes, this sign was actually on the last sharp turn on the steep windy road to the KOA. Sorry its blurry, but that’s how I felt too!!!

The Cloverdale KOA was a welcome oasis …beautiful grounds albeit “rustic” but not as rustic as the Laguna Seca Campground. A large rolling property on the hillside with a pond, cabins, pool and great walking trail for Bentley. We really enjoyed the birds, wildlife and roaring camp fires at night. It was remarkably warm during our stay in this area which seemed odd for this time of year in Northern California but hey, we weren’t complaining.

Now these are some seriously “rustic” pinball machines. The game room at the Cloverdale KOA was filled with these relics. The weird one below is a very, very old PAC-MAN game which didn’t work very well. DANG!!!
Totally worth the crazy drive up the hill…such a beautiful setting.

There are no shortage of things to do in this area and our next three days were filled with winery visits, exploring Healdsburg (which we have always loved) and a day drive to the Anderson Valley area.

Great outdoor living space at this hotel in Healdsburg.

Healdsburg is a dynamic small town in the middle of the Sonoma Valley wine area. Very picturesque with an old town square, great restaurants and shops. It has a fun vibe and we really enjoyed sitting outside for lunch at Willi’s and visiting the Rock Pile Winery tasting room.

All this in one alley off the main street …what more do ya need!

We also visited a long time favorite – Ridge Winery. This winery has some serious viniculture history and produces amazing wines. Their Monte Bello Cabernet was among California’s finest wines of the early winemaking era in the 60’s. We particularly love their Zinfandels and in the day, when we had a 500 bottle wine cellar, there were verticals of Ridge wines in there. Their first zinfandel was made in 1964, from a small nineteenth-century vineyard nearby and in 1966, the first Geyserville zinfandel was produced.

Look at those old vines…

The Dry Creek General Store is another one of our fav’s…established in 1881 this place is a destination lunch stop in the area. The deli has incredible sandwiches and picnic supplies, many folks pre-order box lunches to take to wine tasting but it is also a charming place to have lunch.

The Dry Creek General Store not only has great food…it has some cool history and fun shopping!

So many beautiful places in this area….YES, I am glad we stopped over here!!!
Picnicking in the Anderson Valley at Navarro Winery.

One of our all time favorite finds on this stopover was Penny Royal Farm. Sheep graze in the vineyards and this small Agri-Farm not only makes some excellent wines they specialize in goat/sheep cheese. The cheese and wine pair was amazing…a must do if you come to this area.

Yes …we bought cheese and wine.
The fennel dusted goat cheese and pinot noir pairing was da bomb!!
Another great wine stop near Healdsburg.

Tired of wine tasting..how about a game of bocce ball!!!
Or just enjoy a picnic and the serene setting.

There is truly no shortage of things to do in the Sonoma area and our four night stopover was filled with fun and sun. If you are thinking about a trip to this beautiful valley check out the Sonoma Valley website and IMHO stay the hell out of Napa…well, unless you enjoy pretentious and expensive, then I would say go for it!!!

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Raceways and Cliff Sides

I am way behind on updates from our 101 trip…sorry but we are having so much fun that its been hard to find the time to write. Don’t hate me because I’m honest, okay???

Monterey was on the 101 agenda as a great base camp to check out the area. We had been there many moons ago but never really explored north of the city of Monterey. When I was looking for a place to base camp in the area, the Laguna Seca Raceway campground came up. It is in the perfect location close to Monterey, high up in the hills with killer views over looking the valley and had partial hookups (water and electric but no sewer hookup). Sounded good plus there were no big events going on so it would be relatively quiet.

I was intrigued by the raceway as Wally had told me loads of stories about his batchelor days and going to Laguna Seca with the guys for the races and camping. After some further research, I knew we had to go up a very steep hill to get to the campground and got the feeling it would be rustic. No deal breakers so I booked us for four nights.

What goes up …must come down!!!

Boy howdy was the road steep, we crawled up the 16% grade like a snail. Yes, the campground is very rustic, not much care or upgrades happening here. Our original campsite was a mess, also on a steep hill and the front of the driveway was so rutted that I knew we would bottom out the coach trying to back in. Luckily, the very nice camp host found us a different site further up the hill. It didn’t have much usable outdoor space but the views were killer…did I mention that the water isn’t potable??? High arsenic levels…thankfully I knew that ahead of time so we went into the site with a full tank of water. After the very busy, kid filled “RV Resort” in Buellton, rustic was just fine as was the peace and quiet!!!

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is an 11-turn, 2.238-mile jewel of a road course on California’s beautiful central coast. While the track is a favorite of racers and fans worldwide, many focus on one specific section—officially Turns 8 and 8A—or more commonly known as The Corkscrew.

The raceway and grounds, we were camping to the far right up on the hill. There was literally no one there like in the photo. (Photo courtesy of WeatherTech)

I had to see this famous one-of-a-kind turn so after getting set up in our “rustic” site, we hiked around the raceway after watching some practice driving being done. Here’s what makes the hard-left, hard-right combination so spectacular according to the raceway website:
“At the apex to Turn 8 (the lefthander and entry to The Corkscrew), the elevation change is a 12 percent drop. By the time a race car reaches the apex of Turn 8A (the righthander), the elevation is at its steepest – an 18 percent drop. The Corkscrew drops 59 feet between the entrance of Turn 8 to the exit of Turn 8A—the equivalent of a 5½ story drop—in only 450 feet of track length. From Turn 8 to Turn 9, the elevation falls 109 feet, or just over 10 stories.”

Holy crap, after reading this and seeing it with my own eyes I was really wishing there were some races going on. We inquired about any opportunities to tour or get on the track but unless you are paying big bucks for a driving class or are part of a racing club but we got a black flag which means no go!

We spent the next four days exploring up and down Hwy 1 in the car. Killer hikes, great view points, amazing restaurants, quirky coffee shops and loads of fresh produce that was being grown in the Salinas area made this a wonderful area to explore. Other than some windy days, the weather was spectacular and the Monterey area did not disappoint.

What a great walk, the flora, fauna and birds along the way were all so photogenic.

We fell in love with the small city of Pacific Grove, it hit all the markers for us on the potential places to live except affordability. The average house price is $1.1M…eeekkkk! Check out this cute place…only $849K but it has been remodeled!

This area has such charm and a great waterfront park with a 6.2 mile oceanside walking path. We had a great dinner at Passion Fish and loved the walking trail.

Walking with a buddy is always fun!

Our two favorite hikes were both along the ocean cliffs with not only great views but some fun sealife too. The 7,000 acre Wilder Ranch State Park has several hiking options along with some neat old California ranching history. We did the Old Cove Landing Trail. This easy 3 mile hike follows the ocean to the scenic overlook above Wilder Beach which is a snowy plover preserve. Just beyond, you’ll find Old Cove Landing, where schooners anchored in the 1800s. Continue along the coast on the Ohlone Bluff Trail to post 8, where there’s a spur trail leading to Fern Grotto Beach. A quarter mile beyond the spur trail is Sand Plant Beach. From there, head downhill over the railroad track and back to the parking lot. So much to see along the way.

Thats a pile of seals down there!!!

For more cliffside ocean views and hiking, a drive along HWY 1 to Big Sur is just the ticket. Wild and scenic, Hwy 1 is not big coach friendly but traveling in a car is just fine.

Love the coastal fog in the background of this photo.
So many great hiking and photography options along Hwy 1.

Pfeiffer Beach in the Big Sur area is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. Just south of Big Sur Station on Highway 1 is unsigned Sycamore Canyon Road which winds its way down to the shore. The two-mile long road is paved, but it is twisty and narrow so RV’s and trailers are not allowed (look for the yellow “Narrow Road” sign at the turn-off). Oh, and there many be a few water crossings!

From the parking area you have a short walk down to the beach. At this location Sycamore Canyon Creek empties into the Pacific and a rocky point protects some of the sand at the cove. Waves crash hard all around and the beach north of here invites exploration at lower tides. Tide pools can be found here at low tide too. The focal point of the beach is Keyhole Rock which has an amazing natural arch at the base where salt water, and even the last rays of daylight, can pass through. This beach is beautiful at sunset and frequently professionally photographed. It was incredibly windy the day we were there and the waves were huge making the beach a bit scary and awesome at the same time.

The noise in the video is the wind…no picnic on the beach that day. The waves coming on both sides of these rocks were huge…no good pics unfortunately.

Loved this part of California and our 5 days there went way to quickly. Next stop…Cloverdale CA for some more wine tasting!!!