San Francisco, CA to Mendocino, CA – Saturday 20th August
During our three days in San Francisco, I had tried and failed to light the gas stove so I could boil some water for tea. There’s no point saying I should go out to Starbucks to buy tea. I need tea as I’m pottering around getting ready in the morning. This is a non-negotiable. On our final morning in my new favourite city of San Francisco, I wake early and sit on the mustard velvet love seat peering out the bay window. While the world goes about its workday morning business, I curl up and catch up on my journal writing. I decide to take one last go at lighting the mid-century stove in our eclectic Air BnB.
Our host is a photographer and the apartment reflects his visual aesthetic. Visual vignettes are everywhere. An over-sized glass candy jar filled with fluorescent-yellow foam earplugs graces the bedside table. 1960s postcards decorate the table lamps perched on the triangular tables twinning the loveseat. A wooden artist mannequin resuscitates a polymer cockroach. There’s a fine line between art installation and amenity in our second floor Oak Street apartment.
With the stove finally conquered, I realise I need to go out hunter-gathering for milk. Americans may like their tea floral, black and insipid but I like mine strong and milky. Coffee here in America is filter coffee with creamer. Creamer is a bizarre concoction of corn syrup solids with hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil and white powder thrown in to make it acceptable. Espresso is yet to take strong hold.
So out I trek to find somewhere to buy milk. I aim for a service station or convenience store thinking that will be my best bet. A block west and half a block north and I find two service stations opposite each other. Things are looking positive. As I stand on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, I pull my jacket tight around me to guard against the chilly early morning wind. Unmarked white buses pull up just prior to the intersection and collect a small number of people I’ve just noticed gathering. Later, I discover this is a common practice to bus staff out of town to large corporate estates.
As I enter the store, I head towards the fridge I see at the rear. There’s no familiarity with the bottles I see on the shelves. Out of the way, I manage to decipher images and words to find plain, unflavoured milk. It would have been easier to buy soft drink, sports drink, juice or even bottled water than milk. America clearly isn’t a strong dairy culture, regardless of the cartons of milk I remember seeing children drinking on television. Like a conqueror, I return home successfully and provide caffeinated beverages to prepare us for a long drive to Mendocino north along the Californian coast, the Pacific Ocean at our side.
955 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA
TRIP TIME 00:19:44
FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $35.11
Driver – Tommy
We get dropped off at the Alamo car rental section of the San Francisco airport. Staying close to our luggage, we take our place in the queue which snakes across communal foyer. The vibrant carpet no doubt hiding all manner of stains. Finally, international licenses in hand it is our turn and we stand at the long counter. At five feet tall, I’m not tall enough to lean on the top of the reception counter and yet somehow seated the rental sales person still manages to look down on me. The psychology of sales is not lost on me.
After negotiating our exit from the car park maze, we can begin the self-guided drive portion of our journey. Heading north we zig zag across to the beachside road. Ambitiously named Great Highway, this road extends not much more than five kilometers. Smack bang between John F Kennedy Drive and Great Highway is our brunch stop Beach chalet brewery and restaurant. Two stores high with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean, I imagine this tourist Mecca gets packed with Happy Hour sunset seekers. Chowder in a roll is what I am here for. By the time we arrive just after 10am, the dining room is half full with weekend brunchers.
Ocean Beach Breakfast for Steve with three eggs scrambled, crispy breakfast potatoes and the chicken apple sausage option. Top of the soup and salads section is my target – pacific chowder in a sourdough bowl topped with oyster crackers. Although the size of a small oyster, these crackers don’t contain any oysters but are often served with oyster stew. As much as I’d like to linger over multiple coffee refills with a view like this, I’m eager to put some miles under our belt.
From here the Golden Gate Bridge is only 20 minutes away, which we choose to approach through The Presidio. A former military post, this large park houses many historic buildings though today we sit patiently in our rental car in the steady traffic stream. Controlled chaos is a positive way to describe the scene around us. Tourist buses jockey with cars for position while pedestrians and cyclists take the wise option with their own designated walkway. Most stop to pose for snaps under the signature red suspension cables, the city in the background and swirling currents below.
All too soon though it’s time for our first pit stop at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma.
Our American brewcation was Excel spreadsheeted to the hour by Steve, so we manage to avoid the heaving crowds by turning up as they open. A tasting paddle of their brewery-only beers and a soft pretzel with beer cheese sauce is a fine late breakfast.
Four days of self-driving through Northern California and Oregon dictate that designated-driver Steve is on strictly limited tastings only. California has a legal blood alcohol concentration of 0.8%. While this is higher than what we are used to, the craft beers we are tasting range up towards wine level of 12% ABV (alcohol by volume). The craft breweries we have planned to visit offer all manner of beers from simple west coast IPAs through to barrel-aged stouts. Thankfully, every place offers small tasting paddles.
I’ve offered to drive more than once but Steve definitely prefers to be in control. I don’t think he likes being a passenger, in any sense of the word. I’m trying to avoid leaving nail marks in the door upholstery. Why is it that each corner delivers an RV travelling too fast and too close to the centreline?
Along the pilgrimage route is Russian River Brew Company. These legendary craft beers are difficult to get anywhere in Australia. If we had wanted to sample beers from their bar, the wait line was over an hour. Instead, we opt for takeaways from their bottle shop, which requires only a 20-minute wait in the noonday sun. We buy their legendary Pliny the Elder which is a Double India Pale Ale that is not only rare in Australia but also overpriced at AU$50 for a standard 500 ml bottle. Much lauded as the ideal DIPA, it regularly receives 95% and higher on beer ratings websites. What do we think we finally get to taste it hours later? Meh. It’s nice but it is nothing more than a well-balanced, bitter fresh ale in the manner of west coast ales with loads of citrus and pine.
We also snag their available barrel aged beers – the Supplication brown ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries, the Temptation blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels and the Consecration ale aged in Cabernet barrels. The Supplication is funky thanks to the added yeast and bacteria and nicely tart from the sour cherries. It’s my kind of beer. The Temptation is buttery and slightly oaky with its time hanging out with the Chardonnay barrel. The Consecration is the youngest of the barrel-aged beers but is satisfyingly full bodied with hints of chocolate and spice. At 10% ABV, this is our sipper beer that end up rounding out our evening.
Before we can get to any of that though we need to complete our allotted day’s brewery visits. Next up we have Anderson Valley Brewery in Boonville, CA. It’s after 3pm by the time we arrive and the dry dusty fields that serve as their car park are full of tents and inebriated campers. Turns out, we’ve happened upon their annual Disc Golf Championship weekend, though we never actually witness the event in action. Essentially a competitive frisbee round-robin, Disc Golf, as we soon discover, has a strong craft beer drinking participation in the west of the United States.
We easily locate the taproom by the steady stream of shoeless people trudging towards an unsigned shed. Now, I know Anderson Valley beers from buying them overpriced from our fabulous bar/bottle shop near our house. Their tart thirst-quenching Briny Melon Gose is a go-to for my summer drinking. Salt and watermelon? What’s not to love about that in a beer. Cans and bottles of Dreef Fooper IPA, Boone Amber Ale, Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Blood Orange Gose find their way into our cooler. Two litre Growlers and six-packs fill the hands of campers as they stock up and make their way back to their camps, like ants filling the home stores.
Just before we get to Mendocino where we are to stay for the evening, we stop in the town of Little River and buy some snacks for dinner from the only store in town. Its dark weathered exterior nestles into the grey green cliff side, white breakers relentless below. Inside is a bustling well-stocked convenience store that sells bait, beer, groceries and hot food. Crackers, some cured meats, cheese. Earlier we bought ourselves a cooler box so we would have cold beer with us at each destination.
Sitting on a damp garden bench, my bare feet push into the humus rich earth beneath them. Though low clouds have rolled in from the Pacific Ocean hiding the tops of the dark redwoods in their misty skirts, the sky beyond is still bright. Our tiny log cabin is marginally larger than our queen-sized bed. An electric kettle, for which I’m grateful, sits upon the mini-fridge. Gathering what we need for the evening from the boot of our rental vehicle (an oversized SUV), I’m eager to simultaneously flop onto the bed with its soft, white linen and explore my surrounds.
The main house is quaint, pale yellow weatherboards and dark grey slate roof. Chooks roam free everywhere except the fenced off vegetable garden. The host family – mum, dad, five year old daughter, eight and eighteen year old sons – are tucked up inside going about their evening routines. I can hear no cars, no airplanes. It’s odd – this loud silence, almost unnerving. The sound of my pencil rustling against the paper is louder than the birds in the woods that surround me.