The Ultimate Road Trip from Los Angeles to Bellingham, Washington

At first, I talked myself out of it. We were going stir-crazy in our very hot apartment here in L.A. and Craig said we should drive up the California coast, up the Oregon coast, and finally to visit his family in Bellingham, Washington, where they share a cabin in the summers with friends on Eliza Island, at the tip of the San Juans. It sounded ideal, but also a little scary in Covid-times: where would we stay along the way? Where would we eat? Would it be safe? I came down on the “no” side and Craig was disappointed.

Then he decided to fly. He started looking at tickets. Fly! Wasn’t that more dangerous? What germs would he encounter on the plane? Would he be bringing them to his parents? Back to me? I recalculated the risk of driving: we would have to stay in hotels or AirBnBs, but face-to-face interactions could still be minimized. Food-wise we could stick to outside or drive-throughs. Plus: wouldn’t it be great to get out of this fiery cauldron? I re-approached the idea while walking Winston and shifted my stance. “Let’s just do it!” I said and, before we knew it, we were on our way.

Craig had long fantasized about driving up the California coast, zooming along the cliffs James Bond-style. I had long fantasized about going up the California coast and eating at all the delicious places along the way, including The Big Sur Bakery, whose cookbook I have somewhere in my collection. As it was, the zig-zagging car ride made me pretty nauseous, and stopping at the bakery didn’t fit in our schedule, so we just zoomed on up to Carmel for our first night.

We stayed at The Carmel Lodge, right in the middle of town, which had a nice-enough room and a pretty unbeatable location. Surprisingly, there were crowds of people on the streets, which was a little unnerving. We made our way to the beach and let Winston run around a bit, which he loved. For dinner, I’d made reservations at Il Tegamino because it was outside, it allowed dogs, and it was on one of Eater’s lists.

Like many people, I’ve had reservations about dining out during Covid, not for just for our safety, but for the safety of the people who are working at these restaurants. On the road, though, it felt justifiable, especially since we weren’t likely to be in Carmel again anytime soon. This seafood pasta hit the spot, and was a perfect thing to eat near the beach. And we were sure to wear a mask anytime we were interacting with the staff.

We designed the trip so that every day’s drive was between six and eight hours — we had gone to visit friends in Sun Valley, Idaho, earlier this summer, and the thirteen hour car drive was pretty extreme — and breaking it up this way allowed us to visit lots of places we’d always been meaning to visit. It was also kinder to Winston, who was a trooper in the back seat.

Our next stop was Ashland, Oregon, where Craig gone in the past for the Shakespeare Festival, something he’d been raving to me about for years. Sadly, there was no Shakespeare Festival this summer, but Ashland was still charming to visit for its own sake (and maybe the lack of a Shakespeare Festival allowed us to concentrate on its other charms).

We stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel, an iconic, historic hotel, smack in the middle of town: you can’t miss it, it’s a big yellow building, the tallest for miles. The hotel was really great: you could enter through the back, so you didn’t have to ride the elevator, and the room was very clean and dog-friendly.

Craig’s old friends Todd and Jessica live in Ashland — Todd works for the Shakespeare Festival — and they had us to their backyard, where we got to hang out with their kids, admire their peach tree (they gave us peaches to take with us), and enjoy this cheese plate, featuring cheeses from Rogue Creamery, which took top prize recently in the World Cheese Awards. Also: Todd and Jessica grew these cucumbers and tomatoes.

The next day, it was time to do the final haul to Bellingham. In the car, we mostly listened to music (God bless you, Sirius Broadway, which Craig tolerated for bits at a time), the occasional podcast (loving Desert Island Discs), and every so often we’d ask each other a profound or perverted question. Finally, we arrived and we met up with Craig’s sister Kristin and crew at a new Bellingham pizza place called Storia Cucina.

This may have been one of my favorite meals of the trip: never have I been happier to sip a cold Negroni and to bite into a perfectly crusty slice of pizza.

The next morning, we set sail for Eliza Island. There was some confusion finding the ferry (it’s not an actual ferry, it’s a guy named Bob who shuttles people into the San Juan Islands) but once we were on it, the air never smelled sweeter and never had I felt so proud to have finally reached my destination.

And, at last, there we were on Eliza Island with Craig’s family: 1200 miles away from L.A.

We spent a week there doing all of the things you do on an island in the Pacific Northwest. We caught Dungeness crab and ate it with rosé on the beach.

We kayaked around the island and saw seals on Seal Rock.

Steve, Craig’s dad, made the world’s best crab cakes; Julee, Craig’s mom, made that incredible blackberry peach crisp using peaches from Todd and Jessica’s backyard and blackberries that we picked ourselves. We watched Kristin cuddle with Winston while the sun set over Lummi Island (home of The Willows Inn).

And just like that, a week flew by and it was time to ferry back to Bellingham. Craig and I had dinner that night at Temple Bar, which was excellent, and ice cream at Mallard’s which was even more excellent. (I went with Coconut Chocolate Chunk with Almonds + Blackberry, which we ate in the car.)

Now I’m one of those people who has a hard time, at the end of a vacation, to truly enjoy those final moments instead of preparing myself for the big return to normal life. This trip didn’t really allow for that, though, because Craig was intent on showing me the Oregon coast instead of trying to zoom back home in two days. So our next stop? Cannon Beach, Oregon.

It took us a while to get there — we hit traffic going into Astoria and didn’t have time to see the Goonies house (which, apparently, is difficult to see anyway) — but finally we made it to our hotel, the splurgiest hotel of our trip, The Ocean Lodge (pictured above), which we absolutely loved. If we had endless money and endless time, I’d stay here for a whole week; as it was, we had one night, so we scurried down to the beach.

As suspicious as I was of Craig’s claims about how beautiful the Oregon Coast was, it was hard to deny it once I was there. This may be one of the Top Three beaches of my life (cue the Beaches soundtrack!) and Haystack Rock, which you see here, is absolutely stunning. Winston loved it too: he ran around like crazy and even found a few chicken legs to gnaw on.

That night, we tried to have dinner at Public Coast Brewing Company (per this Eater article), but it was a madhouse. So we just wandered into town and found a great restaurant, that seemed more local and authentic anyway, called Driftwood where I ate an amazing Oyster Po’Boy with oysters from Williams Bay washed down with a citrusy IPA from Astoria.

Winston enjoyed all the scraps that fell to the floor under the table.

The next morning, we grabbed coffee and a Kouign Aman from the lovely bakery/coffee shop, Sea Level.

Then we hit the road for our final stop of this big journey: Redding, California.

We didn’t know what to expect in Redding, but it was a perfect place to stop. We had a luxurious dinner at In-N-Out Burger, almost as satisfying as that pizza in Bellingham (maybe it helped that I’d been snacking on pretzels and M&Ms all day and was so hungry). Double double animal style, naturally, and extra-well fries for me.

We checked into our hotel, the Sheraton Redding at the Sundial Bridge, which is actually a Marriott Bonvoy? I was expecting a fine-enough hotel, but I actually loved it here: the room was so cozy with top-notch A/C and the best thing, of all? Outlets in the nightstands. It was so easy to plug in our phones.

We took Winston out for an evening stroll along the Sundial Bridge, by Santiago Calatrava, which cost $23.5 million and is pretty stunning. As was this sunset.

The next morning, we grabbed some Starbucks from the lobby, and completed the long haul home.

So, was it worth it? Absolutely! All of those fears that I had about hotel rooms and being on the road, in general, were for naught. Sure, we exposed ourselves to more risk than we would have just staying home, but sometimes the reward outweighs the risk. And that was definitely the case here.

If any good thing came out of this pandemic, it was an awareness of how easy it is to get into your car and have an adventure. Post-pandemic, I plan to make it a regular habit.

Related Posts:

Surfacing on Eliza Island (Amateur Gourmet)

My Dungeness Crab Adventure (Amateur Gourmet)

Get Away to Kennebunkport (Amateur Gourmet)

Our Tour De France (David Lebovitz)

Healthy Eating While Traveling (101 Cookbooks)

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