Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of a road trip has to be one of travel’s most inspiring moments. Down below, San Francisco Bay glitters, while ahead the giant suspension towers rise.
The sense of escape and adventure is palpable as you cruise along at 45mph (the speed limit) across one of America’s icons.
What a way to start a thousand-mile drive from the centre of the dot-com world, up Highways 1 and 101 to Seattle in Washington State.
‘Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of a road trip has to be one of travel’s most inspiring moments,’ writes Tom
The secret is to pace yourself and learn to love life on the freeway, with empty roads twisting ahead and some of America’s finest scenery to marvel at. There Is No Need To Rush.
This became the mantra for me and my girlfriend almost from the start, and we stopped on the coast for a picnic just a dozen miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where cliffs plunged hundreds of feet and the ocean spread out ahead.
Gulls soared. Turkey vultures drifted in the thermals. Waves crashed on boulders far below. You already felt a long way from anywhere.
So began a journey that quickly transported us into smalltown America. Tiny places on Highway 1 with picket fences, clapboard houses, oyster shacks and old-style saloons came and went as the road hugged the coast.
Our first stopover was a teeny spot called Little River, where we’d booked a room at the old-fashioned Little River Inn.
Eye-catching Trinidad State Beach, which lies around a five-hour drive north of San Francisco
There, we dropped off our bags, drank ice-cold beers at a no-nonsense bar and tucked into spicy fish tacos. Locals in baseball caps nattered at the bar. A ballgame flickered on TV.
Not much else was going on. Smalltown America was doing what smalltown America does best: being down-to-earth.
Then, in the morning we hit the highway to Trinidad, snaking into California’s fabled redwood parks.
Driving between the giant sequoias felt like travelling back to prehistoric times. Everything seemed so big. And you seem so small, especially if you visit the Chandelier Tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park.
This 276ft-tall redwood has a hole cut in the base and for $10 (£7.10) you drive through the middle. We did so (pushing in the side mirrors, as it’s tight) before heading on through the Avenue of the Giants — yet more sequoias — to Trinidad.
This really was very smalltown America, with a pizzeria, a diner (where the locals stopped talking when we entered), a grocery shop and not much else.
The Chandelier Tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park. This 276ft-tall redwood has a hole cut in the base and for $10 (£7.10) you drive through the middle
We lit a fire in our cabin, cooked a meal, drank Buds. After a long journey — 300 miles north of San Francisco already — it was good to unwind.
The next day, Oregon awaited. It is down-at-heel in this part of northern California before the Oregon border: pawn shops, sprawling RV (recreational vehicle) camps, discount liquor stores and legalised marijuana shops (‘Need weed? Take a right at the light’).
Across the state line, logging towns emerged, with strips of fast-food joints and motels, beyond which we crossed a fine Art Deco bridge above the Siuslaw river and found ourselves in Florence.
The fine Art Deco bridge above the Siuslaw river, which Tom crossed on his way into Florence
No Uffizi or Michelangelo’s David in this Florence, which is a tiny lumber and fishing ‘city’, but there was a pleasant motel, as well as inviting steak and seafood restaurants by the river’s edge.
It was a perfect spot to plan the next day’s route and some sightseeing, which included Florence’s amazing sand dunes — ‘Oregon’s Sahara’ — and the equally extraordinary Sea Lion Caves, home to hundreds of the noisy creatures.
From Florence, the road leads onwards and upwards past a ‘Gun Shop: We Buy Guns’, along a creek covered in yellow lilies, and then inland between vineyards, as snow-capped Mount Jefferson rises majestically ahead.
Here, you join Interstate 5 amid a flow of trucks. Here also, you may decide to stop at a Nike discount outlet at Woodburn (as we did… the prices are half those in the UK). Then we arrived in Portland, one of America’s hippest cities.
The extraordinary Sea Lion Caves in Oregon, which is home to hundreds of the noisy creatures
From Florence, writes Tom, the road leads onwards and upwards past a ‘Gun Shop: We Buy Guns’, along a creek covered in yellow lilies, and then inland between vineyards, as snow-capped Mount Jefferson (pictured) rises majestically ahead
Our hotel was in a neighbourhood buzzing with craft breweries. Buskers sang Jimi Hendrix songs. Markets offered delicious Korean and Japanese dishes. Glasses clinked in bars.
Indulgence seemed to be the way to go, so we indulged ourselves.
We were sad to leave, but it was cloudy and rainy on our final day: the drive to Seattle.
Interstate 5 was busy yet again as we splashed our way along in the Chevrolet, with Mount St Helens somewhere to the right. And then the skyscrapers arose. We turned off a flyover and checked in at a downtown hotel.
Volcano Mount St Helens, which lies to the east of Interstate 5 and around 180 miles south of Seattle
In Seattle, Tom took boat trips, ate at a seafood market, popped into the Museum of Pop Culture and rode an elevator to the top of the 605ft-tall Space Needle (seen here on the left)
Another Big Smoke awaited: boat trips on Elliott Bay; lunch at the vibrant Pike Place seafood market; a visit to the excellent Museum of Pop Culture (Hendrix and Nirvana were from Seattle); a ride to the top of the 605ft Space Needle.
A week’s drive in the U.S. can take you to a lot of wonderful places.
All that remained was the short journey to the airport. A thousand miles almost exactly, said the milometer… and as many memories, too.