California Highway 101 in the Winter

California Highway 101 in the Winter

Photo by Cheryl, Editor

After driving up and down I-5 between Bellingham Washington and San Diego California dozens of times, after retirement we decided to take the 5th wheel on a ‘snowbird trip’ along the coast route following Hwy 1 or Hwy 101.   I mean, who wants to be in Washington in the winter?   We planned a 3 month trip using our campground memberships when we could, cutting the cost of an overnight stay from $30-$60+ a night down to $15.

January 10th. Left northwest Washington in a drizzle which only got worse as we drove further south. Lesson #1.   We had reservations for Seaside Oregon in the middle of a winter storm.   We didn’t need reservations in January because the campgrounds are almost totally empty. We should have waited to get a good weather forecast and then call for the reservation when we knew we’d have a window of better weather.   Seaside wind just howled all night long and we had a very rough two nights.   Our 30 am cord blew out of the power post and we just froze.   I suggested we stay hooked up to the big Ford pickup as an anchor, but husband thought I was crazy and went back to sleep.

No wifi or cable tv at this campground.   The manager suggested that because we were camping, maybe we should leave the electronics at home.   We shared that we were going to be gone for 3 months and wanted to stay in touch.   We ended up using the clubhouse wifi and watched the Seahawks playoff game (against the Saints) in the lounge.

January 12th.   Surprising how many people came down to the coast to watch the storm – standing at the edge of a cliff in 40 knot winds.   We saw huge crashing waves coming in.   At long last, we finally pulled in to a Thousand Trails campground in Florence Oregon.   This park had all the amenities including cable TV!   The park is in a very dense woods and the storm blew over us.   We enjoyed many little towns down the Oregon coast – and would like to do this trip again when the weather is better.

January 13 – 16th.   Eureka!   Now this is where it gets weird.   The storm passed. California is in a severe drought and not a drop fell in this area.   We sat outside in shortsleeves, in Eureka CA, in the middle of winter and 74 degrees!   What?!!   Shorebird RV park is very nice, all paved, good services.   We parked far from the road to get away from the highway noise and it was just grand.   Because we were there for four days, we got to explore the Victorian town and surrounding area and stay awhile.   We thoroughly enjoyed the Fort Humbolt Historical Park situated on a bluff overlooking Humboldt Bay. This remote military post was established in 1853 to assist in conflict resolution between Native Americans and gold-seekers and settlers who had begun flooding into the area after the discovery of gold in the northern mines.

January 17th.   We sadly left Eureka for Leggitt CA.   Because we’re retired and in no hurry at all, we took the side road through the Avenue of Giants – part of the Redwood Forest. “Huge” just isn’t a big enough word!   And the smell of the deep forest is just amazing.   What a magical place!   We stopped for the night at our reserved site and found it to be less than expected.   Sites are impossible to back into, many people living there with everything they own under blue plastic tarps, and not the cleanest place we’ve ever been.   Moved on. We pushed down the road to Golden Rule RV Park in Willits CA for 4 nights.   Hadn’t planned to stay here at all, and what a great little town.

Big on the hubby’s attractions was the Roots of Motive Power Museum started in 1982 to preserve and restore steam- and diesel-powered equipment used in the California north coast logging industry from the 1850s to the present. We spent the better part of the day with the volunteers who were resorting engines, repairing track, and painting.

A side trip took us down to Fort Brag on a windy narrow little road (glad we didn’t try this with the 5th wheel!) to the Sea Glass Beach.   There were dozens of people down at the beach looking through a huge deposit of seaglass where the city dump used to be.   The tide and waves broke the bottles and glass and hence, millions of pieces of glass in the little cove. The weather was glorious!

No TV in our RV park, so we figured out how to watch the next playoff game against the 49ers on my laptop in the laundry room that had wifi.   It’s probably just as well that we didn’t go to a bar as we were definitely in 49’er territory!   Hawks won!

January 21 – 23. Cloverdale at the Russian River.   The sad little Russian River is almost a trickle in this draught.   The locals are getting pretty worried about the wine crop and fire danger. (We’re from Washington and have seen plenty of rain so are just enjoying the sunshine.)

We are now truly in wine country.   There are millions and millions of vines on every hill, around every corner, as far as the eye can see.   We got a wine map at the Chamber of Commerce and are visiting the wineries that are dog friendly.   We have our 11 year old blind cocker spaniel, Mikki, with us.   She still likes traveling even though she can’t see and does well on the leash where we can keep her from crashing into things.   Her tail works fine!

My favorite wine country town was Healdsburg, CA.   Charming town with lovely restaurants, big eucalyptus trees, bookstores and shops.   I found the best kitchen store and ran into a couple from our hometown in the wineglass section!

January 24-29th.   The road has taken us inland and we are in the delta area of Isleton between Lodi and Concord.   We have relatives in the Bay Area and being retired means we can visit more.   They are still working, poor dears, so we work around their schedules.   Lodi is a farming community with a nice downtown area.   We got “fresh tortillas” from the Mexican market – always a highlight on a trip to California.   Most of these markets have a corner of the store where they make the tortillas every day and you get them still warm from the oven.   They are SO good!


January 30-February 2nd.   Moving south again, we are in Pleasanton at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.   Pleasanton is a great little town with lots of trees and great shops downtown.   A bedroom community of the Bay Area, it has easy access into the city by way of the fast, economical Bart trains.

My husband was celebrating his 65th birthday, so we took his brother and wife with us on the Napa Valley Wine Train for a wonderful afternoon meal in the dome car!   This is a 5 star restaurant on wheels.   The wine and meal were just grand.   For a special treat, you don’t want to miss this experience. And another lovely day to boot!

February 3rd.   Left Pleasanton for a short ride back to 101 and down to San Juan Bautista.   The grapevines are growing here too!   Sleepy little farming town with a wonderful fresh produce market.   One night.

Feb 4th.   Another one night stay – in Morro Bay. The most expensive park to date at $49.50 – not in our camping network. The park is right on the beach with good wifi and cable tv. We walked out on the beach to the big Morrow Bay rock which has to be twice the size of the rock at Cannon Beach Oregon. We stayed next to a nice couple from Las Vegas in the park.   They were travelling with 3 cats!

Feb 5th – 8th. Today we are at the Oceano CA Thousand Trails Campground.   If you ever stay here, stay in the lower park.   The upper side gets huge winds in the afternoon.   The park has a horse stable and this little yellow tabby cat came running out from the office to visit with our dog!   The blind dog was very excited to visit with a cat – not something that happens every day.   The 5 horses shared the field with thousands of ground squirrels who didn’t like us walking by at all!   We drove back up the road to San Luis Obispo and what a charming place that is! “SBO” as the locals call it is evidently one of the most popular places to retire on the south coast.   Big eucalyptus trees, Victorian houses, and a vibrant downtown area.   Poor Bill, the train museum hasn’t opened for the season yet.

We finally got a drizzle of rain here and it was good to nest for a day.

February 9th.   Santa Barbara.   We stayed in RV Park in Goleta at $67 a night!   Beautiful park, wifi, cable, paved roads, pool, etc.     We went into SB and walked out on the pier after seeing the weekend art show at the beach.   Santa Barbara “the American Riveria” is a beautiful city. The white-washed builings with Spanish style red tile roofs are everywere, as are tall swaying palm trees and the sound of waves coming into shore. On a day such as this, it’s easy to see why so many of the rich and famous have picked this as their paradise.   A true art community, galleries are everywhere and there is a good deal of public art to enjoy as well.

February 10th and 11th.   Ventura California.   The Ventura RV park is very nice but right on Highway 101 which has become a freeway the closer we got to Los Angeles.   It is very noisy. The beach is a ten minute walk from the park, through a tunnel under the highway.   And we have another gorgeous day in Paradise.   We love Ventura.   Everything is in walking distance from our park with nice shops, a good grocery store, a well laid out downtown area.   This is on the outskirts of LA and there is a lot of traffic.

After a month of travelling, we are ready to head over to Palm Springs and start the next page of our adventure.   Any other year, this would have been a soggy wet drive down the coast in the winter.   We lucked out almost the whole way with sunshine.   Who knew it could take a month to get from NW Washington to LA?   But, hey, we’re retired!







Cheryl and her husband have just recently retired and live in the Pacific Northwest. She has been enjoying her herself by traveling around the world, playing with her grandchildren, and she frequently volunteers in her community. There is certainly never a dull moment with Cheryl. She cheerfully co-founded RetireBook and wants to share her energy, hoping that it inspires her readers to live life at its fullest.