Coastal CA

No, No, I Want to Live HERE: Our Favorite Northern California Towns

Wednesday August 26, 2015

The highlight of our trip through Mendocino and Humboldt Counties was certainly all of the small, unexpected towns we passed through. Ornate, Victorian villages manifesting out of thin air? Yes, more of those please.

Oh, and you can also find chocolatiers, home-made tofu, iron workers, and artists? And, is that a Pacific Ocean beckoning across the street and snow-capped mountain looming overhead?

Northern California is nothing short of magical.

Here is a list of the towns and cities we visited. I’d highly recommend a tour through any/all of them on your next road trip.

(You’ll notice that we traveled during the Christmas holidays. It’s my favorite time of year to travel, mostly because I’m a sucker for a Christmas tree and twinkle lights. I love seeing cities all dressed up.)






Obviously, we start with Mendocino, a town of coastal Victorian cottages and storefronts tumbling off a cliff nearly into the Pacific. Majestic, beautiful, and unbelievable.




Driving towards it, it appears as something that shouldn’t be. The main drag on the oceanfront is rife with tourists, cars, and their requisite attractions — an absolute jarring contrast between the stunning beauty of the spot and the flashy, car-choked reality of it. Which is why you should head inward. Stepping a few blocks away, you walk down empty, verdant, overgrown streets to pastel cottages home to artists, restaurants, and shops. Using the sidewalk is a formality.





Fort Bragg

We stopped in Fort Bragg purely for Cowlicks Hand Made Ice Cream, but ended up more intrigued by the city itself. (We’re urban planners after all.)

Fort Bragg appears as a previously thriving middle class city, that has stumbled onto complicated times. It is also a Victorian city on the ocean, but this one with dramatically fewer tourists and slightly more real. This was Dave’s favorite city on our trip, perhaps purely for its beautiful idiosyncrasies. Like The Larry King School of Common Sense Physics. We wished we could have spent more time here, to figure it out, but we had to move on to…






Stars Hollow, settled in remote northern California. Here’s the library, there’s the school. A museum, hardware shop. Church steeples pierce the skyline at regular intervals. More so than the other cities we saw, this was a compact town that seemingly held everything its townspeople needed, within a few blocks. All of the Victorian bungalow homes were immaculately maintained. The gingerbread had overtaken the entire town, and the fact that we stumbled onto a home-made sweet shoppe was entirely expected.

In other words, a dreamlike movie set. This had to be a facade of towny perfection.

Needless to say, this is where I wanted to relocate to. There must even be a gazebo, and kind-hearted yet simple future boyfriend-motorcyclist for Bean, somewhere.






This is the largest city we visited (at 29,000) and also the county seat of Humboldt County. It also felt like the largest, with blocks of lawyer’s offices and courthouses, followed by blocks of restaurants, bookstores, and shops.




On the night we were there, though, we wondered who this was all for. The glittering, attractive city was lit up in Christmas finery, beautiful stores were aglow with merchandise, and restaurants dotted our walk. But, we were alone. We seemed to have the city to ourselves. Like a college town during winter break. We kept wondering where everyone else was? Were we too early? Too late? Maybe the downtown dies at night?




And we’re still wondering. We spent the night, and never saw too many other people milling around. Eureka, we wish more people would come enjoy you more.





Mount Shasta

What a terribly cute little mountain city. A series of brick, gingerbread buildings, with the ever-present Mount Shasta hovering over the city.  The shops and hotels are fairly straight-forward, catering to hard-core skiers who Dave tells me aren’t a demanding, pampered bunch. We did find bookstores and chic coffee shops, because you may have guessed, I’m not a hard-core skier, and need a side of hot chocolate with my snowy mountain village.






As I was saying, Mount Shasta doesn’t exactly pamper and so we stayed in McCloud. McCloud is home to a couple bed and breakfasts, and seems to have been created whole cloth out of a Lifetime Christmas movie. Wide streets and no sidewalks, you walk under hanging trees with constant views of Mount Shasta.




McCloud has no real “downtown” or main strip. The only restaurants and shops are in the bed and breakfasts, but they’re a real treat. Old-timey general stores with walls of candy and goods, and delicious, delicate home-made food. Large, stately homes line the streets, the kind of homes where you would have a 10 foot tall Christmas tree and spend immense amounts on garland, purely because the house itself demands it.

McCloud is clearly where I will end up once I’m a Nancy Meyers character.

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