For the first time, we skipped taking the 5 to Washington and chose to travel up the Oregon coast instead. Instead of dodging semi-trucks while being forced into an air conditioned environment, we wound along rocky beaches, enjoying both the improved view and the comfort of coastal temps.

Everyone always says, “Oh, you should go up the coast! It’s so beautiful!” And it is, but no more stunning than the Trinidad-to-Crescent City drive. The way people talk, I’d expected a vista even more exponentially majestic. Perhaps my own love of place prejudices me into missing something – and truly, the Oregon coast is magnificent – but we’re lacking for nothing when it comes to that particular humbling combination of ocean, rocks and sky. In addition, our northern coast includes giant, protected redwoods, whereas Oregon looks as if someone took a lawnmower to its forests.

The number of towns surprised me, as did the lack of character exhibited by almost every building we passed. To be fair, though, if one drives through Eureka or Crescent City only on the highway, the experience would leave the same impression. (Rant from Bobby: “The man-made structures are horrible! Strip-mall mentality, everything all spread out!”)

Bridge near Heceta Head

We found beauty in the bridges, however, and admired the preparedness with which Oregon greets its visitors: free maps, guides and no shortage of well-kept rest stops.

Our soundtrack first consisted of Queen, Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash and Bob Marley, until Kaylee switched the source from Nick’s iPod to hers. Then a mix of Japanese pop and KSLG hits escorted us past “Tsunami Evacuation Site” signs and “Adult Fun” stores and into Coos Bay. A charming waterfront section of the city cheered me – hooray for aesthetically pleasing architecture!

Gas dropped to $3.99 at some point – Winchester Bay? – along the way.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

I insisted we take advantage of the leisurely pace an early start had afforded us, by stopping for a short hike at Heceta Head. Bobby likes lighthouses, so I suggested checking out the brightest light on the Oregon Coast, then, per our guide, hiking over to the “Hobbit Trail,” a 3.5 mile back-and-forth. What the guide failed to include was the severity of vertical ascension, decline and ascension again between points A and B. When we realized completing the trek would take a couple hours, we opted to turn back.

After a picnic (again, Oregon conveniences make road tripping easy!) of PB&J and veggie sandwiches, we continued on.

With a little more swell…

Stopping at Lincoln City Surf Shop was a must – we see folks adorned with their brand at every Noll contest. Bobby bought me a T-shirt. Plenty of cars with surfboards around, but we never saw anyone in the water despite the glassy conditions. Maybe they were waiting for the swell to pick up to above knee-level.

From Lincoln City we turned in to Portland. Signs along the roadway threaten “$500 fine for throwing away burning material,” prompting me to wonder what happened if you threw away non-burning material. Was that OK? Or just a decreased fine?

In Portland, we found my friend A’s house on the second try. She’s in a neighborhood that’s transitioning from crack-central to revitalized and, despite her qualms about gentrification, the improvements are just that. We met in 1987, attending the same interior design school in Long Beach, and proceeded to bond over (mis)adventures in Hollywood and a particularly blurry trip to Enseñada. She has a successful career in design and style that pairs the unexpected with the about-to-be-hip. I don’t know anyone else who would paint her living room dark grayish-brown – and certainly no one else who could pull it off.

But, it’s beautiful. The sun slants in lighting up the room reminiscent of an Impressionist painting:

Best of all, she greeted us with wine and dinner.

A fabulous first day of vacation.