A Vacation in the Redwoods

Aug 19, 2017

As we made plans at the beginning of the summer, one of the things that was high on my priority list was a family vacation. A few months before, Mike's sister had tossed around the idea of a possible road trip to California, but when it didn't work out for them, we decided to go anyway and invite my brother and his family along instead.

Mike made at least three different plans/routes for the trip, but he always kept the redwoods in northern California as our central focus. Mike and I had driven through them when we were first married, and we knew we wanted to show them to our kids.

We knew from the get go that this trip would require a LOT of driving. It was a road trip, so almost every day would be spent traveling to somewhere new. Much of the driving would be through really beautiful country, but we dreaded the long stretches through Nevada. So because of that, a few weeks before the trip, Mike installed a DVD player into our van. I have always prided myself somewhat on not being dependent on a DVD player (and the last few shorter trips we'd been on, we hadn't even brought the little portable player because it caused more fights and frustration than it was worth). But somehow, I had a sense that on this trip, being able to turn on a show would be our salvation, and it was.

Mike wrangled with the logistics of the itinerary, trying out both northern and southern routes, before finally settling on something that looked like this:

Day 1: Drive to Lake Tahoe
Day 2: Drive to Livermore, California
Day 3: Drive through San Francisco, end up in Fort Bragg, California
Day 4: Drive to Eureka, California
Day 5: Stay in Eureka
Day 6: Stay in Eureka
Day 7: Drive to Winnemucca, Nevada
Day 8: Drive home

Overall, our kids did amazingly well in the car. Of course we had moments where the baby was crying inconsolably or the older ones couldn't keep their hands away from each other, but on the whole, it was far better than I expected. My kids literally had to be dragged away from everything we did because they were having so much fun (except for the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which they were only too happy to leave).

Here are a few of the highlights from the trip:

Cousin (and sibling) time
This deserves mention first because it really colored the whole trip and made it so much better. My brother (Gordy), his wife (Brooke), and their three kids (Charlie (almost 5), Rose (3), and Lyda (1)) came with us, and we had the best time with them. (If you follow me on Instagram, you might recognize Rosie as Flit of #flitandbarrel fame.) It's always nice to have other adults to talk to, other kids to play with, and other people to share the memories with. They were always up for an adventure and stayed positive even when things were not what we expected (the motel in Fort Bragg was something special. . .). My brother always makes a music video when his family goes on a vacation, so we were excited to get to be in this one and have it to remember the trip by.

Beach time
All told, we went to five different beaches (Lake Tahoe, Crissy Fields, Bodega Bay, Glass Beach, and Trinidad Bay). Each one was unique, from the water to the sand to the coastline to the view to the temperature, but we enjoyed all of them (and my kids always needed a thorough washing afterwards, which is a sign of a good time). Our time at Lake Tahoe was much too short, and we vowed to return next summer and spend our whole vacation there rather than just have it be a stop along the way.

Glass Beach
This one deserves its own mention because, when the whole trip was said and done, this was my kids' very favorite thing we did. It's called Glass Beach because, rather than traditional sand, its beach is made up of little bits of smooth glass (washed up from a bottle dump site from many years ago). I thought it was cool to look for unique shapes of colored glass, but my kids loved it for the tide pools, where they found crabs and minnows and anemones. We went in the evening at sunset, but then the next morning, they begged and pleaded to go again before hitting the road. I think they would have stayed all day if we'd let them. When we were there in the morning, there were two couples who were diving for abalone. We waited around until they came back in, and they showed them to the boys and let them hold them.

Visiting my grandparents
My mom's dad and stepmom live in Livermore, California. When I was growing up, we only visited them twice, but they came to see us almost every summer in their motor home. In recent years though, they haven't been able to make the trip, so it had been probably twelve years since I'd seen my grandpa, and six years since I'd seen my grandma (she came to Salt Lake for a convention when Max was a baby). As such, my grandpa had never met any of my kids or Gordy's kids, and so we knew we wanted to stop in to see them. Luckily, they weren't busy the evening we were available, and we had a lovely time eating dinner, chatting, and just generally catching up on life. (My Uncle Doug, and his daughter, Halia (whom I had never met) were also there.) Although, I will say, descending on anyone with eight children generally makes me a bit of a stress case, and that I was.

San Francisco
San Francisco was less of a destination and more of just a stop along the way, but it was still fun to catch a glimpse of the city. It was really the only thing we did on the trip that was not entirely kid-friendly. We went to Chinatown one afternoon (where we ate at the aforementioned Chinese restaurant) and then drove to, and then across, the Golden Gate bridge the next morning. Mainly what San Francisco did was make me want to go back someday with Mike . . . without kids.

Big trees
We planned the whole trip around the redwoods, and they did not disappoint. It's hard to really fathom how big they truly are until you're right up next to them, and then they're pretty jaw dropping. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants, making stops along the way, and everywhere we went, our kids found trees to climb on and through and in. We drove through Chandelier Tree (one of the few drive through trees left), and even though it was totally a tourist trap, it was so much fun to drive through a tree. (Later in the trip, we happened to drive through another one, not because we wanted to (it was more expensive and less cool) but because our kids needed to use the bathroom in the gift shop, and so we felt a little obligated). But really, these trees were the stars of the show, and we didn't get tired of them.

Sequoia Park
This was my favorite spot on the trip, partly because it was drop dead gorgeous, but also because it was so unexpected. We stayed for three nights in Eureka, California--not because Eureka itself is any great city, but after packing and unpacking and packing for several days in a row, we were ready to stop in one spot for more than one night. Plus, it was relatively close to some of the other things we wanted to see so it made sense to just stay there. One of Gordy's good friends grew up in Eureka, and so he asked him what we should do while we were there. He told us not to miss Sequoia Park. And he was right. It's something we never would have known about otherwise, but it was so amazing. We started out at the playground, which was pretty cool in and of itself because the play equipment is built right into the giant trees, but then we went into the forest part of the park, and it seemed like we'd been transported to another world. The one mile loop showcased ferns and flowers, a small waterfall, a little pond, and, of course, trees. It was quiet and uncrowded, and more than any other place on the trip, I felt like I was in an outdoor cathedral.

Finding creatures
No matter where we went, beach or forest, my kids were on the lookout for bugs or reptiles or animals. They were both patient and thorough, and their efforts were often, but not always, rewarded. (Max was quite disappointed when we were in Fern Canyon (a beautiful hike through little streams with ferns covering the canyon walls) because he'd heard mention that there might be red tree frogs, and he was determined not to leave until he found one--but he never did.) This trip seemed to be designed for boys just like mine because there was never any shortage of things to explore.

Eureka boat tour
We went on a 75-minute tour on a hundred year old boat around the harbor. It was fairly cold and windy, and it wasn't all that beautiful (but it did help explain some of the things we'd been noticing about the city of Eureka, which has a distinctly hippie/redneck vibe to it), but it was very different from anything else we did on the trip, and for that reason alone, it was a highlight (and we also really enjoyed the all-female crew).


A night out
While we were in Eureka, Gordy/Brooke and Mike/I swapped babysitting so each couple could go on a date. Gordy and Brooke went out the first night, and when they got home, Gordy asked, "How much could we pay you to let us go out again tomorrow night?" But no amount of money would have been enough because there's just something about being on vacation with your kids but going out and doing something without them. It's absolutely rejuvenating. When it was our turn, we did a bit of restaurant hopping, ending with ice cream and hot chocolate, which would have made our kids insanely jealous.

 Horseback riding
Before we even left on our trip, we knew that Day 7 was going to be the worst. It was tied with another day for the longest driving time (10+ hours), but it was at the end of the trip when we were all getting a little tired of the car. Luckily though, it had a bright spot at the end of it. Mike's cousin, Katie, lives on a ranch outside of Winnemucca, Nevada with her husband and four sons, and throughout the whole miserable day of driving, we kept saying, "But you'll get to run around and play and ride horses at the end of it!" And it was truly a sweet reward. Katie has always been one of my favorite people because she is so kind and makes you feel like you're her favorite person. We loved spending a couple of hours with them and my boys were a little in awe of her boys who are true cowboys (but not so in awe that they didn't get in some good running and wrestling).

Before we left on this trip, I wondered if it would be worth it (and indeed, the day before we left, I threatened to call the whole thing off because I was getting a lot more complaining from my kids than helping). But it totally was. And out of all the places we could have gone, I somehow think this was the most perfect place we could have gone for the stage of life we're in right now. 


  1. What a fun trip! I still have Glass Beach on our bucket list. So fun! There are things that I do love about living here. The redwoods are among the things on the list, that's for sure.

  2. Sounds like a fun trip! I also installed a DVD player when we started making drives from Seattle to Salt Lake twice a year (with only 4 kids). I justified it by remembering that kids are stuck in their seats now -- when my parents were driving 15 hours a day with 4 kids, we could stretch out or lie down in the reclined rear seat.

    My boys probably don't remember it well, but when we lived in San Jose we'd drive up to the Big Basin park several times a year to wander among the giant trees. It was a good place to bring tall uncles, because the kids as toddlers loved seeing giant men look tiny sitting on the stumps.

  3. I love the pictures. It all looks amazing!

  4. Glad you had fun! Your pictures brought back fond memories of our trip a few years ago. Such a great time!

  5. Sounds like so much fun. I LOVED your photos. I just know you're really going to treasure those someday when the boys are big. (Look how Clark's little foot doesn't even reach the stirrup....)

  6. I've never even heard of Sequoia Park, but this post totally makes me want to check it out. I'm dying to go on a vacation again since it's been awhile since we've been able to go, so hopefully this fall or in the spring, we can get away somewhere...California's looking pretty good for that after this post!


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