Monday, April 8, 2013

California Part 2: the coast, the funk, the forests

Mendocino coast

Besides of course my family and friends, one of the things I miss most about California is the Pacific Ocean. I love French beaches, don't get me wrong, but there is something about the coast of Northern California that is pretty hard to beat. On my recent visit, I had several opportunities to get a glimpse of the rocky coast line, and it was an entirely nurturing experience.

One day we drove up to Jenner, where the Russian River

empties into the Pacific. This is one of my favorite points of view on the north coast. Emily and James and I spent many happy days here in days gone by.

I also spent a couple of really wonderful days in Mendocino, a bit further north, with my sister. She introduced me to Glass Beach, which I had never visited before and knew nothing about. Apparently, about a century ago this was the site of a huge dump. Through the years glass bottles of every color were broken, washed out to sea, smoothed and redeposited on the rocky shore.

A few years ago the beach still looked like this, full of rounded pieces of glass.

When we visited, the scavenging was much more tedious. Most of the big pieces had been cleaned away by those who came before.

Still, I was quite happy to collect a few clear, green and brown pieces to add to my rock collection. I have a bottle of beach pebbles collected for me by a friend, a group of agates Rick brought me from Oregon, a pink quartz I bought in Nevada City with my children years ago and a heart shaped from slate made by the child of our former neighbors. All these treasures have much sentimental value for me.

In Mendocino we visited the Art Center which is filled with beautiful objects handmade by their members. It's a very attractive space.


Another quality California has is its down-home funkiness. I mean this is the nicest possible way. LA is all glam and glitz, while northern California, where I can really feel at home, is laid-back and quite rough and tumble. When you stay away from a place for a long time and then return, you see it from a fresh perspective. All the wooden buildings and the shops with eclectic collections of things to purchase really struck me as rather exotic.

Shopping is a big hobby in the U.S., which isn't so much the case here in France, especially out in the countryside. We simply don't have stores with so many choices and so much variety.

There is a certain sense of humor about life there too, particularly near Sepastopol where my sister lives. Lots of homes have big painted metal statues in their front yards. Liz and Rene took me to the source of these whimsical creations. The place is called Renga Arts.

All the objects in the shop are made of reclaimed/recycled materials. I was attracted to a group of table glasses made out of old pop or beer bottles.

But the sculptures were particularly clever and weird. I'm not sure I'd want one in my front yard, however. Certainly you wouldn't expect to see one of these over here.

I also spent a day, under Liz's supervision creating my own funky art. Liz is a crafter and makes some unusual objects, including totems, as she calls them. She has an enormous collection of glass and pottery objects which can be glued together with a strong adhesive to create tall sculptures. I really enjoyed making some for her collection.


I spent a day with two of my favorite people in this round world, my friends Marta and Richard. After feeding me a couple of spectacular meals, as is always the case when staying with them, we took a drive towards the coast again. When you live in inland northern California, the Pacific calls to you like a siren. Another one of my favorite spots is Pt. Reyes, a huge natural sanctuary with protected beaches, grasslands, forest and charming villages. We stopped at Pt. Reyes Station first. This place holds many memories for me. It was a great pleasure to poke around.

In the back of Toby's, a general store that has been a family operation since 1942, there is an art gallery which displays the works of local artists. We were bemused by the current exhibition, a collection of preserved foods. It included many canned goods, oils and vinegars, beverages and dried herbs. All these made by the artist in her kitchen and put on display. They were quite beautiful. A very unusual idea for an art show!

We had a delicious fish soup and fresh green salad at a local restaurant. Food and eating were a definite theme of this trip! My pants are tighter now than when I left home. But who can resist all that gorgeous California food? The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the gourmet ghetto, and I think there must be more fantastic restaurants per square mile than anywhere else on earth.

Next to Havana, the best place to find classic American cars is probably the north coast of California. It's all about the lifestyle there, which, as I mentioned before, is very particular.

Shingled cottages with overgrown gardens and fences tumbling down made me feel nostalgic. They are a sight one doesn't see over here.

Before taking me back to my sister's house, Richard and Marta introduced me to Nick's Cove, which I had never stopped at before. It's located on Tomales Bay. In the mid 20th century it was a resort for Hollywood stars and the super rich. Now it's simply a pleasant place to have dinner, rent a cottage or beach comb.

There is a long pier that leads out over the water. 

At the end is a wonderful little wooden dining room. We imagined getting all our friends together and having a big party there. It would be perfect.


A visit to northern California would not be complete without seeing the redwood forests. These giants exist all along the coast.

They have an other worldly quality, as if from an earth only partially remembered from a long long time ago.


  1. so different from France ! it is magical and pictures are wonderful

  2. Thank you for taking me on another lovely trip.
    That shark truck? Just around the corner from me is a shark mail box!Universal humour.