1,883 miles, 10 days, 4 states, 2 people, countless sights!

Prologue

I began writing this particular post almost a year ago and have revisited it countless times since. We’re now on the verge of completing our first full year at the Byrne residence, so I thought this might be the right time to finally press the “Publish” button…

Chapter 1

Depending on the brain-damaged online mapping service you choose, the stated distance is somewhere between 1,675 and 1,800 miles between Bellevue and Scottsdale. The trip odometer read 1,883 miles when I pulled into the driveway on February 8th, 2015, but we did take the slight detour here and there, so a tally of almost 1,900 miles seemed just fine to me.

In a nutshell, here’s our route, (you can view a selection of photographs by clicking here):

Bellevue, WA
Portland, OR
Ashland, OR
Healdsburg, CA
San Francisco, CA
Carmel, CA
Santa Barbara, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Palm Springs, CA
Scottsdale, AZ

We departed Bellevue – literally from the heart of downtown Bellevue – at 12:30 PM on January 29th, 2015, with the goal of reaching Scottsdale sometime on, or before, Sunday evening, February 8th, 2015. Being the consummate estimator I am, I turned off the keys for the last time at 4:55 PM on the 8th, a mere five minutes before our target arrival time of 5:00 PM! In between, we enjoyed visits with dear friends in all but two places, (our first and last stops in California, Healdsburg and Palm Springs, respectively).

To be clear, this trip was more than just about getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, or merely venturing from place to place visiting people we knew. It was, in fact, consciously closing a chapter in our lives we had opened at about the same time we decided to purchase the Byrne residence in early 2010, and by the end of 2010 we found ourselves on the verge of relocating to Bellevue, where we would spend the next four years, (+/- two weeks, if you can believe that)…

With our Pacific Northwest adventure drawing to a close, (in the fall of 2014), it was time to pause, ponder the future, (once again), and decide where the next set of driver’s license photographs were going to be taken! We opted to declare the Byrne residence home – at least for the time being – and set about doing what needed to be done to make it a reality.

Once everything was packed up and stored, Martha and I eagerly began our journey after lunch on January 29th. Our first stop would be Portland. We were to join a good friend – an architect by the name of Bradley Shanks – for the evening, catch up, dine and then take in some of what makes Portland such a special place. We opted to stay at the ACE Hotel, which was conveniently located near the Pearl District, as well as near the firm Bradley works for, Skylab Architecture. I’ll admit to being captivated by the hipster vibe there, especially the turntable and vinyl records waiting for us in our room. After dinner, we meandered back toward the hotel, and stumbled – quite literally – on two young performers about to begin their set. We learned a bit later, (after their first piece), they are the founders of PLAN, or Portland’s Lights All Night. Do a search on You Tube and you’ll be as amazed as we were! We started toward Ashland on Friday morning, but not before we indulged in what I think is the best doughnut I’ve ever had from Blue Star Donuts.

Day 2 was spent on Interstate 5, snaking our way south from Portland to Ashland. The cloudy skies, brief sun breaks and emerald green for as far as the eye could see made our six hour journey seem more like two – magical, simply magical!

After a truly memorable afternoon/evening spent with a friend of twenty-five years who lives near Ashland, we once again headed south toward the Oregon/California border for day number 3. Our intended destination was Healdsburg – one of our favorite towns in Sonoma County. …I can still see the setting sun as we turned off Interstate 5, and headed west on Highway 20. The almond groves were starting to blossom and the honey bees were thick in the sky. The drive took us from the relatively flat valley floor, up through rolling hills, (many covered in grape vines), and eventually into the very heart of Northern California wine country before we descended, first into Napa Valley, then, after a brief stop in Calistoga, into Sonoma County. The last 90 minutes was a fun – albeit twisty – two lane jaunt through the twilight. We pulled into Healdsburg well after dark, but early enough to check in at the Hotel Healdsburg, then wander across the square to Bistro Ralph. Bliss!

The next day’s drive was comparatively short, so we dawdled a bit in Healdsburg, not leaving for San Francisco until after lunch. We visited the Shed, just off the square and had a fabulous meal while we fondled enough gardening equipment to almost – emphasis on almost – tempt us into becoming farmers right there on the spot! We decided to work off at least a few of those calories with a stroll around the square, veering off onto side streets we’ve come to know well. Happily both Barndiva and Barndiva Studio were just as we remembered from our last visit, but there were more than a few eateries and boutiques no longer gracing their former homes.  😦

For those of you keeping track, yes, we were in the city for Super Bowl Sunday. Not Phoenix, where we were going to live, (and where the game was being played), but in the very place where the despised Seahawks had trounced the 49’ers a couple of weeks before – yikes! We kept our Washington state licenses out of sight and quickly deposited our vehicle with the valet at Hotel Vitale before heading to Chaya to meet a dear friend, (another young architect), named Patrick Bradley for dinner. Since none of us were really dyed-in-the-wool football fans, we were utterly confounded by how hard it had been to find a nice place that was open! Chaya was superb in every respect – the food, the service, the place – we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. But the Seahawks, well, er, ah, um, I’m betting they would’ve preferred a completely different outcome…

In truth, we were looking forward to the next day when we hopped on the trolley and made our way up the Embarcadero to catch a ferry out to Alcatraz Island to take in the Ai Weiwei exhibit called At Large. We’d been anxiously awaiting this date for several months! We boarded the second ferry of the morning and boarded the next to last [daytime] ferry back that evening. Martha captured well over 1,500 images and I managed to crack off almost 1,000 images myself, (likely a new personal record for me). Seeing At Large on Alcatraz Island was an incredible experience; one we recounted innumerable times over the course of the next eleven months to others, some of which were fortunate enough to get tickets and make the journey to experience the exhibit themselves!

Since the weather was mild, (a bit of a surprise for early February), we strolled back down the Embarcadero, stopping for dinner, then completed our walk back to the hotel, but not before taking in The Bay Lights from the pier right across the street. God, how I miss living 45 minutes away from this city!

Carmel was our next stop. We headed south on 280 the next morning, then took Highway 92 west to Pacific Coast Highway and continued south to Santa Cruz, then Watsonville, then Monterey and finally to Carmel. Our first stop was to see Ali Wood, owner of Oficino Uno and longtime acquaintance. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, we were off to L’Auberge Carmel to check in, and then to Casanova for dinner.

Casanova has become something of a tradition for us over the course of the past 16 years. Our meal was spectacular, the wine sublime and a cozy warmth seeped into our bones while we dined. We’ve even had the privilege of seeing the hand-excavated wine cellar lurking beneath the building! It holds over 20,000 bottles, and to the untrained eye, you’d think it was absolutely impossible to find anything, but their system of counting, categorizing and carefully depositing every bottle is fool-proof. …I doubt I’ve ever waited more than a few minutes for my selection(s) to appear at our table, so there’s definitely method to the madness!

Breakfast at L’Auberge Carmel, obligatory photographs and on to [and through] Big Sur the next day. While we’ve had the pleasure of multiple visits to both Ventana Inn & Spa and Post Ranch Inn, neither was on the agenda for day seven. We took our time on Highway 1, stopping here and there to gaze out across the ocean, inhale that wonderful sea breeze and marvel at the views. As morning gave way to noon, then to the afternoon, we veered east from the water and onto Highway 46, (one of our favorite stretches of roadway connecting the PCH with 101), and eventually found ourselves in San Luis Obispo with enough time to stroll through the historic part of town before we sat down for some fantastic food – and pretty darned good beer – at Creekside Brewing. We hadn’t been back in several years, so we were relieved to see it hadn’t changed, (yet so much else around it had). A brief lament, (from me), and it was time to get back on the road – we had to make Santa Barbara by dinner time – yikes!

Our plans were thwarted by the flu in Santa Barbara. …not us, (thankfully), but sadly our close friend, Steve Merrick, had come down with a bug of some sort, so we were on our own for dinner. We rolled through The Funk Zone, found our hotel, checked in and started exploring on foot, despite it being after dark. I’m convinced there is something special about the combination of coastlines and colleges – Santa Barbara was no exception to my so-called “rule” either! On this particular evening, we observed a quirky mix of humanity strolling – sometimes standing, sometimes sitting – on State Street, including packs of locals, students, buskers, the homeless and even the odd tourist or two. Having ventured up one side of the main drag and down the other, it was time for handmade pasta, a flirty Barbaresco, to-die-for tiramisu and the perfect pair of double espressos to round out the evening.

We’d driven many miles the day before, so after a rather lazy breakfast at the bustling Santa Barbara Roasting Company and fogging up the glass at Chocolate Maya, it was finally time to brace ourselves for Los Angeles traffic.  We did allow for a tiny detour to the beach town of Oxnard where Martha and I had spent a night the very first year we were together, now almost three decades ago!  A classic end-of-summer trip, booked right before the school year started up again for Martha – such fond memories from a very, very long time ago…

Ah, yes, the so-called City of Angels. Intent on getting to our destination, we battled our way down 101 and 405 into West Hollywood, checked into the hotel, freshened up a bit and then jumped into a taxi bound for LACMA. It had been eight years since we’d lived in Pasadena, and despite frequent visits to southern California since then, I’d forgotten how thick the smog can get. We lunched at the LACMA Café, then wandered through various exhibits, with James Turrell’s, Breathing Light being the last stop at the museum, (and what a stop it was), before diving into yet another taxi for the 45 minute slog back to the hotel.

Fast forward another 45 minutes… Despite now being freshly-showered, dressed and on the verge of starvation, the prospects of venturing out once again into that morass of concrete, metal and fumes held absolutely no appeal, no appeal whatsoever. We rode up to the 17th floor to “…go WEST” instead.

Drinks at WEST, while peering out at the nasty snarl of traffic on 405, followed by dinner, while peering out at the gathering crowd of smartly-dressed Angelenos, reminded me why we have such a complicated – some would say ours is a “love/hate” – relationship with this spectacular state we used to call home. To be clear, it’s not home anymore, rather Arizona is – or soon will be. …still, if I had to pick one – and only one – place to live, I suspect it would be somewhere on this chunk of the so-called “left coast”, warts and all. Let’s hope the desalination plant in Carlsbad works out!

We were invited to tour the Getty Center on Friday with a recent acquaintance, Doug Moreland, (he sits on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation), then enjoy drinks at his lovely home in Bel Aire and then enjoy a scrumptious meal at The Tavern with him that evening. Since we weren’t to see Doug until 1:00 PM on Friday, we decided a quick trip to Bergamot Station was an ideal way to start the day. While Martha had visited this unique collection of galleries and boutiques before, it was my first time there. Wow, I had no idea. Seriously. No idea whatsoever. …and I’m definitely going back!

To see the Getty through the eyes of an architect, well, it completely transforms the experience into something several orders of magnitude more enriching. There were details Doug pointed out we would have otherwise overlooked, logical points where it made absolutely perfect sense to pause when we might have otherwise kept moving, surfaces that warranted careful inspection, etc., etc. Thank you, Mr. Moreland, thank you very much!

We still had drinks at Doug’s mid-century marvel in Bel Aire, and dinner at The Tavern to look forward to! The carefully-curated art collection, the sensitive refinements to the house itself and the incredible views from his meticulously maintained garden made the two of us want to beg off on dinner and just sit there and revel in our surroundings all night long, but we had a good reason to tear ourselves away and head down the hill with Doug to our 7:30 PM reservations.

I mentioned Martha and I used to live in Pasadena, (basically late 2005 through late 2007), and it was during this period we met Suzanne Goin at the local culinary school where she was the guest chef on that particular evening. We were smitten, utterly smitten, vowing to dine at Lucques when the opportunity arose. …and it did, (less than a year later), but that’s another story!

Our experience at The Tavern was everything you’d expect, and more. Doug mentioned Palm Springs at some point during dinner, and it was right then we decided – on a whim – we should add a day to our trip so we could (re)visit Palm Springs. The clock was edging toward midnight when Doug dropped us off back at the hotel and while both Martha and I were elated/energized from a day filled with visual and culinary delights, we fell into bed within minutes of returning to our room and didn’t budge until early the next morning.

The drive from West Hollywood to Palm Springs was uneventful, (thank goodness for the 210 freeway), and we exited Interstate 10 in the early afternoon onto Palm Canyon Drive, heading southeast into town. We couldn’t help ourselves, opting to pull into the first mid-century modern furniture store we happened upon, only to learn from the proprietors that Palm Springs Modernism Week was starting in five days! Ugh. …maybe next year.

That said, we were nonetheless excited about the prospects of having another day in California, (and especially because it happened to be in Palm Springs)! We also learned the Architecture & Design Center had opened only two months prior – horray! A quick scan of the website confirmed the inaugural E. Steward Williams exhibit was still up – jackpot! We now knew precisely what we’d be doing the next morning. With the next day’s agenda now set, it was time to explore the commercial center along both sides of Palm Canyon Drive, size up our dining options for later on that evening, wander in and out of galleries, the occasional store and engage in some serious people watching. After several hours of indulging in each of these activities, we quasi-randomly chose a bistro with ample patio seating, ate and eventually found our way back to the hotel, completely sated, more than tired and ready to call it a day.

Day number ten was delightfully simple – we immersed ourselves in mid-century bliss all morning long at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, grabbed lunch while passing through Indio, and sprinted for the border between California and Arizona. Along the way, we made one or two gasoline stops, and as the sun was starting to dip toward the horizon, we exited Loop 202 heading north on Scottsdale Road. It was somewhere during those last few miles I realized we were, in fact, truly home.

…OK, time to start a new chapter.

Epilogue

Martha and I both smiled repeatedly while reading recent drafts of this long overdue summary of our road trip, mostly because it brought back fond memories of how we began 2015. It seemed only fitting to apply the finishing touches now, (almost twelve months after the trip itself took place), as we were approaching the end of 2015. Enjoy!

P.S. If you want to see a selection of photographs Martha and I captured on the trip, you can do so by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.