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A Family Afar: Going Home Again

Our travel-happy dad honors his parents' memory on a road trip with his family


Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

When I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, our family had a special getaway spot. I think most families do. Ours was in Mendocino, where my parents owned an acre of grassy bluff overlooking its own little private beach. It was a magical place, and one of the few times I remember seeing my mom and dad completely at ease. My mom’s ashes are even scattered on this land—it was that meaningful to our family.

We didn’t have a ton of money back in the day, which made road trips our best getaways. Pop’s 1969 Chevy Impala station wagon loaded up with coolers, beach blankets, and fishing poles was all we needed. The route took us across the Richmond Bridge and through Sonoma Valley, where you could almost hear the grape vines crackling under the hot summer sun. If we weren’t rushed, we’d stop for a picnic lunch along the Russian River, dipping into the clear waters to cool off. Other times we’d drive all the way to Jenner, where we would pluck oysters from the nearby beds and shuck them right then and there. Then back on the road, we’d wind through the California redwood forests before reaching the jagged coastline and Highway 1 North.

Looking back, these sun-drenched memories of simpler times bring back smiles and maybe a tear or two. My dad just passed away, and I’ve been going through photos to show at his memorial. The one that really choked me up was an old, yellowed snapshot of him and me perched on a rock at that magic beach in Mendocino, looking out to sea.

In honor of my dad and mom, I planned a trip for my family to follow this same trail and continue the tradition—save for a few modern upgrades to the journey. Instead of starting from my old house, we stayed at The Clift Hotel in San Francisco, chosen because its famous Redwood Room is made from the wood of one single giant California redwood. Instead of a ’69 Impala, we drove a brand-new, cherry-red Chevy Silverado 1500 LTZ with every bell and whistle you could imagine. And rather than blankets and coolers on the beach, we slept cushy at the stunning Brewery Gulch Inn and historic Little River Inn, both situated for those gorgeous Mendocino views.

We did all the fun things, like riding the Skunk Train through the redwoods while a surprisingly talented guitar player sang “King of the Road.” The trestle bridge over the Albion River was another fun spot. An impromptu photo shoot there had us in stitches trying to jump together for a synchronized Instagram moment.

That sweet little beach from my childhood is now developed over with another family’s home and landscaped front yard. Still, I was able to take my own family nearby to enjoy those grassy bluffs, craggy vistas, and ocean winds. Teetering on the moss-covered rocks, we went tide pooling the same way I did as a kid: slipping, sliding, and laughing all the way. We hunted for shells, chased quickity-quick crabs, and yes, even stood on a rock together looking out to sea.

We brought my dad’s ashes along too, so he could become part of the place he and Mom loved. It meant so much that I could have my family here with me, creating new memories to join with the old. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to Pop, in a special place he loved dearly.

Jon Bailey writes the travel blog 2dadswithbaggage.com.

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