Three generations, family fun!

WHUFU Trip: So Cal Spring 2013 | 0

Tyler is my six year old (oops, seven year old) grandson.  He is in first grade, and his school has a week off in February – Snow Week.  Traditional Spring Break is in April.  His mother Martha and I spent her early years in Encinitas, CA.  We lived down there in the 80’s.  She still has a love of the beach and the sun and the whole So Cal scene and beach lifestyle.  Me not so much, I’m a Nor Cal rivers and mountains and fog guy, but in the interest of family togetherness, we hatched a plan to take the ole camper van to San Diego for Snow Week.  I am to drive to San Rafael, pick them up, and take us all to a week of van camping and So Cal adventures, until I put them on the Amtrak Pacific Express back to Emeryville the next Sunday.

Wednesday (Feb 13)

Because I can, I am first going to squeeze a night at good ole Harbin Hot Springs into the mix. I depart Reno on Wednesday Feb 13, with the plan of sleeping in the parking lot of Granzella’s Deli in Williams tonight, to be at Harbin on Thursday, which happens to be Valentine’s Day, so I will be with the family on Friday night, the beginning of Tyler’s vacation.  Ain’t semi-retirement fun!

I left Reno too late to do the sunset tour of Colusa Wildlife Refuge as I so love to do. I wander into Williams a little after dark.  There is a giant convention-type tent filling the official overnight RV parking lot, but no worries, they’re actually quite mellow about these things at Granzella’s.  I park in the next parking lot, and everyone is fine with that.  I eat and wifi in the sports bar, walk across the street to my van, and all is well …

Granzellas Deli:  

They have a parking lot dedicated to overnighters and trucks carrying boats/trailers. There's one very comfy stop next to a tree. It's really handy for me as an overnight before Harbin.


Sunset at the Colusa wildlife refuge, park, sports bar that night, then breakfast or coffee and baklava the next morning, get a sando for Harbin, and I'm set!

Update: last visit, I think someone tried to break into the van while I was drinking and wifiing in the bar. The screen on the little ventilation window in my sliding door was torn, my only theory is someone tried to reach in and unlock the van - yech!


… until a little before dawn when the garbage trucks start, then a little after dawn when the tent deconstruction crew starts their noisy business.  Clanging of piles of tent poles and rebar tent stakes … for hours.  So I get up a little earlier than usual and walk across the street for my morning wifi, coffee and food.  There was one unexpectedly interesting part of the tent deconstruction process, and that is the removal of the tent stakes.  They drive those suckers in really deeply and solidly, and they require a special tool, essentially a six foot long levered pry bar to get them out.  For the stakes they drove into the actual parking lot asphalt, there is another dude that follows the removal dudes (it takes two dudes tugging on the giant pry bar for the tough ones) to pound some kind of sand mixture into the holes to repair the surface.  I was pretty impressed with the operation, a much bigger and more layered deal than I would’ve thought to “simply” take a big tent down.

Anyway, 11AM, I’m off on the very pretty drive west on 20 through the low mountains that are the west side of the Central Valley.  Left on 29 to Clear Lake, then south to Middletown and Harbin.  It was very green and extra pretty.  I used to do the drive to Harbin in one day from Reno. Doing that, this part of the drive would be 3 hours into the trip and I would be too stressed and tired to much enjoy it. But as a relaxed, first thing in the morning drive it is quite nice.

Harbin Hot Springs:  

This used to be my favorite getaway(*) - old resort in the hills, a very hot pool, a just-right pool, a cold plunge, a lap pool that rocks on hot summer days, a cozy lodge, breakfast in the morning, expensive espresso drinks all day, world music dance every Tues and Thurs night.

Even this though is the first date I've entered here, I've been here many times before. I stayed in actual rooms 4-5 times in the 90's when I worked at Autodesk, then I've camped here between 2 and 4 times a year since ... 2002? So I'm gonna say I've visited here over thirty times!

(*)The place is getting insanely popular, and as they get more crowded they are getting less and less user-friendly - the old sad story, success DOES change a place!


Camping cost has been raised to $30.

chillin at Harbin

Arrive Harbin very early for me, 12:30-ish.  I settle into my spot, hang out and putter on the laptop till 3-ish, walk over to the pools, soak and hang out till dark-ish, then back to the van for my deli sandwich dinner … then the main event, the reason I always go to Harbin on a Tuesday or Thursday —  world beat dancing till 10:30!  The camping area was nearly deserted, as empty as I can remember ever seeing it, so I thought maybe Harbin wasn’t the place for lovers :)  But the the pools were a real makeout scene (don’t people read the “no sexual activity” signs?! :), so I guess all the Valentines couples got rooms … as the cliche goes :)  The dance was the usual good-natured free for all.  No excessive PDA, just dancing.


On most Harbin visits my fear of being hungry all afternoon propels me out of bed and up the hill to get to breakfast before they close down at 9:30am.  This time however my 24 hours are up at 12:30, so my calculation is that this would be a great time to check out brunch in Middletown.  I get up when I darn well want to, then mosey up to the lodge to hang out til 12:30.  I get an americano and a goodie from the barista station tucked in the corner – just like most days at home!

mustard weed along the Silverado Trail

When my time was up I did breakfast at the Cowpoke Cake in Middletown. We are close enough to Wine Country that it cost about $3 more than it should, but it was quite nice after the loudmouthed old dude in the cowboy hat left. Then over the mountain to Calistoga and on to Marin! Napa Wine Country as viewed from the Silverado Trail was beautiful today.  Fields of wild mustard were blanketing the hills and the spaces between the rows of grapevines to quite scenic effect.

The Silverado Trail became busy Route 29. I made it through early rush hour to San Rafael by four-ish, in time for Tyler to run me ragged for an hour or so, chasing him around their little basketball court and throwing balls of many sizes and shapes until dark.  It’s very sweet to look back on, but very exhausting at the time.  It set the tone for the week.  When the day’s driving was done, he would wear my ass out every night.


This was to be departure day, but we decided to take it a little easy and spend the day organizing to really leave tomorrow.  A good call, I think.  I reorganized my stuff in the van to make room for the stuff of two more people, and we all had a day to stare at the interior of the van and visualize what to bring.  A trip to Trader Joe’s for Martha and Tyler food, and we’re set!  The final bonus Good Thing about staying “home” tonight is that we are not looking for a campsite on the California coast on Saturday night!