Kim Weir

Host, Up the Road

Kim Weir, a former NSPR news reporter, is editor and founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. She is also an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers. North State Public Radio’s Up the Road program is jointly produced by Up the Road.

Ruth Hartnup / Flickr Creative Commons

Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, boasts surreal Lotusland, 37 acres of exotic gardens created by Madame Ganna Walska, thwarted opera singer and compulsive marrier of millionaires. 


Here, explore the world’s finest private collection of cycads—pine-tree relatives that look like palms—also cacti, succulents, luxuriant ferns, weeping euphorbias, an aloe-and-abalone-shell “forest,” lily and lotus ponds, bromeliads, orchids, and roses. A bit pricey, and you’ll need a reservation.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

We’re trying out the idea of urban travel again, after long social isolation. Almost a year, now. Just thinking about groups of people—at crowded restaurants, concerts, ball games, you name it—is strange. Which is why we’ve set out, first, in our imaginations, and started with a small city, Santa Barbara.


The lonely Channel Islands just offshore, though, are constant companions—inviting us to come away, to leave all that hubbub behind. Reminding us that very special solitudes are right here, too.

Harold Litwiler

One thing about Santa Barbara is how hard it can be to leave. One thing making that easier, for most of us, is how insanely expensive it is.


The cost of living in Santa Barbara—and, of course, visiting—means that scouting out options and alternatives up and down the coast is just part of life, for residents and visitors alike.

Rennett Stowe / Flickr Creative Commons

Soon we’ll be able to travel—really travel, to places where other people are part of the point. Including cities large and small.


Queen of California’s small cities is Santa Barbara, beautiful, rich, and mysterious. (She goes by the name “Santa Teresa” in the works of mystery writers Sue Grafton and Ross MacDonald.) Her story hints at good fortune almost as incredible as her good looks, rarely dimmed by disaster.

Damian Gadal / Flickr Creative Commons

Unless you’re long in the tooth, like me, you’ve probably never heard the Midwestern witticisms of Bill Vaughan, editor and columnist at the Kansas City Star, who died in 1977. Here is some sample wit:

“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” That one, not always true, given the turnout in our most recent presidential election, but based on past ones, true enough.

Bob Doran / Flickr Creative Commons

To wrap up our socially distanced tour of California’s North Coast, we’re visiting entire towns originally built of old-growth redwood, trees otherwise harvested and milled to build post-Gold Rush California.


Just south of Eureka is tiny Ferndale, first settled by Danish immigrants in 1864, when this delta plain was still heavily forested. Ferndale is famous for street after street of colorful, ornate redwood homes and businesses—Queen Anne, Eastlake-Stick, Italianate, Neo-Classic, Bungalow and Mission styles. And gawkers galore.

John Andrew Rice / Flickr Creative Commons



When visiting the ocean in winter, one particular fellow traveler pops to mind—the Western or Pacific gray whale, also known as the California gray whale. A close-up view of California’s official mammal is life-changing.


Dark, barnacled heads shoot up from the deeps to breathe, blasting saltwater from blowholes with the force of a firehose. That spouting is how you’ll first spot them, all along the California coast. Not so close, but close enough.

Henry Zbyszynski / Flickr Creative Commons



MacKerricher State Park is Fort Bragg’s park, deeply woven into the community’s story, past and present. Most people enter this gorgeous stretch of ocean, tidepools, forest, coastal prairie, and sand dunes three miles north of town, where the visitor center and campgrounds are.


But you could start south of Pudding Creek at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg proper, a former dump site where polished pieces of old glass become dazzling finds, a beachcomber’s paradise renewed with every high tide. Or begin far to the north near the mouth of Ten Mile River, where the park’s Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve begins.

Bob Wick / US Bureau of Land Management



State parks along California’s North Coast offer great opportunities to explore—up close and personal—the long-ago processes that created the land beneath our feet. And that continue to power change, from continental drift and emerging landforms to volcanic explosions and earthquakes.


Lands associated with the Mendocino Triple Junction’s earthquake faults offer colorful surprises, such as polished jade in gravel bars along the Eel River’s South Fork, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Outcroppings of jadeite and nephrite jade were squeezed up through miles of Franciscan Complex sediments then freed up by erosion.

Bob Wick / US Bureau of Land Management

The Great California Road Trip has rolled west—to explore more of the North Coast, “the brink of the world,” as an ancient Ohlone dancing song has it. Gain new appreciation of our edge of the world, up close and personal, by taking along a nifty state parks geology guide produced with help from the California Geological Survey.

Geological Gems of California State Parks, available online as a free download, includes 50 different geological “notes” that describe and illustrate key geological processes and unique features you’ll see at parks all over the Golden State.