The Weekend Where We Got Away

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged since St. Patrick’s Day.  Actually, I can believe it, I’ve been busy as hell.  Juggling two part-time jobs, my theater apprenticeship, band, make-up gigs, and managing to have a social life pushed blogging aside for a second.  But I need to make creativity more of a habit, or where will I be?  Buckle your seatbelts kids, it’s been a while and this post is a long one.

Thankfully, I do have some travels to write about besides all that work.  A few weeks ago, Zac and I were in Oakland having lunch at Souley Vegan.  It really doesn’t get any better than vegan soul food.  It was to be a full day including meeting a friend for dinner in Berkeley, and seeing the show of a different friend’s band from LA.  Before we’d even gotten our food, the friend we were supposed to meet bailed on us.  Then I heard from the friend in the band that they wouldn’t be going on until 12:30.  We’re night owls, but that’s pushing it.

“This spring break has sucked.  Everybody’s flaked out on me.  And we didn’t go anywhere” bemoaned a distraught Zac.

“Well, I have the day off tomorrow.  Let’s just go somewhere.  Let’s hit the road!”  I replied.

“Really?”  He wondered.

I do not blame Zac’s apprehension.  For all of my travelin’ ways, I’m much more of a planned-travel person.  I love planning trips, for one.  I always save money by planning ahead.  And my days at Sephora have turned me into a beauty-product junkie.  It’s hard for me to go somewhere and not have packed a whole ton of shit to take with me.  Zac is really much more spontaneous than I.

But when it comes down to it, I can’t allow all that to get in the way of a good adventure.

So without having packed or planned anything, we decided to go to Nevada City, a place we’d been wanting to go to for a long time.  We’re still planning on doing our big Gold Rush Road Trip this summer.  Last weekend was a just a preview.  We made a few stops in Oakland for snacks, a bottle of wine, toothbrush, and Lonely Planet’s Northern California guidebook and drove out of the bay area.  Zac read to me highlights of the guidebook while I was at the wheel.  Soon, the city traffic ebbed away and our surroundings became rolling green hills with occasional cows or sheep.  I love driving on trips.  I find it relaxing and invigorating at the same time.

After a few hours, with night beginning to fall, we rolled into Auburn for gas.  Auburn was one of the first gold mining towns and is proud of this heritage.  The first thing you see as you pull into the historic district is a colossal statue of a miner panning for gold.  After getting gas, we parked the car and walked around a bit.  Historic Auburn is adorable, with lots of old storefronts and one of the oldest fire stations in the state.  Most of the businesses are kitschy antique stores and boutiques now, but they retain their original structures.  It was a Friday night, and the area was noisy and hopping.  Up on a hill, we found the majestic Placer County Courthouse, built in the 1890’s.  We sat on the steps and watched the day become night.  When you reach Auburn, you leave the Central Valley behind and are entering the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I noticed immediately the scent of the air, the earthiness of it, how fresh it was.  I love living in San Francisco but like any city, it’s nice to get out.  We sat on the steps of the courthouse, filled our lungs with mountain air, and watched swallows flitting through the darkening sky.

From Auburn we continued on our way to Nevada City on Highway 49, a mostly two-lane highway connecting most of the Goldrush towns.  Mountain highways are my favorite to drive on.  I love the curve of the roads, the trees flying by, the drama of the scenery.  But all of that becomes lost when you drive them at night and it is DARK.  Luckily, it wasn’t far to Nevada City.

Historic Nevada City is similar to Auburn, although bigger.  Tons of historic storefronts that have now been turned into other businesses, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and historic hotels.  But whereas Auburn was purely commercial, Nevada City has a burgeoning art scene that mostly comes out at night.  Amongst the antique shops are art galleries, theaters, and dozens of places to catch live music from dive bars to event halls.  Nevada City on Friday night was a place filled with magic and life, with people everywhere having a good time and music coming from every open door.  Being tired and hungry from our day, we did not partake in the revelry, but did enjoy some amazing pizza at Pete’s Pizza.  We had a table in the window, and enjoyed watching all the drunk people pass by.  When we do our trip this summer, we plan to take more advantage of Nevada City’s nighttime wonders and bar-hop and catch some music.

Around 10, it was high time to find a place to stay for the night.  Adventurous I may be, but I do not sleep in my car.  No thank you.  But this is me, Mo, your resident dollar-saving traveler.  The mission: find the cheapest place possible to sleep at the last minute.

I remembered seeing a Best Western off the highway, so we went there in search of a room or information.  The cheapest she could do for us was $99. Not good enough.

“Do you know of anyplace nearby with a cheaper room?” Zac says.

“Well. . .” She shudders. “You could stay at the Holiday Lodge.”  Like any nice concierge, she prints us driving directions to the Holiday Lodge.  That shudder had said everything.  Certainly this Holiday Lodge would be seedy enough for the likes of us!

It wasn’t far.  Two minutes later, we walked into the front desk at the Holiday Lodge where a tattooed middle-aged woman was checking in a young man with a shaved head and his pregnant, eyebrow-pierced girlfriend.  We looked around at cute woodsy artifacts and decorations.  It certainly seemed quirky enough.  When asked what the cheapest room was, the woman at the desk said she could do $71.  I asked if they had an AAA discount.  She said she could do $66, taxes included, and that her boss would be mad at her but she didn’t care.  Done.

All of the rooms at the Holiday Lodge have themes.  Like something out of a screwball comedy, we got the Honeymooner.  The decor reminded me of my grandmother: lots of frills, lace doilies, and dusty fake flowers.  Certainly not as romantic now as when it was first decorated.  Filling the room was the biggest bed of my life.  You literally had to jump or use the provided step stool to get on it.  We ended our night by playing the Jenga game that we’d found at Goodwill and drinking our $4 wine from 7-11, a label aptly named Yosemite Road.  We know how to have a good time, y’all.

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The next morning, we rose early to take advantage of the included continental breakfast.  Being the cheap traveler that I am, I need to take advantage of any and all amenities to feel that I am getting my money’s worth (I also took advantage of the shower but sadly not the microwave or coffee maker).  The “breakfast” left little to be desired, just cheap cereal, pastries, and fruit, but we enjoyed it on the enclosed breakfast patio.  We checked out of the Holiday Lodge and were on our way.  On the whole, I’d definitely recommend it as a place to stay in Nevada City.  It’s cheap, clean, and has plenty of character.  There’s even a pool that probably is nice in the dead of summer.

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We headed over to Grass Valley, Nevada City’s larger, more industrial sister, to go hiking in the Empire Mine State Historic Park.  The park was beautiful, and I was impressed with how we managed to get up early and hike while the world was still cool and brisk.  We spent hours there, and did several hikes in the park that took us to various mine ruins as well as up and down hills, alongside a damn, and over a tiny running creek.  As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the park is a popular spot for locals to run and walk their dogs, which lifted the illusion of being in the wilderness somewhat.

Old mining stuff!!!!
Old mining stuff!!!!
Waterfall and damn in Empire State Park
Waterfall and damn in Empire State Park

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After hours of hiking and munching on leftovers from the day before, we went back to Nevada City to check out the historic town in the daylight.  It could not have been more different from the night before.  The raucous, music-filled party town had rolled up it’s rugs and was replaced by a sleepy haven for dull tourists and antique scavengers.  We perused the Gold Rush artifacts and admired the buildings, but really there wasn’t too much going on.  We did have a few great local discoveries, however.   Solstice is a vintage and costume shop with a huge selection, great prices, and the most insanely artistic window displays.  We had fun poking through the crazy costumes and took home some vintage items with us.  And the Curly Wolf is both a hip and cozy place to grab a coffee with it’s plush pseudo-Victorian interior and awesome music on the stereo.

Zac with a hat in Solstice vintage and costume shop
Zac with a hat in Solstice vintage and costume shop
Old water wheel in Nevada City
Old water wheel in Nevada City

But like I said, not a lot going on in Nevada City in the daytime.  It’s still lovely and charming, but by mid-afternoon we were ready to be moving on.  I was a little sad to be heading home from our impromptu vacation so soon though.  We’d barely been gone 24 hours.  So at Zac’s suggestion, we decided to stop in Sacramento!

I’m so glad we made that stop.  Sacramento is honestly not really a place that I could care less about, but it was fun to drive around. It has a river and a bridge, which always excites me since the LA “river” is really just a giant storm drain. We made it to the Capitol Building and walked around the grounds with other tourists and city folk talking advantage of Saturday afternoon.  The building is so large and impressive!  And the grounds are huge.  They were intentionally built and landscaped to be more spectacular than other capitol parks and show off the amazingness of California.  Dotted around the grounds are trees and plants from around the world and war memorials.

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California State Capitol Building
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Plants of the World
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Vietnam War Memorial
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California State Seal

We made one last stop before heading back to San Francisco.  According to our guidebook, Sacramento’s Tower District is home to tons of cheap ethnic eats.  Before having one of the best meals of my life at the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant, we checked out the art deco Tower Theater that the area is named for and combed the dollar section at the record store (The Supremes and Tom Petty for $1 each, not bad!)

When you have a weekend that good, it’s hard to get back to real life.  But life really did catch up with me, as I’ve been working every day since.  I’m not exaggerating either.  I haven’t had a day off in almost three weeks.  But this weekend I finally get one, and my band is playing another show!  It’s in the basement of a punk record store in the Mission where you bring your own booze.  Should be fun.

Hopefully you all can expect more regular writing from me in the future.  I have several trips to start planning, and can’t wait to share them all with you!

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Good Luck and Happy Travels,


7 thoughts on “The Weekend Where We Got Away”

  1. I love living vicariously through your posts! That 24 hour vacation sounds packed full of relaxing! Are you going to write about your weekend in San Luis Obispo? I hope so

  2. I used to live in Benicia California, that at some point and time was going to be the capital for California. The building is still there. Random fact.

  3. Hey Mo, Lovely, lovey post! I now long to go to Nevada City; a city I didn’t knew existed until reading your post). That’s the mark of an excellent travel writer!

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