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Thursday, September 9, 2021



While lingering somewhere between the dreaming and planning stages for a potential vacation this summer, I began thinking of the other vacations I’ve had over the years, and specifically the ones that were in “cabins,” of one sort or another. Friends and avid readers know that I came from a big family, with five younger sisters. We didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of money growing up – my dad commonly worked two jobs, and my mom was either pursuing her continuing education or working (or both) from the time I was at Ben Franklin Junior High School, through my college years. Essentially, not an easy task keeping food on the table, a roof over our many heads, and presentable clothes on us, and vacations were a luxury that we totally appreciated.


We didn’t have vacations every year like many of our friends’ families did. There was a string of years in my later grammar school / early junior high days when we were consistent with visits to Russian River, but otherwise the “annual” vacation was more like every two or three years. And it seems that we always stayed in a cabin of some variety. A small, one or two-room place that would fit the family, and my mom and her friends could cook.


Clear Lake and Mt. Konocti

My earliest recollection of a vacation was a couple day stay in a small cabin in Clear Lake, which for you non-Californians is a big lake in Lake County that resides in the shadow of Mt. Konocti, a 4300-foot, long-dormant volcano. I was probably no more than three or four, and remember very little about the cabin, and way too much about my first experience with the lake. I recall the lake and what seemed to be waves being quite daunting. It’s a huge lake, and I imagine the wind kicked up just enough to cause some mini breakers to roll onto the beach. And I wanted no part of the water, waves, or swimming. This of course would change over the next few years, but for this little three-year old (although I was never “little”), it didn’t leave a good impression.


Felton and Ben Lomond

From ages five through eleven I spent much of my summer break time at my grandparents’ house(s), first in San Mateo, then in Bonnie Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and then in the house in Felton. The latter house was on whimsically named Lazywoods Road, and was halfway between Felton and Ben Lomond, and about 10 miles out of Santa Cruz up scenic, redwood-lined Highway 9. The house was in fact a glorified cabin itself, so I supposed it’s in keeping with the “cabin” theme here. A couple of bedrooms, small kitchen, living room, and a deck overlooking the meandering San Lorenzo River. Best friends Christy and Nancy Murray lived next door, and the three of us would spend long summer days swimming in the river behind the house or at the dam in Ben Lomond, or bugging an old Irish gentleman named Pat Farley for a ride in his rowboat. I remember summers at the house on Lazywoods as being some of the most carefree and pure fun that I’ve ever experienced.


Several times a week we got to go to the “dam” in Ben Lomond, which was essentially a good-sized swimming area created by damming up the San Lorenzo River. There was a nice little beach, a concession stand, and one of the coolest things this six-year-old ever saw … a rope that you would hang onto and swing out over the river and drop into the cool water. This entailed swimming across the river first, climbing up a dirt bank, waiting in a line of varying size over the course of the day, holding on to one of the big knots in the thick rope, and lettin’ her rip out over the dammed-up San Lorenzo. I’ve done this a million times for sure … and of course I never exaggerate!

Once or twice a week they held a kids’ dance in a little area next to the concession stand. And since we were in fact kids, we’d do things like the Bunny Hop and the Hokey Pokey and would have a great time doing so.


At age 16, on this same little “beach” at the Ben Lomond dam, my friend Marty and I were walking along, and he said “hey, there’s Char!”  Charlane was named after her parents Charlie and Jane, and we became fast friends. So, it was on this little stretch of sand where I loved swinging out onto the river 10 years earlier, where I met another great friend who I still see occasionally to this day … and the “cabin” reference is this … her parents owned the first cabin up the hill beyond the concession stand. Right off the beach, right there in Ben Lomond. Marty and I would always stop in when we were in the area on surfing trips, visiting our friend Char, commonly accompanied by her best friend Sue. Good times. Many years back.


Russian River – Guerneville

Back to grammar school and another cabin or two. Russian River is a meandering stream that flows through Napa and Sonoma counties, and it can be counted on to experience major flooding about every ten years, much to the dismay of the residents of Guerneville. Guerneville (it’s pronounced “gurn-ville,” not “gurney-ville,” which is a dead giveaway that you’re not from the area. Like “Frisco,” the locals resent it). This area is near and dear to my heart for several reasons. My paternal grandfather’s side of the family are all from the Guerneville and Sebastopol areas, and their history there literally goes back well over a hundred years. My grandfather built a hunting lodge in nearby Cazadero called “Milerick’s,” and hunted and fished the area for decades. Our genealogy is also documented in a book called “Patriarch of the Valley, the story of my great-great-great (I think that’s the right number of greats!) Grandfather Isaac Sullivan.” One of my sisters stumbled on it while researching our family history in Sebastopol, where there’s a Sullivan graveyard on Sullivan Avenue. Amazing discoveries for sure. We had no idea.


Our first couple Russian River vacations were spent in a little cabin at Johnson’s Beach Resort, which is near the bridge that takes you over the river and into Guerneville. Great little beach, and the resort hasn’t changed much in the last forty years (or likely much longer).


Among my fond recollections of Johnson’s stays, was my afternoon treks into town. My mom would put “the girls” down for mid-day naps, and she and her friends who were staying in neighboring cabins would all get together and play bridge. My mom lived for bridge, and was by all accounts, an expert at it. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time, and nap time for the girls meant I got some time alone, and usually spent it walking into town, checking out the shops along main street.


The highlight of my daily walk would be a visit to a little ice cream parlor in the middle of town, where I’d either have a root beer float or a several-scoop ice cream cone. The floats were awesome. Lyon’s root beer, a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, served in frozen glass mugs with a big handle, which were retrieved from the ice cream freezer in front of the counter. And the cones were fantastic. My recollection is that the first scoop was a dime, and subsequent scoops were a nickel apiece. For a quarter, you could buy a four-scoop balancing act of a cone and do your best to eat if before it melted in the summer sun. I got very good at this.


The cabins at Johnson’s, as well as the one we stayed at for a couple of years at Guernewood Park, were very rustic, small, cramped, efficiencies of sorts. A bedroom for my mom (my dad would visit on the weekends, and worked during the week), another room for my sisters, and I’d sleep in a little cubby somewhere … off the kitchen, in the living room, or wherever there was a cot or makeshift bed. I wasn’t picky … we cherished our vacation time at Russian River.


Guernewood Park was a mile out of town. This meant that my mid-day trek took a little longer, but certainly didn’t stop me from walking into town for my ice cream or Lyon’s float. I had also started surfing by this time, so I got to bring my home-made board up with me, and this provided a paddleboard for the river. They actually rented paddleboards for a couple bucks a day, but my sleek 9’7″ board was of course the envy of the beach (in my little mind anyway). I also recall falling head-over-heels with a cute little brunette one summer and was very disappointed when she wasn’t there the following year. Such is life at 12 or 13 years old.


One of my mom’s staple dinners was tacos. Easy to do in mass quantities, everyone loved ’em, and they were an inexpensive way to feed a group of hungry ladies and kids. These were always “communal” vacations where several of my mom’s friends would rent nearby cabins, and meals were commonly shared ventures. My mom’s tacos consisted of corn tortillas fried in oil (she fried everything), a spoonful of cheap ground beef, some diced tomato, shredded yellow cheese, lettuce, and taco sauce. Not exactly what I’d serve guests today, but for a group of hungry kids on vacation, it was an awesome dinner. I could probably down about 10 of these, prompting my mom to coin the phrase “El Lardo” for her butterball son.


I love staying in cabins. Hotels are fine and I certainly welcome a nice stay in a luxurious room, but there’s something about a cabin in the country, or at the beach, that just does it. I’ve stayed at the Plumas Pines Resort at Lake Almanor many times, and absolutely love it. The cabins at the Cambria Pines Lodge are far superior to the more luxurious guest rooms in the hotel. It’s essentially only a place to sleep, relax, and maybe cook a meal in a small kitchen, but the idea of a wooden framed cabin just seems to offer a level of privacy and individuality that you don’t get in a high-rise hotel or even a condo.


Post Ranch Inn – Big Sur

A few years ago, we were treated to the ultimate cabin for four straight years, compliments of our wonderful friends Dave and Trudy. The “cabin” was one of the cliff houses at the Post Ranch Inn, called the Ocean House. It overlooked the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline anywhere. I defy anyone to name a better sunset patrol spot than Post Ranch or the deck at nearby restaurant Nepenthe (try an Ambrosia burger and a split of champagne and claim your vantage point on the deck … early).


Post Ranch Inn is an amazingly idyllic spot, the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. It’s ridiculously expensive and worth every penny. Above the clouds (rumor has it they “pay” for their weather), overlooking the Pacific where you commonly see migrating whales, it’s a small piece of heaven on earth. The Sierra Mar restaurant provides world-class dining, the wine list is amazing (ask for the big list if you’re daring), and once again, the sunsets are nothing short of amazing.


And the “cabins” at Post Ranch are once again small, cozy efficiencies built into the hillside. They are specifically designed to “blend” into the surroundings, as opposed to sticking out like a sore thumb on the cliff. There are no TV’s, just a satellite radio that generally provides Enya and New-Age type music, which is a perfect fit. The tub and shower overlook the Pacific and make it difficult to not linger for a while. The deck is a perfect spot to watch for passing whales and reflect on the world around you. This is of course ideally done with a glass of wine and your favorite companion to enjoy it with you. A couple of days of this will totally revitalize you. Any tensions that you started out with are gone after a day. By day two, you’re on the upswing side of a whole new lease on life. If you can afford it, do it. You’ve earned it and you won’t be sorry for the investment in this special time away from the rest of the world.


So, I’m back to this year’s vacation planning. Hmmm … early candidates included another trip to Maui (always a good choice – don’t miss a dinner at Mama’s Fish House if you go), maybe a beach in Mexico somewhere, or maybe … just maybe … a more local jaunt that will include a couple of cabins. I’m thinking we’ll start at a Cambria Pines Inn “cabin” for the first few nights, then move inland to a Solvang cabin for a couple of nights. Multiple wine countries, lots of coastal viewing opportunities, some quality “pool time,” some nice meals, and the not-to-be-missed authentic Danish cookies in one of the many Solvang bakeries. Get a couple buckets of them, they never go to waste.


So, the executive decision has been made … we’re heading off to a couple of cabins, and all that Central California has to offer. Done.


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