“Do you feel like you’re in a Bob Ross painting?” I asked Jake as he steered our vehicle up and down steep mountains thick with towering trees. “I feel like I’m trapped in a Bob Ross painting on drugs,” he replied, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. “I bet the woods are full of bears, too,” he added as we passed a Rock Slide Area sign followed by another featuring a truck tumbling off the side of a mountain.
The six-hour drive from Tahoe to Garberville took us through fruit and nut orchards, mountains charred by forest fire and mountains plush with trees; we passed through small towns hazy with dust, and small towns bustling with tourists and dotted with herb shops. Cell phone service was rare and call boxes appeared along the remote stretches. We weren’t sure if we found these comforting or ominous.
We passed through Lake County and hugged the shores of Clear Lake which actually glistened a vibrant green. Hardly a swimmer or boater was in sight. Later, we learned that Clear Lake is the largest and oldest freshwater lake in California and that it’s really contaminated with mercury. Each summer the lake turns thick with algae.
Tourist entities downplay the mercury and algae claiming both are natural, while other sources site old open pit mines, fertilizer runoff, global warming, septic tanks, and sewage spills. Between small, run-down resorts and elevated docks, we also noticed a random Wyndham WorldMark resort and lavish wineries hidden like complexes behind gates and hedges. We even passed a bed and breakfast where guests sleep in train cars.
Finally we reached the Benbow Inn located near the base of the Avenue of the Giants. The inn and KOA campground are the only businesses around. Someone online likened it to The Stanley Hotel featured in The Shining. The towering, 90-year hotel indeed has that vibe, in a charming way.
Upon checking in, the person at the front desk handed us an envelope containing keys. Real keys! He also explained how the bed and breakfast package that I added equalled $40 credit at the bar and restaurant. This came as music to our ears, as I originally thought the package provided $10 credits at breakfast.
Be ready to climb. The hotel is completing a massive renovation project that includes installation of an elevator and ADA-compliant suites. You may have to haul your luggage up several flights of stairs.
We heard lots of construction bangs and booms that halted by dinner. The hotel management assures guests that the work only occurs between 9 am and 6 pm. Don’t let the fenced off construction area prevent you from enjoying the patio. It’s still grand.
Each room is decked out with cream sherry. Enjoy and glass (or two) and head back downstairs for tea time.
Between three-four, the hotel lovingly sets out homemade, heart-shaped scones and hot black tea complete with brown and white sugar cubes, butter pats, and fruit marinades.
We took a gander around the lobby and plaza before hitting the bar.
There are plenty of places to sit downstairs and the hotel provides a big chess board and plenty of board games. A small desk equipped with a computer sits in the corner.
Call it serendipity or call it good timing, but began as soon as he hit the bar. For a very reasonable cost, we enjoyed drinks and a snack. The bartenders slid little cups of peanuts in our direction and shared some travel tips for the rest of our journey to Portland.
The couple next to us was celebrating their 40th anniversary. When the bartender asked about their secret to a long marriage, they thought for a minute and replied, “tolerating each other’s differences.”
We ordered one of the bartender’s favorite appetizers, the fried shrimp. In hindsight, this was my favorite dish from the whole trip. The tempura battered shrimp arrived fresh from the fryer without a trace of grease. Each was so large that it lasted for many bites. We loved the perfectly snappy texture that’s all too often lost.
The Asian-inspired dipping sauce struck the perfect balance between sweet, sour, and spicy.
There don’t seem to be many dining options nearby, yet the restaurant doesn’t take advantage of this fact. The kitchen puts so much thought and care into their dishes.
At five, we were the first to arrive for dinner. By the time we left, the bar was full and the patio buzzed with guests and live music. Dinner started with bread served with complimentary butter and olive tapenade.
Jake and I traded bites of creamy Caesar salad, seared scallops, and juicy, crispy-skinned, juicy chicken breast over mashed potatoes and pesto sauce.
After dinner, we headed to the small pool located down a walking path at the KOA campground. Inn guests are welcome to swim and borrow towels from the front desk inside the golf shop.
The only unpleasant part of our stay was the broken air conditioner. Signs around the hotel stated that a part was on the way. Since we traveled during a very hot week in August, our room was extremely hot and steamy, especially after taking showers. Unfortunately, the windows in our room did not open. I frantically fanned the door open and closed and plugged in a big fan the hotel provided.
Jake slept fine, but I woke up sweating all night. It was a good thing he drove the next day. I took lots of naps.
The friendly staff and $40 restaurant/bar credit definitely took the edge off the broken air conditioner. But mostly the $40 credit. I’m easily bought with food.
If you plan to drive The Avenue of the Giants, we highly recommend you stay at the Benbow Inn. We had more fun staying here than we have anywhere else. By the time you arrive, you’ll most definitely have air conditioning and possibly elevators.
There are plenty of heart scones and the redwoods are waiting.