The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Well worth the 10-mile round-trip detour west of US-101, the historic town of Ferndale (pop. 1,371) is an odd fish along the woodsy Northern California coast, a century-old dairy town that would look more at home in middle America. The three-block-long, franchise-free Main Street includes a fully stocked general store, the Golden Gait Mercantile (421 Main St.). Whitewashed farmhouses dot the pastoral valleys nearby. Ferndale’s diverse history is well documented inside the Ferndale Museum (515 Shaw Ave., 707/786-4466, hours vary), where some of the wacky racers that take part in the annual Kinetic Grand Championship are displayed.
Ambling along Main Street is the best way to get a feel for Ferndale, and if you build up an appetite, there are many good places to eat. One of the oldest cafés in the West, Poppa Joe’s (409 Main St., 707/786-4180), serves great diner food in a no-frills Victorian-era storefront, while one of California’s earliest hotels features a family-friendly Italian restaurant, the Hotel Ivanhoe Restaurant & Saloon (315 Main St., 707/786-9000, dinner only). On the main road midway between town and US-101 is another fast-foodie landmark: the No Brand Burger Stand (1400 Main St., 707/786-9474), where all the tasty patties are hand-formed from local grass-fed beef. Fab fries and luscious milk shakes, too. Yum.
Along with its good food options, Ferndale is equally well supplied with places to stay. Right off the heart of Main Street is the clean and tidy Redwood Suites (332 Ocean Ave., 707/786-5000, $125 and up). Also nice is the Shaw House Inn (703 Main St., 707/786-9958, $135 and up), an 1854 American Gothic masterpiece with B&B rooms for rent.