A Very Vintage Road Trip: Eureka!


After leaving the mellow surroundings of Coos Bay I drove south, hugging the coast as ever to my next stop, Eureka. It wasn’t just the silly name that drew me to Eureka. For the most part it seemed a sensible stopping point between Coos Bay and San Francisco but it had the added benefit of housing one of the most well preserved historical districts along the West Coast. I say sensible place to stop but it’s all bloody relative in America. EVERYTHING is far away from everything in that ridiculous country. Driving down the coast feels like being seated at one of those empty stately home dining tables where you have to ask the Butler to pass the salt to your companion 30ft down the other end. Just to give you an idea, it took me over seven hours to drive to San Francisco the next day, along an admittedly scenic route, but still. Seven hours! People in Britain completely acceptably won’t see family members for twenty years if they live seven hours drive away.

Eureka is nestled in Humboldt Bay in the heart of the Redwood area. The Redwood forests were spectacular and I would have stopped the car to take pictures but I was scared that wood elves would appear and drag me into their lichen covered dell to serve as a giant plaything in their cruel Puck-like tauntings, a la Gulliver’s Travels if I did so. Ok, I had been on the road for quite some time by this point but seriously that place has an eerily magical air when traversing it alone. Or it could just be misty. You decide depending on your levels of imagination.


The bay area was settled by Californian miners and lumber merchants during the booming heyday of the mid-19th century. I say settled but of course it goes without saying that there were people living in the area for thousands of years prior to this, but shhhh, yeah, let’s not talk about those guys eh Western history? Oooh burn.

Eureka’s old town spans 350 acres and estimates vary as to how many historic buildings it has, ranging from 100-1000. Essentially the old town proper runs from 1st, 2nd and 3rd streets between B and M. I realise if you’re British this means nothing to you because we had to build our towns twisted around old Roman Forts or Merlin’s Nook copse or some such place but in America most towns are laid out in a sensible gird pattern, helpfully numbered in a systematic way. This is what happens when you have space.


Eureka’s historic buildings aren’t in and of themselves particularly spectacular, the fact that they are still standing is. I have found little to answer how or why they have survived for the last 150 years and why Eureka didn’t experience a neighbourhood revival as many other cities did after the Great Depression, such as Los Angeles. Perhaps the residents of Eureka were of a particularly nostalgic persuasion, perhaps the artistic atmosphere of the place prevailed or perhaps it was too much of a faff for big city developers to travel to (not to labour a point but, SEVEN HOURS, and that was in an automatic). Anyway, alls I knows is that when I arrived on a remarkably warm February evening during a pink tinged dusk the old town was glowing with pastel light which bounced off of the macaroon hued wooden structures. It was Friday night and like everywhere I had visited in America thus far, noticeably quiet and empty. Occasionally couples wandered past me and into one of the few local eateries, all bedecked with swirling gold bistro writing spelling out names like ‘The Crock Pot’ or ‘Sam’s’. I saw one family comprising two wholesome parents and their two equally wholesome children, walking down a street of about 100m and looking in the closed shop windows, then crossing the road and walking back up the other side of the street, just as an activity, something to do on a Friday night in Eureka. Most of the coffee and tourist shops were closed at 5pm and I had to remind myself that it was off season. In the height of summer the place was probably heaving with tourists like a bad day in Padstow. But now, at the end of winter it was just locals, and the odd weird English woman on a solo road trip after the breakdown of a 12 year relationship (oh yeah, I haven’t really mentioned that before, but that happened. A few months ago. And it’s ok. No one died, no one was mean and the world is still magical, inspiring and wondrous to me).


I headed towards the big catch of Old Town Eureka, the Carson Mansion. Carson Mansion is a great Queen Anne cream cake of a building, built in 1883 by San Francisco based architects Samuel and Joseph Cather Newson for lumber baron William Carson and his wife Sarah. The design itself is a mixture of styles, but is predominately in the Queen Anne tradition, so popular with late Victorian American architecture. Queen Anne is the style that Charles Addams plumped for when designing every goth girl’s Barbie Dream house, The Addams Family Mansion. The Carson Mansion, being one of the finest examples of the style in the country, could reasonably be supposed to have served as inspiration to Addams.


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After Carson’s heirs moved out of Eureka the property lay unoccupied for several years until a band of local Eurekan chaps got together to form the Ingomar Club, so named for Carson’s favourite play, Ingomar the Barbarian. Appropriately so it seems as while the Ingormar should be applauded for its single handed maintenance and restoration of the building, it is rather a dinosaur in its approach to female admittance, to the ire of many local female officials who in 1978 had to bring a law suit to court in order to join their male colleagues on official business in the building. Now women are admitted for certain formal functions but only as guests and presumably not for too long for fear that their wandering hysteria may synchronise and form a portal to the underworld dragging the house down to a fiery doom and it’s unsuspecting occupants with it. There have also been cases of sexual harassment bought against the club by staff members and generally the place has a whiff of white rich male elitism about it. In recent years the Ingomar appears to have taken some steps towards greater community inclusion with a website which, while presenting the club primarily as mere custodians of the building rather than talking about the organisation itself, does have photographs of the interior of the property for the first time. However it does seem strange coming from a country where even the Queen allows you to snoop around her upstairs, that a historic property of such renown is closed to the public and experienced by only 300 men paying $120 per month (last known membership dues dating from 1995 – surely this has now increased). As I was standing in the silent evening staring up at the building, a car pulled up across the street and a lady with poufy burgundy hair and a fancy frock and matching drape jacket leaned out.

‘Excuse me, do you know if this is the parking entrance? Here, where it says ‘No Admittance’?’
‘I don’t know I’m afraid, I’m just here taking pictures’. I said, unnecessarily gesturing to the Sony Alpha hanging from my neck like a hipster Flava Flav.
‘Oh Ok, thank you. We’ll back up out of your way.’

Which they did. Because they were a nice American couple, and nice American couples do things like that. Not like us awkward Brits who would rather mummify at the wheel like Norman Bates’ mother before leaning out of the window to ask a stranger a question. After about 10 minutes of snapping I headed back into town. As I passed by them the lady shouted out to me again.

‘It’s wonderful building isn’t it?’
‘Yes, it’s amazing, I can’t quite take it all in. Do you know what goes on inside?’
‘It’s a private members club. We’re only allowed in for dinner tonight because it’s a special function and we’ve been invited by a member. I’m very excited’.
‘I’m sure you are’. I said.


Across the street from Carson Mansion is The Pink Lady, a house William had built by his architects for his son in 1889 as a wedding present. How fantastically lovely. Near the Carson Mansion is the Carson House Inn which is actually a replica of the 1885 Newson and Newson designed property Murphy House in San Francisco, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. It apparently has a fantastic wine selection should you be into that sort of thing.

It was dark by the time I reached the main drag again. I didn’t much fancy sitting in ‘The Oyster Grill’ surrounded by warm, fuzzy folks as I chomped my way through a baby sized portion of unfailingly delicious food, so I headed to Starbucks, bought a massive white chocolate mocha and checked my emails. I had several. I always have several because I have lovely family and friends who relentlessly take the time to write to me in spite of my shameful and unremitting delay in getting back to anyone and everyone I care about. I walked back to my car and the darkness. The streets were completely deserted and I felt ready for my hotel bed. ‘Well, must be about time for lights out’ I thought to myself as I checked the dash. It was 8pm.



A Very Vintage Roadtrip Part 2, Driving the 101

Just a few pictures of the drive between Portland and Coos Bay along the 101, that amazing road that hugs the wild Oregon coast. I first glimpsed the steaming swirling Pacific through the gaps between the wooden slatted buildings of Lincoln City. I had never seen it before and I found it’s ferocity momentarily unnerving. The thought of having this tempestuous mass as a driving companion for the next 1000 miles was like having a dragon in my passenger seat. Smaug’s  fiery eye peered at me between bait shops and one story houses as I wondered how I would ever come to consider it an ally. Slowly, as the distance dissolved we found a calm companionship and now as with any good friend, I miss it terribly.







A Very Vintage Notebook Roadtrip Part 1, Portland


I came, I saw, I conquered a huge quantity of white chocolate mochas. Yes peoples I am returned from a 1000 mile solo road trip down the West Coast of America. It wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment decision to go, but due to my work schedule it was only a matter of a few weeks between booking and leaving and without a long run up, with ample opportunity to research, plan and obsess about the trip, the whole thing feels like a bit of a whirlwind. The brevity of the lead-time bellies the fact that this was a journey I had been wanting to make for a long time. Similar to my love for all things Scandinavian, for the longest time I have had the sneaking suspicion that life would be better in America. Not really. I love the UK, it’s where my soul and pussycats reside. However in superficial ways I kinda wanna be American. Growing up I always wanted to attend an American High School and go to prom and summer camp. When I became too old for that to be a reasonable possibility I set my sights on being an Ivy League College gal in the 1950’s, undoubtedly fuelled by reading Sylvia Plath’s diaries from her time at Brown and having a penchant for twinsets and wool skirts. Now that even that dream seems out of step with my current lifeplan, I have become mildly obsessed with America as presented by the Pinterest phenomenon – Starbucks, homemade Halloween decorations and amazing make up tutorials. It is a Photoshopped life I know, but one I still wanted to experience. And so it was that one Monday morning I packed up my favourite knitwear and armed only with a Spotify playlist and lifelong incurable optimism that ‘it’ll be fine’, I flew over the snow peaked mountains of Canada with dreams in my head and doughnuts in my eyes.

First stop on the mocha-express was Portland Oregon. I had heard rumours on the vintage vine that Portland has great and many thrift stores, not to mention the infamous Voodoo Doughnut shop. Portland is much how I imagine Generation X Seattle was 20 years ago before everyone grew up and got jobs in the dot com years and now spend their weekends at kids parties talking about how much they flipped their last house for. It’s a bit like a whole city of Shoreditch, but somehow it manages not to be full of twats. The city mainly seems to be populated by late twenty somethings who work in indie coffee shops (more on that later) whilst trying to break into whichever profession has truly stolen their heart. The architecture is low-rise brick buildings housing marketing and graphic design companies interspersed with leather goods stores selling handmade boots and satchels. The place has an undeniable charm, with stripped down Americana sitting alongside contemporary minimalism in a cohesive and remarkably unpretentious way. It is a compact place and I was able to walk to pretty much everything I wanted to see within a few hours of arriving. The walkability of the city has led to it being a centre for eco and environmental living and as I ambled along to the waterfront on a particularly warm and bright Tuesday lunchtime I found scores of folks merrily jogging along the Willamette River and over the imposing edifice of the Steel Bridge.


One of Portland’s numerous monikers is ‘Bridge City’ due to the glut of them connecting the east and west banks, but the Steel Bridge is the undisputed king of the crop. Built in 1912 it is a double platform beast transporting pedestrians, cars and trains over the milky grey waters of the Willamette. Against the sharp bright winter sky the geometric lines of the colossal structure held an imposing and stark beauty, evoking the industrial logging roots of the city, when the riverside would have been crammed full of tugs and carriages, all hustling and bustling. This era gave rise to Portland’s reputation during the early part of the 20th century as one of the most dangerous port cities in the world.

BCGlittery bricks outside Voodoo Doughnuts

On my second day I met up with a friend of a friend named Crystal who was absolutely wonderful and took me to Blue Star doughnuts, the famous Ace café photo booth and a crazy vintage store where I picked up a Bakelite style clasp handbag for next to nothing. On the way back into town she took me to her old workplace – Stumptown coffee. Born and raised in Portland Stumptown is at the forefront of the new wave coffee movement where connoisseurs, roasters and baristas share a love and interest in responsibly sourced, locally roasted coffee with as much dedication as many a wine aficionado. Stumptown HQ is a wood panelled dell which smells incredible and is full of friendly, chilled twenty somethings hoofing bags of beans about and watching over the roaster with the nurturing air of people who have had the good fortune to end up in a place that they actually like. It was a wonderful, random and unique experience to visit. Crystal moved on from Stumptown to focus on a career in radio and she currently puts together a great literary arts archive show on Oregon Public Radio, which you can listen to here.

A Portland institution is Powell’s City of Books at 1005 W Burnside St. Powell’s is the largest new and used bookstore in the world with over 9 rooms chocked full with an estimated one million tomes covering everything from practical magic to molecular science. I spent a happy afternoon walking the isles and running my hands over millions of words, imagining a world where I could read them all forever. It was a dreamy, warm place, much like the city itself, and I came away with a few road maps for my upcoming journey.

My top 5 tips for things to do in Portland:

1. The aforementioned Powell’s books. I challenge you not to find a book that you have wanted to read for ages but never got around to. And they have coffee on site – of course.

2. The Stepping Stone Café. I stopped in here for breakfast to fuel up before the first leg of my dive, and it was undoubtedly the best food I had in the city. Despite the establishment catchphrase of ‘you eat here because we let you’ the staff were chatty as I sat at the counter and chowed down on the bacon and cheese scramble with rye bread. So freaking good.

3. Blue Star doughnuts. Voodoo doughnuts may make the headlines, but Portland’s other hometown  fried dough brand are in my humble opinion, lighter and tastier than their brasher counterpart. I recommend the maple bacon!

4. The Ace Hotel and café where you can sip on Stumptown while relaxing in the stylish surroundings of the old Clyde Hotel building before getting the obligatory photobooth snaps.

5. The House of Vintage on the East side of town is a vast chasm of vintage and fancy dress pieces. Any and everything can either be purchased or hired, and there is a phenomenal collection of period eyewear on offer which can be fitted with your prescription.

Last word of advice? Go to Portland if you get the chance!