The halfway mark on the 101 between the bnb and San Francisco is Garberville, which makes it an ideal stop to stretch your legs or top off the tank with gas. But Garberville, and nearby Benbow (an alternate stopping point at the halfway mark), are both more and less then what they appear to be.
Benbow is a tiny dot on the map that supports just one building and business, the stately, Tudor-design Benbow Inn. We’ve stopped at the inn and done nothing more than walk the grounds, sit on the patio terrace and clear our minds from the drive. The hotel seems pretty sleepy. Its history has some sizzle in that it used to be a popular retreat for Hollywood types and even some heavy hitters from politics. Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Charles Laughton, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Fontaine, and Basil Rathbone were all patrons of the inn (you might need to google these names or ask a father or grandmother who exactly these folks were, but in the thirties and forties, they were the biggest of stars). Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Britain’s Lord Halifax also stayed here in the forties. Today the Benbow still gets rave reviews (over 500 TripAdvisor reviews, over 400 of those are four- and five-star). The owners keep the place tidy and modern looking. An electric vehicle charging station on the premises (free charging for guests) is a pretty good indication the hotel tries to stay hip. Never stayed nor dined but we’d have no hesitation to give the place a try.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Garberville. Wow, what a throwback place. In a news story a few years back, the BBC referred to Garberville as “the marijuana heartland of the US” and “a 1960s hippie town that never quite grew up.” Actually, it’s kind of a grungy place, but not without charm. It also has a few restaurants and a drive through coffee kiosk that makes it a welcome stop en route, northbound or south.
You get the feeling for the town’s love affair with dope the moment you park. Sometimes the air is just so perfectly scented with marijuana. The smell of money, we might add as Garberville has the reputation for a place whose modern-day wealth is built on the marijuana trade. State law explicitly allows for this stuff so there’s no rightful complaining. But, ooo-wee, the kids knocking around this two-horse town are waste-ED, indeed. Road-weary twenty-somethings with blank stares, backpacks, and knarly looking dogs are the norm. The picture is entertaining, but only for as long as it take to wolf down a burrito or egg roll lunch. We usually enjoy the scene, short-term, but then bust a move back to the 101 and points north or south.
Immediately to the south of Garberville-Benbow, it’s worth noting, is Richardson Grove State Park. Here, the 101 narrows to two lanes and cuts a path directly through the grove. There is an ongoing conversation about widening the highway through the grove – in fact, the widening is supposed to commence in 2017 (see links below) but for now the road is no wider then it was when it was built in 1915 . Enjoy the present-day beauty of the grove while you can. As well as the quirkiness and history of Garberville and Benbow.
The Garberville Chamber of Commerce lines up options for the short-term visitor.
David Baselt’s Redwood Hikes web site describes the physical beauty and difficult history of the state parks here, and then details the one significant trail in the park. The official State Parks site provides all the official-type information about fees, camp sites, fees, etc.
The Benbow Inn site is here, http://www.benbowinn.com/
Get yourself hip to cannabis culture in Garberville by reading up on the Cannabis College in town as well as the upcoming Cannabis Film Festival. Who knew?!
http://707humboldtcannabiscollege.com/ and http://cannabisfilmfestival.com/blog/
This 2009 article in the North Coast Journal is still among the best laid out stories that explains wha’s behind the efforts to develop further route 101 through the Grove. You’ll read both side of the debate.