Between the Humboldt Redwoods and Portland, we drove over to Ferndale. We saw it on our family vacation last year, when I added it to our must-see list, solely on the fact that it’s reproduced both in Disneyland’s California Adventure and Legoland California. According to the parks, Ferndale is famed for its well-preserved Victorian buildings.

Now, after having been there, as far as I’m concerned the Victorians are the least of Ferndale’s attractions. They’re no more beautiful or striking than the old Victorians in San Francisco or San Jose, and you can find buildings like that in any little town that hasn’t had economic growth or natural disasters. What does make Ferndale unique is an annual kinetic sculpture race, which channels the hippie mania for whimsy and psychedelia with some human-powered motoring know-how to make something truly unique and spectacular. There’s a small, free museum in the town where you can see some of competitors, like this one: slipper-car.jpg

Because of the race, Ferndale is more tourism-friendly than a similar town might be, and has several bed-and-breakfast hotels and art galleries. But its biggest appeal to my family is its small-town atmosphere. In particular, Neil wanted to re-visit Times Remembered, a small store that specializes in tested family-friended classics, from pounding blocks to great games and jigsaw puzzles.

On this day, we’d also decided to have our breakfast in Ferndale. Peter almost refused to let us into a restaurant called Poppa’s, on the basis of the wisdom “never eat a place called Mama’s.” But it turned out to serve an excellent hot breakfast, and its rustic charm was enhanced by the fact that several locals were playing gambling games in the back. A woman approached me and asked if we were visiting. I wasn’t sure how to answer, because my big-city “you’re about to be panhandled” radar went off, but I told her the truth. As it turned out, she’d just noticed Neil and Kelly and wanted to tip me off about two great nearby playgrounds the kids might enjoy. That‘s small-town charm, and that’s one of the inherent qualities that has us loving the little town on the Lost Coast.

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