In July, 2011, Foster Huntington left his design job at Polo Ralph Lauren in Manhattan and moved into a 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. He then did that thing that young men like him have been doing for generations: He headed west. His goal was to spend more time outdoors, surfing in the Pacific and camping onshore. Living on the advance money for 'The Burning House,' a photo book about people's most cherished belongings, he bounced from Oregon to Baja and back again. Foster is still on the road, and he says that after all his time on the coast, there is one spot he loves most – a stretch of California cliffside just north of San Francisco.
"There's a 300-mile stretch of coast between Marin [County] and southern Oregon that rarely gets traveled," says Huntington. "My favorite area to camp is around Point Arena. There are some nice coffee shops to hang out at, some amazing beaches to walk around and [to] surf."
Farther inland, on the other side of a forest famed for its hidden marijuana farms, the hippy enclave of Ukiah meditates next to Lake Mendocino. But Point Arena, six hours from San Francisco and eight hours from Portland, is a lonely place. Most nearby coastal towns have fewer than 200 residents – cosmopolitan Point Arena has just over 400 – so no one comes for the nightlife. Instead, travelers enjoy expansive sunsets and empty beaches. Huntington, who says nothing south of the Golden Gate Bridge ought to count as NorCal, can park his VW pretty much wherever he wants.
"You need an excuse to go there – it's not a casual weekend-trip place," says Huntington. "There are great places to camp, the redwoods, and cool little towns that feel more like Maine than Mendocino County."
Beyond downtown, a block of neat facades, Point Arena's main attraction is its towering lighthouse, which flashes some 115 feet above a reddish cliff and sits not far from the San Andreas Fault. It was damaged during the tremblers in 1906. That was just about the last time something happened in town. For Huntington, that sleepiness is a massive draw. He just wants a place to park by the sea.
More information: Huntington, who runs the excellent blog A Restless Transplant, is currently raising money to self-publish a book about life on the road on Kickstarter. 'Home Is Where You Park It' gives a glimpse into the lives of the West Coast's nomadic class. As Huntington puts it, vans are "enablers of lifestyles."