Put it on Your List: Washoe House

14th September 2011

I’ve always wanted to drive cross country, and I’ve started collecting a little list of places to see along the way. Here’s one for you:

If you find yourself in Petaluma, California, especially if it’s cold out, consider stopping for a drink at the Washoe House.

The place has been around since 1859, and used to be a stop on the stagecoach line. Patrons have been tacking dollar bills to the walls for decades, so the bars walls are almost ruffled. It looks like the world’s most expensive parade float turned inside out.

I can spend hours reading the notes on the bills over an Irish Coffee.

How about you? What would you add to a stranger’s road trip map?

49 thoughts on “Put it on Your List: Washoe House

  1. Kizz

    Any Frank Lloyd Wright house you can fit in. The big ball of string. Carhenge. Anything remotely related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. (What I’m actually doing is giving you the stops on my mythical cross country road trip but I think we’ll both enjoy it.) Grand Canyon. That spot where NM, UT and 2 other states come together at one precise corner. Route 66. Any minor league ballfield. OK, I’ll stop now. My daydream is leaking all over your comments section. I’ll go get you a towel.

  2. Victoria

    See now, I look at those photos, and I think that’s a lotta stripper tips gone to waste.

    But! Anyway! To answer your question, no cross country trip would be complete without a night at Red’s in Clarkdale, Mississippi. I spent one of the best nights of my life dancing to the blues and drinking whiskey there. Not a single club in any other city or town I’ve ever been to comes even close to the dancing and the music and the good people at Red’s.

  3. Connie @ Daydream In Color

    I must stop by there some day!

    I have to say must stop in Oregon is Montage for their rude yet polite servers that scream & Southern food & make sure to leave some leftovers because they make foil animals/objects that would make any clown balloon artist envious!

    Enchanted forest in Salem, OR is also a fun stop. A watchmaker’s dream was to make his own amusement park and so with each watch he fixed he bought a bag of cement and began molding fairy tale characters. Enchanted Forest nestled in the trees is the result!

  4. Brandy

    When my husband and I lived in Santa Cruz, we spent a few weekends driving the California – Arizona section of Route 66. The best discovery we made was Shaffer Fish Bowl, a few miles outside of Oatman, AZ. (http://www.theroadwanderer.net/RT66goldroad.htm)
    I don’t know the history of it, but it’s a set of stairs carved out of the mountain and a bowl that catches rainwater. It’s in the middle of nowhere desert, nestled in the bosom of a hairpin turn. I only noticed it after spying some of the steps in the side mirror.

    It’s really something to see and worth the trip. Stop in at Oatman too. The former gold mining town is a great little stop and you might get a chance to pet a wild (though tourist friendly) donkey!

  5. Nora

    I’ve stayed in Petaluma several times (the KOA campground has a petting zoo! With friendly goats!), but I had no idea this was there. Road trip!

    I recommend stopping at Heinold’s First And Last Chance Saloon in Oakland. Jack London drank (and wrote) there!

  6. Carahe

    I am forever planning a road trip based entirely around fantastic secondhand bookstores, and up in your area(ish) is one of may favorites, Twice Told Books in Guerneville. Every time I’ve gone I’ve discovered a book that I now can’t live without, to the point that I have a special shelf right next to my bed dedicated to those purchases, so I can easily save them in the event of a natural disaster.

    And the next time you go to Petaluma, you should really stop by Lombardi’s Barbeque & Deli. You will thank me, I promise you.

  7. Em

    Kizz, That’s Four Corners in the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

    I want to make a list like that, of all the places I’d like to go and see, especially kitschy, folk-arty places.

  8. Kristin C

    I spent a year touring the Midwest and West with Missoula Children’s Theatre and some of my favorite places were: The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota (plus the creepy doll museum across the street), Elkader, Iowa a really cool little town where the Turkey River flows in the Mississippi (they have the best little movie theater where you can reserve a seat for the night’s show and they put a little quilt on the seat that you have reserved.), and Calumet, Michigan, a town that feels like the town in the movie Fargo (creepy in a good way, go to the Calumet Opera House haunted by the ghost of Helena Modjeska).

    The best places on my tour were definitely the smaller towns that had lots of character!

  9. Geno

    Star hotel in Elko Nevada. The restaurant is amazing. Some of the best Basque food in the US. And everything is served family style. Just pick your meat and it comes with pasta, green beans, fries, salad, soup.

  10. amy

    just got back from a road trip a few weeks ago. since we were in salt lake city on a saturday night, we camped on antelope island on the great salt lake (ooh! buoyancy!) in order to see/hear the mormon tabernacle choir on sunday morning. i’m so grateful we did – the moment i walked in the doors, i was tickled and touched by the beauty of their music. i’d recommend it to all (plus: go early to listen to them rehearse if you’d like to skip the entire service. we did!)

  11. Laura Jane

    I’m a Milwaukee girl originally from Chicago, so I’d recommend The Mars Cheese Castle which is on 94W in between the two cities in Kenosha. It’s a castle. Filled with cheese (and beer. This is Wisconsin, after all.)

  12. Jeri

    My daughter and I did this three years ago. We started in Fairfax, VA (where we lived at the time) and decided we would travel as far as Yellowstone. We had no plan – we would drive the northern route and wander off to see anything that struck our fancy. A few things we discovered that are on our must see again list:

    Gettysburg, Blue Earth Minnesota, home of the Jolly Green Giant, Mt. Rushmore, Porter Sculpture Garden (this amazing art right on the side of I-90!), Reptile Gardens (the largest collection of reptiles in the world!), Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands (we spent a few days camping out under the stars and wandering), Wall Drug and finally Yellowstone. We then took three days to rush back but the wandering was amazing. We ate at dives, diners and local joints (no fast food, nothing chain) and met a lot of wonderful people who I wish I had thought to get their contact information. Lesson learned for next time. The entire trip is documented here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fractalmind/collections/72157607148706340/ Feel free to peruse and add to your trip plans if anything catches your eye!

  13. Leah

    There’s a similar restaurant with bills everywhere in Leavenworth, Washington. It’s a neat little Bavarian town tucked into the mountains and fun to visit.

    I’ve done several cross country trips. Wind Caves National Park is really fun and one of my favorite places I’ve visited on a trip. National parks in general make me happy.

    If you ever make it to the Merritt Refuge area of Florida (near Orlando), be sure to eat the rock shrimp at Dixie’s Crossroads.

  14. Nan

    Golly, no wonder we have national debt — all the missing dang dollars are at Washoe House.

    If you’re ever in Becket MA (which is pretty much like the middle of nowhere) check out the Dream Away Lodge. I think people almost have more fun with the legend of the Dream Away than they do with the Dream Away itself but that’s OK, it’s still an interesting stop.

  15. Maren

    I grew up in Petaluma but have somehow never visited the Washoe House, despite driving by it often. Local folklore says that when Lincoln was shot the Republicans of Petaluma got together to march on the Democrats of Santa Rosa, but stopped at the Washoe House for a drink and never got any farther.

  16. Rebecca

    If you’re stopping in Chicago, go to the Museum of Science and Industry and 1) Watch baby chicks being born, and 2) Look at Colleen Moore’s fairy castle (especially if you were one of those little girls who adored doll houses). The museum is also just generally awesome.

  17. Caitlin

    Safe Haven near Madison, Wisconsin – it’s a SPY-themed restaurant! False entrance, secret passageways, hidden doors, a map with ‘targets’…. and the food and drinks are delicious.

  18. Sassafras Mama

    I’ve made a few cross-country trips and always have a blast. On my life-list these days is a cross-country trip with my son driving (he’s 11 now, so I’ve got some time). Among the (tacky) places I’d like to stop: Carhenge, in Nebraska. You could also plan trips around places that have big balls of twine, as that seems to be a popular pastime in this nation.

    Fun to think about!

  19. ali

    Perry’s Nut House in Belfast, Maine. It’s kitschy and junky and AMAZING fudge!!!! It’s not what it used to be when we were kids and would stop on our way up from NJ each summer (new owners) but it’s still worth a stop!!!!

  20. jen

    I’ve driven cross-country twice and would like, someday, to do it as a vacation instead of a time-strapped step in a move. Still, here are the places I would recommend, should folks find themselves in these areas:

    Noonie’s Deli in the Marbleworks of Middlebury, VT. Actually, just go to the Marbleworks, eat anywhere that tickles your fancy (but the sandwiches at Noonie’s are YUM), then cross Otter Creek via the footbridge to check out the shops in Frog Hollow.

    Darrell’s Restaurant, Manteo, NC. The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a wonder, and so are the crabcakes and hush puppies at Darrell’s.

    Cheesetique Specialty Cheese Shop and Wine Bar, Alexandria, VA. Stop here, buy your picnic, and head down to the waterfront in Old Town. But! If you’d like bread for your cheese(s), run down the street to Caboose Bakery and get ’em to slice a baguette up for you.

  21. Liz @ Bella Vita

    I second Connie: Come to Oregon!

    There’s a cute little ghost town called Shaniko in central Oregon.

    Take a drive over Mt. Hood when the leaves are changing color and stop in at Timberline Lodge. It’s a beautiful drive and great old ski lodge.

    Or come all the way out to Eastern Oregon (drive along the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge) and stop in for a glass of wine at Maryhill Winery (about 30 minutes east of The Dalles). Technically, it’s on the Washington side of the river, but we like to claim it.

  22. norm

    Dang! I, too, have camped at the Petaluma KOA (goats and all) and had not heard of the Washoe House. That sounds great!

    300 miles down US 101 from there is Jocko’s, in Nipomo. HUGE steaks deliciously cooked RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES on the Santa Maria style oak pit grill. I think maybe it’s not a secret any more, but it’s worth a try if your route takes you that way.

  23. robin

    There is a lovely 55 foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth Minnesota. Wish I still had the pic of myself there, but my ex never shared them with me. :(

  24. Brittany

    This reminds me of two bars just like that with all the dollars tacked to the walls. Hole in the Wall here in Ketchikan, Alaska, and the Salty Dog Saloon up in Homer. Cool places!

  25. K8

    Grand Marais Minnesota. Up in the arrowhead peninsula, the last stop before Canada. It is Northwoods Midwest at its best. True, it would have to be a roadtrip to Ontario, or a drive around the great lakes, but still, so great.

  26. mims

    i live in Santa Rosa, and my now deceased neighbor, Ardez Barham, grew up on Jack Londons Ranch in Glen Ellen. She and her sister used to ride their ponies to the Washoe for dances in the 1920’s. They would spend the night in one of the upstairs bedroom with about five girls to a bed. “Christian Sleeping arrangments only!” Ardez would say.

  27. coco

    House on the Rock in Wisconsin! Incredible, wacky old place filled with antiquities and curiosities. And the house is literally built upon a humongous rock.

  28. CinSD

    Thank you for posting this…I need to write down all of the suggestions above ’cause I too would love to do this….

  29. Sethonious

    I have been working out in Navajo Nation a lot recently and while 4 corners is cool, I would recommend visiting Canyon de Chelly (very easy to visit) or Chaco Canyon (a lot harder to get to, but so much awesome). Chaco canyon is like Machu Picchu of north america. Seriously ispriring.

  30. Sethonious

    Also a stop at Ted Drewes while passing through St. Loius is one of my happiest childhood memories. Broken AC, wanting to kill my little brother due to the onset of pubescent rage, midwest heat and humidity… and a cookies and creme concrete made life worth living again.

  31. Manders

    If for some reason you find yourself in central Texas, stop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. Get a Dr Pepper float, look around. And then go to Cameron Park and hike.

  32. Jenn

    House on the Rock outside of Spring Green, Wisconsin. Skip the Frank Lloyd Wright and opt for his creepy, doll-collecting, carousel-building, pneumatic-tube-driven orchestra-creating nemesis. Seriously.

  33. Tamera

    I third the House on the Rock suggestion! I live in Kenosha, Wisconsin – home of the Mars Cheese Castle (listed above by Laura Jane). While it isn’t exactly a classic roadtrip activity, tons of people stop at the outlet mall up the road from the newly renovated Cheese Castle after they get their cheese and beer fix.

  34. norm

    Have to hop back in to recommend the Trolley Car Diner in Castroville. They have some tri-tip and brisket sandwiches that are to die for. The bread rolls are somehow absolutely perfect.

  35. tanyab78

    I used to work there!!!! it’s an amazing place. it’s california’s oldest road house :) make sure when you go get the prime rib! it’s AMAZING!

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