We just got back from a Memorial Day camping trip in Mendocino County, and we made our usual fun stop on Hwy 101 — the Real Goods Solar Living Center. Located in the sleepy little town of Hopland, Real Goods has become our family’s favorite geeky/hippie mecca. Imagine a combination playground, garden, gallery, environmental learning center, store, workshop area, all in a beautiful setting filled with cool, environmentally friendly, artsy stuff. We can spend hours there.
(Back in our pre-kid days, our Hopland stop was the Mendocino Brewing Company, one of California’s first micro-breweries and home to Red Tail Ale, Eye of the Hawk, and many other fine raptor-inspired brews. And while that’s still a good stop, we find that Real Goods holds a lot more family fun.)
After we’ve cooled off in the refreshing misting tower, the kids take off running to their favorite spots, like the stream with a solar-powered fountains and lots of tubes and pieces of PVC for constructing custom streams and water ways. The large shady pipe tunnel is where I’ll often find my young one.
There are lovely gardens to stroll through and several ponds with lots of hungry fish and coin-operated fish food dispensers. The bathrooms are wacky, and made of melted-down pill bottles and toilet bowl lids. You can create some pedal power energy on one of the assorted bike rigs or tour their large solar power installation. If you’ve timed it right, the kids can take a ride on the solar-powered carousel for a buck. And if you’re in the market for solar toys, hemp clothes, a tankful of bio-diesel, natural bug repellents, books or items relating to alternative energy systems, a composting toilet, or just a cold natural soda, the Real Goods store has you covered.
It’s all very casual and comfortable, and we find the stop a great way to break up long Northern California drives with the kids. They also offer classes at the Solar Living Institute , the educational arm of Real Goods. I’ve taken one weekend class there on making bio-diesel and it was fun and informative.