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Ashland – Oct. 2017
Visit Vancouver USA – Oct. 2017
Olympic Peninsula – Oct. 2017

Quest for Good Joe: Eight Offbeat California Coffee Houses

coffee, cream and jam sitting on small table

Inevitably, part of my rambling involves the constant quest for good Joe. Not that I’m an addict. I just figure if I’m going to bother drinking the stuff, it might as well knock my fleece socks off.

For me, its all about the joy of living and, often, it is the simplest of pleasures that do it for me. Like a good cup o Joe, so named (at least in part) for Josephus Daniels, one time Secretary of the Navy, after he banned anything stronger than coffee on ships.

There isn’t any rhyme or reason to where I’ll find a fine roast. Sometimes, its the name on the sign that draws me in. Like the Bad Ass Coffee franchise owned by one Jittery Fish, (no seriously, that’s his name), that I found on the outskirts of Santa Rosa California. My first introduction to this self-proclaimed “Coffee with Attitude” made me glad to learn that there was also a store located in San Diego on Carmel Mountain Road. Rich and robust, this coffee earns its name.

Sometimes though, it’s just timing. The rustic Coffee and Confectionery Shop in Richardson’s Historic Village on Lake Tahoe served one of the most memorable cups of coffee I’ve had in my cross -country travels. Maybe it just really hit the spot after a few days hiking in the snow in the Desolation Wilderness, but the organic latte at this tiny alpine shop sure threw me for a loop. So did their lemon blueberry pound cake, which I shamelessly inhaled on the spot.

Turkish Coffee brewing at Livingroom Coffee House

The Turkish coffee at the Livingroom Coffee House takes 20 minutes to brew — worth the wait.

The Living Room Coffeehouse, a quaint gourmet bistro with an ocean view that sits high on Prospect Street in La Jolla (one of six Living Room locations), is nicely decorated with well-appointed antique home furnishings. Its also equipped with hookah and a full bar and serves a varied pallet of exotic coffees, including resin-thick Turkish that requires a 20-minute brew time. They also serve nice teas and offer dainty pots for two. It is, however, the only location offering meals as well as pastries. The scent of the freshly baked whole grain loaves swirls in the java-infused air completes the at-home ambiance.

Coffee & Pie

Julian is a serious pie town.

Julian Coffee House, in the quaint mountain town of Julian an hour outside of San Diego, occupies a historic one room schoolhouse along Main Street and offers two outdoor seating areas. It serves up a cafe menu along with organic jamocha (coffee, espresso, and chocolate) and Yerba Matte. I grabbed a Peruvian latte to-go for my tour of the mining town that was founded a century ago beneath Vulcan Mountain.

Now the town is better known for pies than mines (check out Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Apple Alley Bakery). So I strolled Julian’s south west style historic district and finished my cup with a piece of hot-from-the-oven cherry pie.

Joe Mudd's Sign next to hanging guitar

At Joe Mudd’s, get your cuppa Joe and delicious chile quiche.

High in the Los Angeles National Forest, newly opened Joe Mudd’s Coffee and Pie Shop on Apple Street in Wrightwood serves aromatic blends along with pies and pastries, including an allspice laced green chile quiche that was unbelievably delicious. The cafe shares space with an old time record shop. While I waited for my iced cappuccino, I scanned the memorabilia and came across a 45 of the Rolling Stones Harlem Shuffle as part of the display. Some things just seem providential.

Cafe Cest Si Bon, located at the junction of highways 372 and 178 in Shoshone, is a one room vegetarian cafe with an array of outdoor seating shaded by a canopy of mesquite trees. This unpretentious, Zen bistro, situated at the southeast gateway t Death Valley makes each cup of Joe to order and serves both breakfast and lunch. While waiting for my crepe, I strolled the adjacent sculpture garden and marveled at the hot, spring fed irrigation ditch.

Lestats Coffee Shop on Adams Avenue in San Diego is guarded by winged stone canines posted by the front entry and is perhaps the best example of a retro-beatnik java lounge Ive come across. The 24-hour venue features a broad menu of gourmet demitasse and hosts nightly entertainment, including live music, comedy, and readings.

Beautiful Building at Kelso Depot next to trees

The Beanery, the only eatery within a 50-mile radius, is housed in this cool, Art Deco Kelso Depot.

The art deco Beanery is a family-run operation that’s been in the Kelso Depot at the Visitors Center in Mojave Desert National Preserve since 1924.

It also happens to be the only eatery within a 50-mile radius. Maybe that’s why the bare-bones menu manages to placate most patrons who pull up black leather stools to the square, chrome edged counter.

Pie on plate with fork and a full cup of coffee

Don’t miss Mrs. Williams’ homemade pie at the Beanery.

Do not, I repeat, do not leave the Beanery without tasting a piece of Mrs. Williams’ homemade pie. I enjoyed a wedge of scrumptious blackberry pie with my mid-afternoon, diner-quality decaf. Both were both served to me with a knowing smile and wink by Mr. Williams himself.

Since I was headed deeper into the desert for a few days of hiking, I ordered another slice for my breakfast the next morning. That pie tasted even better in the wilds, accompanied by a steaming cup of Peet’s made in my single-cup Double Shot French Press as I gazed at the 360-degree mountaintop panorama.

I told you; it almost always is the simple things that yield the greatest joy.

— by Ruth Newell, RFT Contributor

Taking pie to go

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Ruth Newell

Ruth Newell is freelance writer with a serious slant towards dharma-travel. She spent the last 25 years writing a wide variety of technical documents, marketing material, and website content for Native American Tribes, government entities, and corporations. Much of her professional writing has involved sustainable development (specializing in zero waste technologies), comprehensive and environmental planning, fundraising, as well as community and business development. She also taught creative writing in a private school for 16 years. For the last two years, she’s been traveling and writing about they places she visits, the people she meets and the food she eats. She’s lived in many places over the years and when asked where she is “from,” she responds that her home is where her heart is and where her heart lies is her secret. She does, however, currently call North San Diego County home “base”; yet, that could change at any moment…depending on which direction the wind blows.