The northern California coast is a place of quiet redwood groves, isolated coastline, and great natural wonder. On the Oregon border, Redwoods National & State Parks are home to massive trees stretching over 300 feet into the sky. At the Lost Coast, the highway is forced inland many miles while rugged sand beaches march on along the shore. Further south, the highway meets back up with the ocean along expansive bluff terraces and extended inlets.
Of all the Pacific Coast Highway sections, this is the place to venture further off the main road; go on a hike, explore one of the many scenic byways, and find a quiet place to sleep.
11) CRESCENT CITY
Fun Facts About Redwoods
- 1) How Tall is Too Tall?
- Coastal redwoods frequently grow to over 300 feet tall. Hyperion, the world’s tallest tree on record, stands 379.1 feet tall (that’s taller than the Statue of Liberty). Don’t bother to go looking for it though — the location is a fiercely guarded secret.
- 2) Roots for Days
- Redwood roots are shallow, often extending 50 feet out on all sides. This is a good thing, because most redwoods only send their roots down 6 – 12 feet. You can see examples of this intricate root structure while looking at one of these fallen giants.
- 3) Tall ≠ Old
- A giant sequoia (part of the redwood family), named The President, gets the notoriety of being the fourth oldest living (non-cloning) tree at 3200 years old. However, tucked away along the eastern edge of California lives an even older species – the bristlecone pine. One bristlecone has a verified age of 5065 years old! Other notable stuff from 3000 BC: agriculture began in north Africa, the Sumerians began forming cities, and Troy was founded.
- 4) Cameo
- Redwood National Park has been the backdrop to many classic films. You might recognize scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, just to name a few. Make sure to watch out for Ewoks and dinosaurs as you explore the park.
- 5) Good Things Come in Small Packages
- Despite their enormous size, redwoods start off small. A redwood seed is about the same size as a tomato seed (ie: tiny). It would take about 120,000 redwood seeds to equal one pound in weight. It’s a good thing that each tree produces about 100,000 seeds each year!
12) REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK
How To Create A National Park
Redwood, unlike many national parks, has been put together grove by grove over the course of 57 years. Throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s, the lumber industry had unrestricted access to over 2,000,000 acres of old-growth redwoods. While there was an attempt to begin saving the remaining groves in 1911, nothing began to happen until 1921.
The Save-The-Redwoods League, founded in 1918, began the conservation process with the purchase of the Raynal Bolling Memorial Grove (now in Humboldt Redwoods State Park). The founding of the California State Park system in 1927 created Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods (12a).
World War II caused further delays in forming an official national park due to the high demands of lumber. Finally, on October 2nd 1968, the bill for Redwood National Park was signed protecting an additional 100,000 acres of forest. Another 48,000 acres were added in 1978, but most of it had been previously logged.
Throughout coastal California you’ll find small patches of protected old-growth redwoods. These groves are a testament to the hard work and dedication groups of conservationists had over a hundred years ago. Without them, it is likely none of these redwood giants would remain.
13) AVENUE OF THE GIANTS
A Place So Good, You Need Two Roads
Avenue of the Giants is a scenic highway extending from Fortuna to Garberville in Humboldt County. This stretch of road used to be part of Highway 101 until a realignment in 1960 created the existing bypass. Now you can appreciate the 50,000+ acres of redwood groves located along this route without the worry of traffic speeding by! It’s also the home of the Avenue of the Giants Marathon in early May.
Make sure you don’t miss this scenic route — this is roadside tourism at its best.
14) NORTH MENDOCINO
A Road By Many Names
Highway 1 was put together piece by piece over the course of 40 years. It begins in Leggett, CA to the north and runs all the way down the California coast to Dana Point, CA in the south. Due to so much time elapsing throughout its construction, and also because it is a collection of many smaller roads, it is referred to by many different names.
The California Highway 1 designation was assigned to the complete route, all the way up to Rockport, in 1964. Various stretches of the highway have additional names such as Pacific Coast Highway from Dana Point to Santa Barbara, Cabrillo Highway from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, and Shoreline Highway from San Francisco to Leggett. To muddle the matter further, sections of Highway 1 and Highway 101 are combined for long stretches, most notable from Ventura through Gaviota.
Initially, there were plans to extend Highway 1 north from Rockport to Ferndale. However, in 1984 those plans were dismissed due to the challenges and costs associated with building through the coastal mountains of the Lost Coast. Instead, Highway 208 from Rockport to Leggett was redesignated as the final piece to Highway 1, which now extends to its terminus along Highway 101 (14a).
So the iconic scenery along Big Sur is actually NOT found along the Pacific Coast Highway, but is found along the Cabrillo Highway. Fun facts to know and share!
15) SOUTH MENDOCINO
5-Night Northern California Camping Itinerary
Local Advice from Hipcamp
It’s hard to find roads to watch whales from these days; no one seems to be working on a bridge to Hawaii, and there haven’t been any encouraging attempts to put I-5 in a gigantic aquarium tube either. Thankfully, though, CA-1 exists.
No big deal, but you can cruise/ride/scooter this coast-hugging motorway the length of our entire state, experiencing Pacific silver, urban excitement, and fish tacos all in the same day. To help you get in on the greatest road in the greatest state, we put together a camping itinerary for a 5-day trip up to the Oregon border from SF.
Night 1) Bodega Bay Area
When you’re in the mood for cheese tasting, oyster shucking, and great white shark watching, Bodega Bay is your one-stop-shop. After a morning on the California Cheese Trail and an afternoon spent playing at one of Sonoma Coast State Park’s excellent beaches, pitch your tent at one of the area’s ranches for some peace and quiet after a day of well-fleeced (and sometimes intimidating-epicurean) crowds.
A 378-acre horse ranch with approximately one-zillion campsites, Chanslor Ranch has a diversity of places to set up camp that range from exposed ocean views to wooded streamside retreats. Their group sites make it easy to bring all your friends as well!
Night 2) Point Arena/Manchester
The drive from Bodega takes 2 hours in theory, but expect delays caused by your jaw dropping (the only known way to cure a case of CA-1-jaw-droppage is stopping and taking pictures). Definitely plan on geeking out at the Lighthouse before you set up camp, and save a bit of time for exploring your home-for-the-night, because Mendocino landowners have a knack for architectural surprises!
ROSEMAN CREEK RANCH
A cob sleeping cabin and an outdoor shower make this redwood hideaway spectacular in a “maybe I was meant to be a mythical forest gnome” kind of way. Complete with beautiful kitchen garden and brick oven, it’s hard to compete with Roseman Creek’s #homesteadgoals.
Night 3) Fort Bragg Area
As you continue up the coast, chances are that you’ll probably want to stay in Fort Bragg longer than you planned for. If you like trains or gardens, definitely book two nights, but if you’re just in town for a day, MacKerricher State Park, with it’s unreal beaches and phenomenal coastal hiking is where you’ll wanna be.
MACKERRICHER STATE PARK
Through you’ll have to make reservations outside of Hipcamp, camping at MacKerricher is worth the hassle. 9 miles of beaches, loads of trails, and a beach with a famously confounding accumulation of sea glass make Mac-K one of the gems of California’s park system!
Night 4) The Lost Coast
The only section of California’s north coast without a highway, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is as rugged as it is unique. Between Fort Bragg and Eureka, the humans:wildlife ratio drops dramatically, and it is well worth your time to zone out in the natural white noise of the Lost Coast.
USAL BEACH CAMP
The only drive-in campsite in the Sinkyone Wilderness, Usal Beach Camp is both accessible and out-there. It is also the southern terminus for the lost coast trail, so if you’d like to amend your itinerary to include a backpacking trip, this is where you’d park anyway. Reservations (and permits for backpacking) are through the CA state parks.
Night 5) Humboldt
Redwoods, beaches, swimming holes, cultural affinities… the Eureka/Arcata metro area has it’s own tourism dispensary for advice on what to see and do. We recommend hiking as many trails in Redwood State and National Parks as you possibly can, and staying in Otter Space.
Typo dolphinitely intended, Otter Space is an off-the-grid retreat and healing center, complete with redwoods, meadows, and waterfont on the mighty Klamath River. Set up in the meadow or rent a tee-pee, yurt, or cabin for a blissful night on your CA-1 roadtrip!
Hipcamp is the best way to discover and book your next camping trip. Search over 280,000 campsites across the US. From public parks to private land, we’re the most comprehensive guide to camping across the country.
16) POINT REYES SEASHORE
A Little Bit About Tomales Bay
Thirty-five miles northwest of San Francisco sits Tomales Bay, a straight-and-narrow inlet extending fifteen miles long. Tomales Bay is a fascinating geologic spot where rocks from the Tehachapi Mountains, a range located 310 miles to the south, are strangely found.
Here’s how it happened.
If you were to draw a line down the middle of Tomales Bay, you’d find the exact location of the San Andreas Fault as it extends north from San Francisco. The west side of the bay is the eastern edge of the Pacific Tectonic Plate, while the eastern side of the bay is the western edge of the North American Tectonic Plate. The San Andreas Fault is a great example of a transform fault. Picture two cars passing each other on a two-way street — that’s exactly what’s happening here, except those cars are moving at the same rate that your fingernails grow. The movement isn’t a continuous affair, instead the tension builds up over many years until the plates slip, causing an earthquake. Point Reyes will continue to move northward, so catch it while you can!
Do you know what else Tomales Bay is great for?
ARE YOU PLANNING A TRIP HERE?
Here’s One Way To Do It
- Grab a photo at the Oregon and California state border, then pick up a pastry at Vita Cucina Bakeryin Crescent City.
- Drive up Howland Hill Road, making sure to stop and hike through Stout Grove on your way.
- Hit Hiouchi Visitors Center for more information on the park before driving back to Crescent City for the night.
- Stay at Lighthouse Inn and grab a classy seafood dinner at Chart Room Restaurant.
- Watch the sunset over Battery Point Lighthouse, explore the island if the tides permit.
- Go for a quick morning hike on the Yurok Loop Trail, then catch a gondola ride through the forest at Trees of Mystery.
- Cruise down Newton B Drury scenic route before jutting off the main route to hike through Fern Canyon.
- Watch for elk as you dodge over to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, then grab a late lunch at Snack Shack.
- Hit other quick highlights such at the hike up Trinidad Head and the world’s tallest totem polebefore setting in for the night at the Redwood Lily Guest House.
- Get a massive breakfast at Samoa Cookhouse, then walk it off at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
- Stop by the Loleta Cheese Factory for some samples before checking out the Victorian buildings at Ferndale.
- Work your way down the Avenue of the Giants, making sure to stop at Founders Grove, Rockefeller Grove, and the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree.
- Grab a calzone and a brew on the patio of Avenue Cafe.
- Take a side trip down to Black Sands Beach.
- Stay at either the Benbow Historic Inn or Hidden Springs Campground.
- Meet back up with the ocean along your drive south – don’t miss the Westport Whale.
- Hit the Laguna Point Boardwalk and Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, and stop at Egghead’s Restauranton the way out.
- Spend an hour or two relaxing at Jug Handle State Beach before touring Point Arena Light Station.
- Spend the evening in Mendocino eating at Cafe Beaujolais and walking along Point Mendocino.
- Head down to Manchester State Park or Wharf Master’s Inn for the night.
- Grab some breakfast pastries at Franny’s Cup and Saucer before exploring bowling ball rock formations at Schooner Gulch State Beach.
- Check out the Pygmy Forest at Salt Point State Park or overlook the ocean while sipping wine at Fort Ross Vineyard.
- Spend the afternoon exploring the Sonoma Coast beaches.
- Grab dinner at Terrapin Creek Cafe and stay overnight in Bodega Bay at either Bodega Dunes Campground or Bodega Harbor Inn.
- Swing by the Potter School House (one filming location for “The Birds”) then get a locally sourced breakfast at Estero Cafe.
- Snap a picture of the Point Reyes Shipwreck and the Cypress Tree Tunnel on your way out to Chimney Rock Trail.
- Grab some Hog Island Oysters and spend your afternoon kayaking, horseback riding, or hiking.
- Finish up with a margarita on the beach before spending your final night at Steep Ravine Campground.