With California running the length of nearly 800 miles, it’s actually the equivalent of driving through nine eastern states. Yet, you’ll be amazed at the different ambiances you’ll find in the many cities dotting this expansive coastline. In fact, we’re only going to cover the Northern half of California this week because there’s so many things to discover here, you could easily make this half a 2-Week Road Trip in itself!
Life in Northern California, in cities like Eureka, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, is laid-back, even bucolic, but oh, you’ll see some of the prettiest coastlines imaginable along this stretch of highway. Get your camera ready to catch the rock formations jutting dramatically out of the deep ocean blue, or capture the fog rolling through tree skeletons stretching out to greet the horizon, and yes, even the occasional cow meandering across the road as you round the next bend.
Of course, just because you’re hugging the coastline doesn’t mean you’ll be relegated to endless beach views (though that’s an excellent way to cruise!). Include in your Road Trip Planner a hike through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Eureka, California's largest redwood state park with more than 52,000 acres of old growth coast redwoods. Stop for the Mendocino Music Festival in Mendocino & sip wine while enveloped in a blanket of music. Take your shoes off at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg & marvel at the colors of the pebbles, all rounded smooth through years of wave action. In fact, Glass Beach is purported to hold the highest concentration of sea glass in the world.
A relatively unknown attraction to add to your Road Trip Plan is to stop in at the Sea Ranch Chapel, one of my favorite examples of “free-hewn” architecture I’ve ever seen. Traveling south toward the Bay Area, I’d recommend a stop at Tiburon for lunch & take the Ferry to Angel Island for the day. Beautiful Bay views and a fun ferry ride to the West’s Ellis Island. From the island, you’ll see spectacular views of the San Francisco Skyline.
Another quirky town to hit before “crossing over” is Sausalito. A water-front community, it’s filled with houseboats on one side and quaint shopping areas on the other. Finding a water view to accompany your dining should be a relatively easy task.
As you cross over the marvel of the Golden Gate Bridge, know that local lore has it that once painters finish painting the bridge, it’s so expansive that they have to start repainting from the other end again! Once in San Francisco, must-sees are the Golden Gate Park and Fisherman’s Wharf. Go ahead, grab a loaf of San Franciscan French Bread and a freshly cleaned/boiled crab, dangle your feet from the pier & simply savor the flavor of “a day in the life” of a San Franciscan (at least on weekends :>).
Keep heading south from there toward Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey; each city has a distinct pace, yet the easy going atmosphere perseveres. Personal favorites in Half Moon Bay is the Moss Beach Distillery, boasting a spectacular ocean view from the dining room and... a firmly entrenched ghost! In Santa Cruz, there’s the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, containing a wooden roller coaster, honored as a national historic landmark in 1987, and still providing thrills after 84 years! A summer plus here are the free beach concerts held every Friday night.
The Monterey–Carmel-Big Sur area is my favorite recommendation to add to your Road Trip Planner because of all this area offers: Old Fisherman's Pier, Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Carmel Beach, the world-renown Pebble Beach, Point Lobos, and a breathtaking meeting of land and water as you travel to the stunning Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.
Next time, we’ll continue even further south, all the way to the Mexico border. I suggest you start filling your Road Trip with the Northern California things to do now (with help from our Road Trip Planner) because soon we’ll be cruisin’ through some of the most famous spots in Southern California.