California

North Coast

It’s hard to believe there may be a bit of California’s coast that is barely inhabited; just head north out of San Francisco to the wild, rugged North Coast. This is a side of California people seldom take the time to see. This long stretch of coastline running from the northern border down to San Francisco is where you’ll find deserted beaches, quaint seaside towns, giant redwoods, rural farms, and a rocky coast peppered with lighthouses. It is the California of 50 years ago; no traffic, no crowds, fresh air, and undiscovered!

You can get out and explore this natural environment in a relaxed or adventurous way. From rugged hiking, surfing, and kayaking to beach combing, wine tasting, and bird watching; the North Coast has something for every type of adventurer. And if you are looking to unplug, the North Coast’s Redwoods are the perfect natural hideaway. This is like no other part of the California coast, it’s a hidden gem that once you experience it, you’ll always head back North for more.

Main Image © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Backpack the Lost Coast Trail, one of the most challenging 4-day, 25 miles hikes around!

Take a guided hike along the Stornetta Public Lands to learn about the incredible landscape, flora, and fauna of the area.

Become a citizen scientist and assist with Orca whale research in Point Arena.

Explore the nooks and caves of the seacoast while ocean kayaking near Fort Bragg. You can rent your own kayak or take a tour!

Take a dip at Vichy Springs where the rich and famous of California came to bathe. The Ghiradelli family, Abe Roeff, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and William Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Jack London all enjoyed the springs on the North Coast.

Go whale watching along the coast near Point Arena and Mendocino. You can go on a charter, rent a kayak, or simply view them from land as they migrate close to the shore.

Hike, bird watch, or horseback ride on the 10 Mile Dunes just north of Fort Bragg. One of the most pristine stretches of coastal dunes in California! More than 90 species of birds visit or live on the sand and along the cliffs.

Hike deep into prehistoric times at Fern Canyon.

Go lighthouse hopping along the coast! You’ll find 4 beautiful lighthouses (some that you can sleep at) along the rocky North Coast. Hike the many trails of Redwood National and State Park and camp among the redwoods at Elk Prairie Campground.

Walk the 5 mile Fort Bragg Coastal Trail and keep an eye out for Ospreys and Cormorants.

Ride a wave and surf South Beach in Humboldt County – good for beginners and advanced surfers! Just don’t forget your wetsuit!

Enjoy a beach day at the secluded Bowling Ball Beach and hang out for low tide to see the ‘balls’ reveal themselves.

Get out on the water and join a deep sea fishing charter in Trinidad.

Photo © Kirsten Alana
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Destination Facts

  • The longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline in the continental United States is California’s Lost Coast just south of Eureka.
  • Point Arena Light is the tallest west coast lighthouse you can walk to the top of.
  • You’ll find the 20 tallest trees in the world in North Coast’s Humboldt County. The redwood is the world's tallest tree, growing up to 370 feet tall.
  • The North Coast is the home to the most Bigfoot sightings! The world's largest collection of Bigfoot artifacts is found in Willow Creek along Highway 299, also known as the Bigfoot Scenic Highway.
  • Stroll on a beach made of glass in Fort Bragg and never get a cut.
  • Known as the Victorian Seaport, Eureka has more Victorian buildings per capita than anywhere in California.
  • Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City is California's oldest lighthouse dating to 1856 and is still in operation today.
  • The Point Arena coastline is one of only 5 oceanic upwellings that occur off the coast. It’s called the California current, and it’s the foundation of the food web that draws the extensive sea life to the region.
  • The little fishing village of Requa is one of the longest, continuously inhabited places in California.
  • More than 2/3rds of all the oysters consumed in California originate in the North Coast.
  • Clear Lake, in Lake County, is considered to be the oldest lake in North America. It is also the largest freshwater lake in California.

Road-Trip Itinerary

Day 1

From San Francisco head 3 ½ hours north up scenic Highway 1 to the hidden Bowling Ball Beach. You’ll have to do a short hike in from the road to get there, but this unusual beach is worth the journey. You’ll find spherical sandstone boulders along the beach at low tide. Eroded and smoothed by the water, these boulders are a hidden gem. Enjoy the deserted beach and then head to Mar Vista Cottages for the evening. Nestled among redwoods and a short walk to the beach, Mar Vista Cottages will put you in vacation mode immediately with their simple rural environment. The picture perfect cottages have fully stocked kitchens, fireplaces and porches to watch the sun go down. Guests are encouraged to use the community garden to pick vegetables and gather their own eggs from the chicken coup to cook up a garden fresh breakfast in the morning! Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Meander through the cute town of Point Arena and do a morning coastal hike at the Stornetta Public Lands to get a feel for the wild, natural beauty of the North Coast and it’s diverse sea life. Be sure to stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse and walk the 145 stairs to the top for spectacular views. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for whales along the coast! Drive up to the quaint towns of Mendocino or Fort Bragg for lunch. Stop at Fort Bragg’s famous Glass Beaches; former city trash dump sites full of glass bottles that have been tumbled into colorful sea glass. Do a leisurely sunset walk along the Fort Bragg coastal paths and enjoy the artistic redwood benches along the way. For a unique night, head to Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, and have a secluded evening staying at one of the Lighthouse keeper’s cottages right on the coast. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

Continue north and drive among the Redwoods on the Avenue of the Giants (Highway 254). Get a closer look by stopping at Founders Grove and taking a stroll through the old growth forest; you can even hike right through the middle of some of the trees! If you feel like an adventurous diversion, head out to the trailheads of the Lost Coast (Mattole Beach or Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove). The Lost Coast is a rugged stretch of coastline only accessible by foot; one of the most remote coastlines and difficult multi-day hikes in the US. For a more relaxing option, head up to the seaside town of Eureka for a late lunch in the Old Town Historic District and a chance to see the surrounding Victorian architecture. Continue north to the Historic Requa Inn overlooking the Klamath River in the Redwoods National and State Park. Make sure you take the time to enjoy a coffee on the porch and one of their delicious cinnamon rolls in the morning. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

It’s a short drive to Prairie Creek Visitor Center where you can get information on a number of relaxing hikes through the Super Trees. Go as deep into the old growth as you’d like and enjoy the silence and majesty of these coastal giants. After a day hiking in the park drive north and keep your eyes peeled for elk often grazing near the roadway. Arrive in Crescent City, the northernmost town along the coast with a lovely coastline. Hike out to Battery Point lighthouse at low tide for sunset, or perch yourself on top of the cliffs at Crescent Beach Overlook to get a feel for the mighty Pacific Ocean. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 5

Begin to head back down the coast and go inland to experience the more agricultural side of North Coast. Stop for some tastings in Anderson Valley, known for their Alsatian varietals, Pinot noir, and sparkling wine. Finish in Lake County for a delicious food scene and some of the tastiest Bartlett pears around! Or, go from coast to mountains and add on California’s Shasta Cascade region exploring another lesser known National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park. Just take a route across the Klamath National Forest and soon you’ll be in a whole new volcanic landscape! Photo © Kirsten Alana