It’s the land of crashing waves and barking seals. Majestic redwoods and the best serene scenic drives meandering along the rugged northern California coast. Unique nature and authentic hospitality blend in a wonderful combination where life moves at a slower pace and it’s still possible to appreciate and enjoy completely unspoiled nature.
Welcome to California’s North Coast, one of the most beautiful places in the world. As soon as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, you leave the skyscrapers behind for more genteel neighborhoods. Retreating to coastal Highway 1, the city subsides entirely and you are one with the Pacific Ocean, winding around cliffs with a magnificent view out to sea. Get your first glimpse of redwoods at Muir Woods and follow the giant trees all the way up the coast until you reach Redwood National Park with the tallest trees in the world. Coastal Eureka and Ferndale illustrate what happens when the best redwood is put into the hands of skilled craftsmen. Contrast the rugged coast with the Tuscan climate of Sonoma County that gives life to the lush fields and hillsides of California Wine Country. The Skunk Train will take you inland deep into the forest, and on the roads less traveled in the Anderson Valley, you can stay at a working ranch.
When you plan this trip, allow plenty of time and prepare to relax, savor and enjoy. It’s peaceful in Northern California and a one of the best places to get away from it all. Find yourself again.
As you begin your trip, San Francisco opens her Golden Gates beckoning you to “lose your heart.” Prepare to experience a wealth of vibrant sights and sounds found nowhere else. The city’s reputation as a fun-loving rollicking place is well deserved, dating back to the Gold Rush era when jumping saloons were filled with prospectors with the best stories to tell. The city has held out a welcome hand to all and today magically blends a myriad of cultures, ethnic groups, and lifestyles. Mountains and coastlines add a beautiful natural backdrop to this very colorful place. To enjoy the natural beauty, plan to experience San Francisco during free time; walk on the beach and ride a cable car to the top of Nob Hill where incredible views await.
Familiarize yourself with San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail, a 3.8 mile route following bronze medallions set in the sidewalks that connect 20 of the city’s most important locations. Marvel at a collection of historic ships, the first Asian temple in America, the birthplace of the Gold Rush and more. Follow that with a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can have incredible views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the cityscape along with your seafood. Nearby Ghirardelli Square transformed a 19th century chocolate factory into a fabulous marketplace of restaurants featuring new one-of-a-kind shops and culinary delights from around the world. The tour will also take you past San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies;” blocks and blocks of Victorian homes which survived the fire of 1906.
And of course, no visit to San Francisco is complete without a stop in Chinatown. Enjoy the best authentic Chinese food and revel in the excitement of this energizing and vibrant part of the city.
A second day in San Francisco will allow you to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which encompasses the entire area north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Highlights include the Presidio of San Francisco, a fort perched at the opening of San Francisco Bay for 218 years, Alcatraz, the island prison made famous in the movies, and Muir Woods National Monument, commemorating the father of the environmental movement in the US. Together these famous parks and attractions and others such as the California Academy of Sciences and the Conservatory of Flowers, reveal the true natural beauty of the city. Within these places, Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Gold Rush history abounds. For a real thrill, take an exhilarating, wind-whipped walk or bicycle ride (rentals are readily available) across the bridge.
The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park component of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is located at the Hyde Street Pier, where historic ships include an 1886 square rigger, a steam ferryboat, a steam tug, a paddlewheel tug and a 1915 steam schooner, all available for touring.
The ferry to Alcatraz leaves from Pier 33. Be sure to arrange for pre-reserved tickets, since the ferry can be sold out for weeks in advance. The audio tour of Alcatraz reveals that it is more than just a famous prison. A Civil War fortress, a bird sanctuary, the first lighthouse on the West Coast and the birthplace of the American Indian Red Power movement are a few of the stories of the rock.
Nineteenth century Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson describes California wine country as unfolding as “a great variety of oaks, stood now severally, now in a becoming grove, among the fields and vineyards. The towns were compact, in about equal proportions, of bright, new wooden houses and great and growing forest trees; and the chapel bell on the engine sounded most festally that sunny Sunday, as we drew up at one green town after another, with the townsfolk trooping in their Sunday’s best to see the strangers, with the sun sparkling on the clean houses, and great domes of foliage humming overhead in the breeze.”
As you meander through wine country, it may strike you that this centuries old passage still describes this wonderful environment. On the way to Sonoma, plan to stop at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, the working ranch of Mexican General Vallejo who founded Sonoma and served as a foil for the Russians in the region. Film history was made here when Francis Ford Coppola used the town as a backdrop for “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Basic Instinct”. The Mystic Theater was transformed into the State Movie Theater in “American Graffiti”.
The historic plaza constructed by General Vallejo is still the largest in California. He was never able to secularize the Sonoma Mission as instructed, it still stands proudly on the Plaza. History continues at the Gundlach Bundschu winery, on its sixth generation of ownership, the Buena Vista winery, founded in 1857 and the Sebastiani Vineyards started in 1904. When it’s time for dinner, there are cuisines of many nations right at hand.
Moving north from Sonoma, plan to enjoy Santa Rosa, an old Spanish settlement dating from the 1830s. Begin your visit at Railroad Square, the historic heart of Old Town, still replete with beautiful historic stone buildings constructed by Italian immigrants who favored Sonoma County for its resemblance to the “old country.” The Peanuts statue commemorates celebrated cartoonist Charles Schulz, also honored with a museum. Movie history here includes the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” and Steve Martin’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” on Railroad Square.
North of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg’s delightful 19th century qualities are surrounded by three lush valleys. Exhibits in the Healdsburg Museum illustrate the town’s heritage. From there, travel north to Geyserville to mix movies and wine at Francis Coppola Presents Rosso and Bianco winery. A bit south, Armstrong Woods State Park encompasses an 800 acre preserve featuring a magnificent grove of ancient redwoods. Once you reach Highway 1, go south to Bodega Bay where scenes of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” were filmed.
If you want to leave the driving to others, tour California wine country on the Wine Train which runs up and down the nearby Napa Valley. Explore primarily Cabernets as opposed to the Pinots of the Mendocino area, larger vineyards as opposed to the more family oriented operations of Mendocino, and winemaking practices at the vineyards complemented with a gourmet lunch.
Get ready for a complete change of pace today! You’re headed to a unique part of California’s wine country in Anderson Valley and ultimately to a working ranch for an overnight stay. Prepare to be blown away by the diversity and beauty of the valley, most famous for world class Pinot Noir, a finicky grape which thrives in the region’s climate of warm days and coastal fog. The town of Boonville, which now boasts tasting rooms, restaurants, shops and art galleries, was once so remote it had its own local language. The Goldeneye vineyard is reputed to have the best Pinot Noir in the valley.
The 125 year old Highland Ranch, famous for its spectacular trail rides, is in the tiny town of Philo nestled among the most majestic trees you’ll ever be able to ride through. Things here are very laid back and welcoming. Feel free to take a look around. Wander into the kitchen to see what’s cooking. Checkout the accommodations and take a peek into the cabins. Get to know the horses. Read what other guests have said in the guest book and check out the photo album. Then, decide what you want to do to maximize your experience.
It’s going to be hard to leave the hospitality of the ranch, so savor, this is not a rushed day. When you do, plan to explore Ukiah and Willits along the way and perhaps stop in Leggett for a leisurely lunch.
When you arrive in Ferndale this morning, park your car and step back in time. Immerse yourself in Ferndale’s Victorian spirit in the delightful location that the Los Angeles Times called “the best preserved Victorian village in California.” Rightly so, since the entire village is California Historic Landmark No. 883.
Although some suggest that Ferndale is a fairytale setting, it is actually a working all American town where residents take pride in their community and heritage. In the late 1800s, Ferndale was an agricultural and transportation center, a melting pot for Scandinavian, Swiss, Italian and Portuguese immigrants. You’ll be staying right in the midst of the extremely well preserved buildings that appear to have materialized right out of the turn of the century. Explore the old-fashioned mercantile establishments, as stores were called back then. Browse the antique shops, art galleries and specialty shops, hear the ringing of the blacksmith’s hammer and watch fresh candy being dipped by hand.
When you are finally able to tear yourself away from Ferndale, a scenic drive through inland Northern California will take you to Crescent City, California to be well positioned for your journey through Redwood National Park tomorrow.
The National Park Service describes the trees of Redwood National Park as “immense, ancient, stately, mysterious, powerful.” We know you’ll add your own words when you stand below one of these timeless giants. Why they grow so tall is a mystery. Take your time, meander the coast and savor the almost spiritual grandeur of redwoods so tall you can’t see the crowns.
The Redwoods are rich in Visitors Centers, exhibits and scenic drives. Five Visitor Centers feature different aspects of the story and a variety of ranger-led programs are available to learn more. Redwood Highway 101 traverses the heart of Del Norte State Park. Howland Hill Road, nestled deep in the forest, puts you in the heart of Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. Enderts Beach Road offers elk-viewing, whale watching and stunning coastal views. Further south, Requa Road features breathtaking views from the Klamath River Overlook, towering 650 feet about the sea. The Coastal Drive Loop delivers stunning views of crashing waves and rugged coastline. As you travel the scenic roads through the parks, look for Roosevelt Elk, which tend to congregate near the roads.
Eureka literally grew out of the forests; the wood was used for hundreds of intricately detailed high Victorian houses standing proudly over Humboldt Bay. The city was completely focused on the Bay until an overland route was completed between Eureka and San Francisco in 1914. Eureka has been declared one of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America” and Eureka’s Old Town was pronounced as one of the nation’s best preserved original Victorian historic districts, where ornate Colonial Revival, Eastlake, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and stick-style painted ladies can be seen in every direction. Treat yourselves to a walking tour.
A drive by Carson Mansion, the ultimate Victorian, is a must do. A truly exuberant example of what can be done with imagination, time, wood carvers and lots of redwood! To add to the opulence, Mr. Carson imported 97,000 feet of white mahogany from Central America and onyx from the Philippines. Stained glass and plasterwork round out the palette.
To see how gingerbread architecture is made, take some time to visit Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park. Learn more about the region’s history at Fort Humboldt State Historic Park, a reconstructed army base that sits over looking Humboldt Bay.
Enjoy a “family style dinner” at the Samoa Cookhouse, which used to feed the lumberjacks working in the region.
Today we recommend you take the long way around, it’ll be a journey that few people have the opportunity to do. Dropping down from Eureka to Ferndale, you’ll have reached the gateway to the Lost Coast Loop, a drive that takes you through the longest stretch of wilderness beaches in the continental United States. On a portion of the drive, you’ll be traveling a route called Wildcat Ridge. Prepare for impressive vistas, deserted beaches, tide pools, and ultimately Humboldt Redwoods State Park before again reaching Highway 101.
From there, head back north a bit on Highway 101 to Highway 36, from which you will catch the Avenue of the Giants, a 31 mile avenue that winds through a series of impressive old growth redwood trees.
At some point, you’ll want to head south to Fort Bragg, located right on the California coast. If there’s time, visit the Mendocino Botanical Gardens which stretch from the highway to the sea. Enjoy your accommodations, whether you choose to stay on the coast in Fort Bragg or in a quaint inn, in Mendocino.
The “only in California” experiences just keep coming today as you take the 125 year old Skunk Train deep into the redwood forest near Fort Bragg. Built as a logging railroad, the Skunk line was created to bring massive redwood logs out to Mendocino sawmills. Residents along the tracks dubbed the trains, the skunk, saying they could smell the gasoline engines before they could see them. Along your route, the train crosses 30 bridges and trestles and passes through two mountain tunnels.
After the journey, spend some time exploring Mendocino, so quaint it has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. A huge collection of Victorians has been lovingly restored into charming inns, restaurants, unique shops and galleries. Perched proudly on a small, hilly peninsula, the town’s striking “front yard” is the Mendocino Headlands Park coastal bluffs. Locals will encourage you to explore the scenic trails with unobstructed views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
Fans of “Murder She Wrote” will recognize this seaside village as “Cabot Cove.” The long running television show, featuring a writer from Maine, was filmed in town over several years.
For those who want to venture farther afield, the tallest and oldest living things in in the world can be found nearby in the ancient Redwood Forest. Contrast these magnificent specimens to the pygmy forests at Van Damme and Jughandle State Parks. Explore both parts of Russian Gulch State Park, where the ocean side features the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” and the east side, a scenic hike to a graceful waterfall.
You’ll have one more day to savor the California coast as you travel from Mendocino to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Allow plenty of time, the road is hilly and craggy, but the scenery makes up for it. Once you reach the Seashore, start your visit at the Bear Valley Visitor Center at the entrance to the park. Leisurely drives meander over the Inverness Ridge and through pastoral lands to the beaches, the historic lighthouse, the wildlife viewing area, the elk range and Elephant Seal overlook.
The headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula offer one of the finest spots to view the gray whale, on their 10,000 mile migration between Alaska and Baja, California. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary provides a 20 mile wide “highway” along which the whales cruise. There are times when they travel nearer the shore. Be sure to visit Chimney Rock and the Lighthouse for the best possible views.
Your accommodations for the evening will be with one of the members of the Point Reyes Lodging Association who pride themselves on their unique properties delivering the best in comfortable hospitality to visitors from around the world.
As you leave San Francisco today, we are confident that you have thoroughly relaxed on California’s North Coast. We wish you a safe and pleasant journey home.