Hugging the edge of the coast, framed by the open sea, Highway 1
(Pacific Coast Highway) offers a unique touring experience for
California visitors and residents alike. Any season will do but expect
traffic on holiday weekends at the southern end near San Francisco.
Start at the turn-off from 101 to 1 in Marin County as you wind around
Mt. Tamalpais, past redwoods (Muir Woods is a must stop for a close up
encounter with these giants), and through the little communities along
the way to Point Reyes National Seashore. This stretch of coastline is
surrounded by old forests and pastureland with vast wetlands, tule elk
herds and so many trails you will just have to choose. Or, drive to
the lighthouse for the view and a chance to spot migrating whales. The
charming little towns nearby have inns and guesthouses and diners for
Bodega Bay is a real fishing village made famous as the site for
Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. After some chowder continue up the coast
to Jenner where sea lions litter the sandbars and nearby rocks. Fort
Ross is the unlikely former-Russian outpost (hunting was the draw) with
excellent tours and seasonal events. Don’t miss the little beaches
along the way but you’ll probably not be tempted to swim (too cold).
If it is May, follow the signs to the Rhododendron Reserve to see them
in bloom. Otherwise, watch for the Sea Ranch area, a low profile
community of homes (many for vacation rental) with trails along the
bluffs that are available to all.
At Gualala, there are inns and restaurants and galleries – the most
you’ll find along this stretch. Farther north, the lonely Pt. Arena
lighthouse is worth a stop to take a picture.
SIDETRIP: Picturesque Highway 128 joins the coast at Albion. Explore
it or use it as a quicker drive back to the Bay Area. Boonville was
once so isolated, residents developed their own dialect.
Mendocino is a bit of New England with white picket fences and wooden
water towers atop cottages. The town is perched high on a bluff with
hypnotic views of crashing waves below – filled with bed and breakfast
inns and resorts, shops and restaurants. The views are incredible and
many a romance has bloomed here. Locals make artisan cheeses, breads,
jams and the like, and now wineries are springing up offering visitors
many temptations to consider.
Continue to Fort Bragg, the closest to a real city along the coast. If
you wish to see more of the Pacific Coast, follow along on the scenic
drive called "Redwood Highway" to explore California’s "Lost Coast."