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© Photos.com

Resting sea lion colonies are easy to spot at estuaries or on offshore rocks


 

Top Destinations  ·  Northern California  ·  Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway - 101 - Bodega Bay - Jenner - Mendocino


© Mike Brake

The coastline near Fort Bragg has many uncrowded beaches to explore.

For a day trip, a weekend or a languid week, head to Highway 1 out of the Bay Area and follow the coast to Point Reyes, Bodega Bay and all the way to Mendocino if you have the time. There are lighthouses, fishing villages, sea lion colonies, empty beaches, pelicans and not much else to disturb you.  
 
Point Reyes is great for hiking and bird-watching; Bodega Bay has whale-watching and local seafood restaurants; Mendocino is famous for solitude and romance, catering to those who want a good meal and nice wine with their ocean views.
 
Some of the highlights of this destination are:

Attractions: Fort Ross, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Muir Woods, Point Arena Lighthouse

Towns: Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Bodega Bay, Jenner, Gualala, Boonville, Mendocino, Fort Bragg

Lakes and Rivers: Russian River

Beaches: Sonoma Coast State Beaches, Limantour Beach

National Parks/Seashores: Point Reyes National Seashore,

State Parks: Salt Point State Park, Van Damme State Park, Bodega Head State Park and others

Pacific Coast Highway Scenic Drives

Scenic Drive
San Francisco Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Destination Index Print/Zoom

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 low-key relaxation.
 
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."

   


 
Wernher Krutein/photovault.com
Point Reyes National Seashore has miles of remote beaches, wetlands, and forests amid working farms with open pastures to the sea

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