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Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
Snap one-of-a-kind road-trip selfies at this vintage attraction in California’s amazing redwoods

What California icon is 2,400 years old and has cars driving through it every summer day? If you guessed the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett—an hour’s drive north of Willits and three hours from the San Francisco Bay Area—you know your redwoods. For more than 80 years, road-trippers have been capturing photos of their cars squeezing through the Chandelier Tree’s six-foot-wide and seven-foot-tall tunnel, which was carved into its trunk in 1937.

By today’s standards, cutting a hole in an ancient redwood is definitely not okay, but when the Chandelier Tree was hollowed out, everybody thought it was a grand idea. Big-tree tourism was gaining momentum, and the Stephenson family, whose descendants still own the Chandelier Tree and its neighboring redwood-themed gift shop and picnic area, weren’t the only ones cashing in on the redwood wow-factor. In the early 20th century, even government-owned parks advertised their tunneled trees, encouraging visitors to pay a fee, drive through, and get a souvenir photo. Many of these drive-through giants, like Yosemite’s Wawona Tree and Calaveras Big Trees’ Pioneer Cabin Tree, eventually toppled.

The Chandelier Tree is one of Northern California’s three remaining drive-through redwoods, joined by the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, 45 miles north of Leggett in Myers Flat, and the Klamath Tour-Thru Tree, 150 miles north in Klamath. You’ll pay about five bucks to drive through each tree. Sure, it’s kitschy, but how often do you get to drive through a tree?

On summer days, about 500 cars a day putter through the Chandelier, whose name refers to the huge branches protruding from opposite sides of its trunk, making it look like a candelabra. At 315 feet high and 70 feet in circumference, this sequoia sempervirens is huge by any standard (even so, don't forget to fold in the mirrors of your SUV as you head inside).

If you want to see redwoods in their unaltered state, drive a few miles north of Leggett to Smithe Redwoods Natural Reserve, where massive trees grow alongside the Eel River, or head 30 miles north to the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants driving route, then steer your way through cathedral-like groves so tall and dense, they block out the sun.

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Tai Power Seeff

Northern California

Discover the North Coast

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49
February
Average (°F)
Dec - Feb
55°
High
41°
Low
Mar - May
58°
High
43°
Low
June - Aug
62°
High
51°
Low
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low

Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal land, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests. Along more than 100 miles of coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of pounding surf, picturesque headlands, and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens. And in towns and hamlets, a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. In this burgeoning culinary scene, every hyper-local specialty is worth a try: slapping-fresh seafood, artisan cheese, grass-fed beef, locally foraged mushrooms, bold ciders, and hoppy beer.

Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco. Steep roofs, tall water towers, and leaded windows appear plucked from a classic New England town. Wander among the meticulously restored historic buildings to browse eclectic galleries and charming shops. Or visit the harbor town of Trinidad, nestled on picture-perfect headlands overlooking a teacup harbor; or stroll through history-rich Eureka, a former logging town filled with grand Victorians and gilded mansions. Every town along the North Coast celebrates its annual seagoing visitors—from December through May, about 20,000 gray whales travel along the coast on their annual migration.

Of course, this region is also the gateway to breathtaking Redwood National and State Parks, where the tallest trees in the world grow in primeval wilderness. Towering more than 300 feet high, the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) take your breath away, whether it’s your first time seeing them or your one hundredth. Drive the 31-mile stretch along Avenue of the Giants or the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Redwood Scenic Parkway to marvel at the massive trees right from your car. The stunning redwoods in Lady Bird Johnson Grove can be seen on a relatively easy 1.5-mile hike. Or go explore the otherworldly delights of the 0.7-mile Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which takes hikers through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to a steep-walled canyon covered in ferns.

See the forest, enjoy the trees, but don’t forget the “coast” component of the Redwood Coast. Hike the California Coastal Trail at Humboldt Lagoons, head to Moonstone Beach to watch pelicans swoop above the mossy cliffs, or check out Agate Beach to search for its precious namesake rock. If you’re visiting in November, December, March, or April, you have a good chance of witnessing the gray whale migration. Bring a pair of binoculars to High Bluff Beach, or get up close and personal with an ocean tour from Pacific Outfitters

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