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Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest
Go hiking, boating, and wildlife-watching at this sprawling monument

Spanning 330,780 acres of public land, Mendocino National Forest became a monument in 2015, praised by then-President Barack Obama for its “biodiversity and an abundance of recreational opportunities.” The magical, massive land parcel—which is less than three hours north of San Francisco—rises from near sea level in the south to above 7,000-foot elevations in the northern mountains. Along the way, it encompasses nearly 100 miles and dozens of different ecosystems.

Nearly half of that land is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, and visitors can enjoy a variety of recreational activities—from hiking on rustic trails, to boating and all-terrain vehicle driving. There are a lot of fish to be caught around here, too, from the rainbow trout in streams to the bass in Lake Pillsbury. 

No visit is complete without embracing the Cache Creek Wilderness, east of Clear Lake in eastern Lake County. Come hiking here (on sometimes steep terrain) for stunning views, or bring your tent to one of the area campgrounds; go boating on the 17-mile canyon creek, enjoy horseback riding, or just come for the wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for deer, Tule elk, black bears, wild pigs, and even magnificent bald eagles, which are particularly active from mid-October through mid-August. Come in spring to see wildflowers such as lupine, poppies, and lilacs.

The Cedar Roughs Wildlife Area is another gem, more secluded and rugged in its forested mountains west of Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Home to the rare Sargent cypress trees that thrive in the area’s bluish-green, rocky serpentine soil, it’s also a treasured habitat for Napa County’s remaining black bear population.

Thrill seekers also gravitate to the Knoxville Wildlife Area, ideal for motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles. Whatever way you travel, you’ll be surrounded by spectacular scenery.

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Tai Power Seeff

Northern California

Discover the North Coast

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51
April
Average (°F)
Mar - May
58°
High
43°
Low
June - Aug
62°
High
51°
Low
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low
Dec - Feb
55°
High
41°
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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Karen Desjardin/Getty Images

Best Beaches on the North Coast

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Courtesy of County of Lake

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Wild North Coast

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