What makes California’s Redwood Coast so special? Maybe it’s the primeval wilderness that’s inspired legends from Paul Bunyan to Bigfoot. Perhaps it’s the 175 miles of rugged coastline or the cozy seaside towns. Or could it have something to do with the fact that the oldest, largest trees in the world spread out here across millions of acres? The truth is that there are countless reasons to visit California’s Redwood Coast. We’ve put together this insider’s guide to help you navigate this must-travel spot.
How to Get There
Wonder abounds in the Redwood Coast—and part of that mystery can be exactly where the heck it is. The Redwood Coast extends along the Northern California shore from Shelter Cove to the mouth of the Klamath River. Its forests are actually a collection of parks that together comprise Redwood National and State Parks and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, as well as other public and private lands.
Don’t overthink it—just go. You can get there in roughly four hours from either San Francisco or Sacramento—or fly straight into California Redwood Coast - Humboldt County Airport. Thanks to a temperate climate, the region welcomes visitors any time of year. For the sunniest weather, visit between June and September; the remaining months will be cooler and wetter but less crowded.
Where to Stay
There are really two ways to go when visiting the Redwood Coast: Pitch a tent at one of the region’s more than 30 campgrounds, or check into a charming bed-and-breakfast in a coastal town. Some of the best back-to-nature spots include Gold Bluffs Beach Campground with its sand dunes and magical canyon, or the starry-skied, trails-filled Albee Creek Campground.
For a more luxurious experience with access to a downtown, try the Lost Whale Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Trinidad—reserve the Sea Lion Room for a wall of windows overlooking ocean cliffs—or Abigail’s Elegant Victorian Mansion in Eureka (ask about a ride in their 1928 Model A Ford).
Standing more than 300 feet tall, the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) will take your breath away. Drive the 31-mile stretch along Avenue of the Giants or the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Redwood Scenic Parkway to get a sense of the massive trees right from your car.
The stunning circle of trees in Lady Bird Johnson Grove are reachable through a relatively easy 1.5-mile hike—or you can spend the day exploring the otherworldly delights of the 9-mile Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which takes hikers through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park down to a 50-foot canyon covered in ferns. In 2018, the Redwood State and National Parks celebrate their 50th anniversary and have a number of deals for visitors, including free entry on the second Saturday of each month.
Experience the Majesty of the Coast
See the forest, enjoy the trees, but don’t forget the “coast” component. 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 HumBoats Kayak Adventures.
Taste Nature’s Bounty
Fresh oysters, hard cider, grass-fed beef, and hoppy beer. These Humboldt County specialties are must-tries...perhaps even in that order. For an up-close look at harvesting delicious mollusks, book a spot on Humboldt Bay Oyster Tours. Or skip the lesson and go straight for the good stuff at Arcata’s Salt Fish House and Eureka’s Humboldt Bay Provisions. Among the evergreens, a pint of cider just feels right, and you get one locally pressed from Clendenen's Cider Works or Humboldt Cider Company. A handful of excellent breweries can be found up and down the coast, including Lost Coast Brewery, Redwood Curtain Brewing Company, and Eel River Brewing Company. The reigning champ for best regional restaurant is Arcata’s Folie Douce, which serves daily selections of the area’s buttery beef.
Don’t Miss These Only-in-the-Redwoods Spots
The Redwood Coast is at once wonderful, wild, and weird. Even if you only have two hours, it’s worth the visit—but we recommend making time for the area’s unique experiences, like the Shrine Drive Thru Tree. If you have a hard day of hiking on the books, make a reservation at Finnish Country Saunas and enjoy a fun and funky experience at one of the private outdoor hot tubs. Try viewing the forest from a saddle with the Redwood Creek Buckarettes. Two-hour horseback tours take riders through old-growth forests—and yes, you can also ride your horse through a tree. Finally, make sure to soak in the sunset from the deck of Eureka’s Madaket. Wednesday through Saturday (May to early October), the historic ship takes passengers on a Cocktail Cruise around the bay, serving drinks below deck from the smallest licensed bar in California.
Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.
Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.
It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.
It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” is the...
Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....
With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...
You can learn a lot about a place at its local festivals. Consider the Kinetic Grand Championship, a cosmically silly three-day battle between human-powered works of art (imagine a speeding dragon...
Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...
The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbor, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...