What makes California’s Redwood Coast so special? Maybe it’s the primeval wilderness that has 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 tallest 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 figuring out 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, in Southern Humboldt County, 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 Carter House Inn in Eureka (don't miss the wine list, which has more than 3,800 bottles!). And in Southern Humboldt County, near the 31-mile stretch of highway known as the Avenue of the Giants, both the Benbow Historic Inn, which overlooks the Eel River, and the Inn of the Lost Coast are perfect home bases for experiencing the redwoods.
Standing more than 300 feet tall, the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) will take your breath away. Drive the 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. The 24.6-mile-long Lost Coast Trail will lead you through some of the most rugged territory of the region, including black-sand beaches populated by seals and barking sea lions. (If hiking the entire trail is on your bucket list, allow at least three days; backcountry permits are available for camping.) Before you arrive, check the web sites for the Redwoods National Park and the Save the Redwoods League for special events and deals—such as free entry on the second Saturday of each month to the parts of the park that are not normally free.
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 Pacific Outfitters. There are also such water activities as kayaking and rafting (in both the ocean and the Eel River), fishing, and surfing that can make the most of the coast.
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 (or even a contemplative afternoon of forest bathing) 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. To see more events happening during your stay, visit the events pages for Humboldt County and Southern Humboldt County.