Head to the tippy top of California’s northern coastline to see this sea-faring city with two lighthouses, redwoods, and an ever-changing wildlife show of sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, and even river otters at Crescent City Harbor. Don’t miss these other cool experiences in this North Coast town.
Discover the Battery Point Lighthouse
In some ways, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, in the town of Crescent City, is pretty impenetrable: It was built to withstand squalls, gale-force winds, and even the occasional tsunami. It’s not easy to get to, either—California’s northernmost lighthouse is perched on a tiny near-shore island that can be reached only at low tide and on foot. But it’s totally worth the effort. When the ocean recedes, you can walk across a causeway, climb the narrow spiral staircase to the lamp room, then crawl up a ladder and through a trapdoor for a spectacular 360-degree view. The beach across from the lighthouse is perfect for little ones who enjoy beachcombing.
Ogle the old-growth trees
Pitch a tent in the shadows of towering redwoods at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, a few miles northeast of Crescent City. An 86-site, dog-friendly campground sits beside the emerald Smith River in a lush glade filled with ferns and old-growth trees. Walk from your tent to the 340-foot-tall Stout Tree and its ancient redwood brethren—an easy jaunt for kids, too—or go for a drive on spectacular Howland Hill Road, a 10-mile winding dirt road through stands of magnificent old-growth woodland.
Paddle the Smith River
The Smith is California’s largest free-flowing river system as well as the fertile home of huge chinook salmon and steelhead. Hook up with an expert guide from Redwood Rides and you’ll learn about the unique geology of the Smith River watershed while you paddle through Class I and II whitewater and even a few small rapids. Want something tamer and more kid-friendly? Sign up for the company’s Redwoods by River kayaking trip, and float your inflatable craft along the lazy river in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Taste cheese downtown
Wander the shops and restaurants in Crescent City's quaint downtown, and stop by Rumiano Cheese Store to sample the natural and organic products from California's oldest family-owned cheese company. Ask to learn more about Rumiano’s hand-dug cellar, where they age wheels of dry Monterey Jack and Peppato cheese covered in a special blend of pepper and cocoa powder.
Sample local suds
You can’t go wrong with brick-oven pizzas, cheese curds, and well-brewed craft beer. Dogs and kids are welcome at Seaquake Brewing’s on-site brewery and tap room, where specialties include a complex blonde ale, a coastal pale ale, and an IPA. Nearby, the Port O' Pints Brewing Co. serves award-winning craft beers—as well as house-brewed sarsaparilla (root beer or birch beer) and casual bar food—in its coastal and Celtic-themed pub.
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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