California's northern coast isn't the most accessible part of the state—and that's a big part of its appeal. Time seems to slow down in this part of the world, creating an idyllic environment for road trippers who cherish breathtaking scenery, new discoveries around every bend, and hyper-local dining.
Jessica Wright, who runs the Bon Traveler blog, discovered this for herself during a recent getaway. She shared her experiences with Soterios Johnson on a recent episode of the California Now Podcast. “You just feel really at peace there,” she explained. “There’s a real connection with nature.” From Mendocino to Trinidad, here are Wright’s top travel picks for the state’s rugged northern coast.
The drive to Mendocino along coastal Highway 1 features spectacular views of high cliffs as they rise above the Pacific Ocean. Hike along the coast at Russian Gulch State Park, where turquoise waters lap against the beach, or get a close-up look at harbor seals, otters, and birds as you paddle the Big River Estuary in an outrigger canoe with Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too.
The picturesque town of Mendocino hosts a collection of charming art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Wright is a fan of Flow Restaurant & Lounge, with its “killer fish tacos” and upstairs ocean views. For a more upscale experience, head for French-inspired Café Beaujolais.
North of Mendocino is Fort Bragg, home to Glass Beach—a beachcomber’s paradise named for the colorful stones that line the shore. In the Noyo Harbor area, don’t miss the Princess Seafood Market & Deli, featuring fresh fish caught by the all-female crew of the PV Princess. The Dungeness crab sandwich is an “absolute must” to enjoy on the harborside patio.
Get the lay of the land aboard the Skunk Train as it travels through old-growth redwood groves and over scenic trestle bridges, or pedal along the train tracks on a two-person rail bike with redwoods towering overhead.
Highway 101 takes you to Humboldt County, where the world’s tallest redwood trees reach skyward. A drive along the Avenue of the Giants, set among 2,000-year-old redwoods, is an unforgettable experience. Wright recommends pulling off at Founder’s Grove for a serene walk and a look at the famous Dyerville Giant redwood.
For some excellent beer and pub fare, stop at the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, then make your way to the seaside town of Trinidad. Settle in for happy hour bites and Humboldt oysters at the beachside Moonstone Grill, or enjoy live jazz and mesquite barbecue on the patio at Larrupin Café. If the water is calling, paddle around Trinidad Bay with Kayak Trinidad, keeping an eye out for whales and porpoises.
Because you can never spend too much time among the redwoods, Wright says, make sure to visit the spectacular Redwoods National and State Parks–especially Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where scenes for Jurassic Park were filmed.