Planning a California North Coast Road Trip

So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.

Planning a CA North Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.

Road Trip Map via Google Maps

  1. Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
  2. Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips.  I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
north coast 3
Beach camping at Westport Beach near Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
  2. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
north coast 4
Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Greyson Howard

 

One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.

Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.

Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
  2. Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49

And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:

CA North Coast Road Trip Plan // tahoefabulous.com

Spontaneous Road Trip: Mendocino County

As you may know, there is currently a massive fire raging in California. The smoke from the 180,000 acre blaze is filling up the Tahoe Basin, where I live. I went to get an emergency refill on my inhaler (ooops…probably should have done that ~6 months ago), and the doctor suggested I get out of town. A prescription for an impromptu road trip? The best prescription ever! My roommate and I packed up Strawberry, my CRV, and headed toward the Mendocino coast.

We made it to the Motel 6 in Ukiah and crashed for the night, planning on doing the rest of the drive in the morning. After sampling the produce at the Ukiah Farmers Market and a leisurely breakfast at Ellie’s Mutt Hut, we made the hour or so drive to Fort Bragg.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I absolutely fell in love with Fort Bragg. It’s definitely a tourist town, but also a functioning harbor and fishing port. I had lots of fantasies about marrying a sea captain, getting really good at kayaking and eating fresh salmon every day.

Some highlights from the Fort Bragg area were:

  • Buying local smoked salmon and salmon fillets right off the boat in Noyo Harbor

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

  • Breakfast at Cafe 1 (which one Yelp review described as “that pretentious organic crap”),
  • Beer from North Coast Brewing Company (unfortunately, they were doing renovations, so I couldn’t do the brewery tour):

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

We ended up camping a little north of Fort Bragg near Westport at the Westport-Union Landing State Beach campground, which was “primitive” (no potable water, pit toilets), but had a gorgeous view of the coast and beach access with a bit of a hike. The tide was out and the tide pools were teeming with sea creatures! When we were walking along the beach, we discovered that the local KOA campground lets you tent camp right on the beach, far away from the motorhomes. Next time, I will definitely stay there.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

My roommate and I played in the tide pools, splashed around in the (cold!) ocean, and attempted to make friends with some successful and attractive kayak anglers. They were friendly, but did not invite us to dinner.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

On Sunday, we packed up camp and headed south on Hwy 1, admiring the gorgeous foggy views before we cut inland through Navarro River Redwoods State Park. This is a beautiful but windy drive through dense redwoods and then dozens of vineyards. This drive was a little out of our way home to Tahoe, but the most direct route to Anderson Valley Brewing Company!

I love beer and breweries, and Anderson Valley is a favorite. We hung around the tiny town of Boonville, waiting until the next tour began. Anderson Valley is a little outside of town, with fun grounds to explore, including a disk golf course and goats! The tour was fun, informative and only $5, which included two 5 ounce samples. Katie and I each split our two, so we tried 4 varieties that you can only get at the brewery.

We began our long trek back to Tahoe, hoping that the smoke had cleared. The drive back wasn’t terrible, as there were new views we had missed during the drive in the dark. Also, we stopped at Whole Foods in for dinner and Sonoma Pickles! Definitely a great weekend.