The classic tour of Northern California is behind the wheel. Don’t miss a chance to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, with its quaint towns, giant redwoods, and untamed beaches. Cruising down Highway 49 in the Gold Country is another favorite, where mining towns, some seemingly preserved in amber, detail California’s boom-time beginnings. But less visited destinations like Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta, with their glaciers, steaming fumaroles, and beautiful desolation, celebrate the state’s wild side. To add to the experience, a multitude of scenic two-lane highways makes driving from one destination to the next a treat in and of itself.

Highway 1 to U.S. 101 in Crescent City

(400 Miles, 9 Hours from San Francisco)

Crashing surf, towering redwoods, and rocky beaches typify the rugged Northern California coast. Highway 1 and U.S. 101 twist apart and converge again for almost 400 miles from San Francisco to Crescent City, culminating in one of the state’s best and most scenic road trips.

The rugged Sonoma coast. Photo © Haydn5/Dreamstime.

The rugged Sonoma coast. Photo © Haydn5/Dreamstime.

From San Francisco, travel north over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Area’s playground, Marin County. Following Highway 1, stop for a short hike amid coastal redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument before continuing north past Stinson Beach to Point Reyes National Seashore, where a wealth of hiking and biking opportunities await. Slurp oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. or stock up on gourmet cheese at Cowgirl Creamery for a picnic later. Just an hour north is Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed. From January to May, you may even spot whales off the coast.

Guerneville makes a fun detour inland from Highway 1. Spend the night at Creekside Inn and Lodge and dip your toes—or a canoe—in the Russian River. Back on Highway 1, stop for a dose of history at Fort Ross State Historic Park, a reconstructed Russian fort. As Highway 1 winds north, the artsy enclave of Mendocino beckons. Wander through the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and consider spending the night at one of the many quaint B&Bs.

Highway 1 rejoins U.S. 101 in Leggett and enters the famed Redwood Coast. From Humboldt Redwoods State Park near Garberville to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, this 150-mile stretch is rich with hiking and camping opportunities. Cruise the Avenue of the Giants and pitch a tent in Humboldt Redwoods State Park or snag a campsite at Prairie Creek Redwoods. Del Norte Coast Redwoods is the last of the redwoods before Crescent City.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.