This is an older piece, but given that Lonely Planet named northern California’s redwood coast as its #1 destination in the U.S. for 2018, I figured it is worth publishing again. Come see us!
California is a big state. In the same time it takes to drive its length from Oregon to Mexico, you can drive from North Carolina to Maine.
So it makes sense that there are plenty of things to do and see in a state the size of California. From beautiful beaches to great skiing, from the bustle of downtown San Francisco to tranquil, awe-inspiring beauty of the state’s numerous national parks, California has it all.
The NorCal vs. SoCal debate
Yet, for a state as large and diverse as California, some people seem to think it only consists of either greater San Francisco or greater Los Angeles. San Francisco is the heart of NorCal while Los Angeles is the heart of SoCal. There is a playful NorCal vs. SoCal rivalry of sorts. SoCal may have Hollywood and Disneyland, but it has to steal all its water from NorCal.
But there is a problem with this description: the bulk of the “NorCal” people aren’t even in NorCal!
San Francisco isn’t NorCal. Let me say that again: San Francisco *isn’t* NorCal! With a solid 320 miles of state between it and the Oregon border, the City by the Bay hardly qualifies as north anything. To put to rest further debate, let me refer you to this highly educational (and undoubtedly controversial) map:
There you have it. These are the divisions of California. Yeah, those lines are completely arbitrary. But I agree with them, so they must be accurate.
Now let me direct your attention to *real* NorCal.
Why the northern California coast should be on your travel radar
You may be thinking: “But there’s nothing up there!” Fine. Don’t agree with me. But at least give me a chance to show you that you’re wrong and convince you to visit coastal northern California.
Coastal northern California is a place of wondrous natural beauty. It is home to the tallest trees on earth. The coastline is more rugged and scenic than almost anywhere else in the country. People do come here from not only all over the U.S., but from all over the world. There is plenty to see, do, and experience.
Here are my top 5 reasons you should visit coastal northern California:
- The Redwoods – These are the gem of northern California. The best of the redwoods are found in Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. One of my favorite hikes is the James Irvine Trail, starting from the Prairie Creek Redwoods Visitor Center and culminating with spectacular Fern Canyon. Other favorites of mine include the Ossagon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Grasshopper Peak in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
- The Lost Coast – This pristine stretch of coastline is called “Lost” because it is ruggedness and isolation. It is so daunting, the road engineers left it alone. The southern end begins where Highway 1 ditches the coast and heads inland to meet Highway 101, and the northern end is generally considered where the Eel River Valley meets the ocean. It’s roughly 75 miles of untamed coastline. There is a 100-mile paved loop through Petrolia and Honeydew that lets you experience the sheer ruggedness of this stretch of coastline from your car. It is still one of my absolute favorites drives, and it begins virtually at my doorstep. Two pieces of the Lost Coast, the King Range Wilderness and the Sinkyone Wilderness, contain some pristine hiking and backpacking opportunities.
- Highway 1 – This is one of the most scenic highways in the country. Highway 1 splits off from 101 just north of the Golden Gate, and the section through Point Reyes National Seashore is lovely. But it gets even better as you head through northern Sonoma County and on into Mendocino. In many places it feels like the road barely clings to the coast, as the cliff drops off next to you straight into the Pacific. If you come for just one reason, visit coastal northern California to drive Highway 1.
- Ferndale – Affectionately known as the Victorian Village, Ferndale is a tiny town with a big reputation. The buildings of Main Street are straight out of 1900. As it is my hometown, I too often take it for granted. Ferndale has been featured in numerous travel magazines and web publications. To me it is simply home, but every summer I am reminded that it is a destination. People visit from all over the globe. Ferndale is (was?) even featured at Legoland California, alongside model cityscapes of New York and San Francisco. We’re that awesome.
- The State of Jefferson – If you visit before we secede from the rest of California, you can say you’ve already been here. Or you could just come back for a second visit! Ok…this is extremely unlikely, but the idea has been discussed for decades now. We really are California’s better half. I mean…third. SoCal can keep San Francisco.
Coastal northern California is my stomping grounds; it is the place I will always call home. Too often I take the beauty of our isolated pocket of the world for granted, forgetting that it draws tourists from around the world. It isn’t a place that is on many people’s radar, but it really should be. The area has a lot to offer.
So plan a visit coastal northern California. Come see my exquisite neck of the woods. You won’t be disappointed!
Highway 1 image under CC 3.0 license.