The California portion of the 101 is an 800 mile (1,290 km) stretch through epic road tripping scenery - from lush green Redwood Forests and rolling yellow grassland, to wild sandy beaches. The midpoint of the coast is San Francisco, where we decided to break the first leg of our journey. This makes for a very long day, and I would suggest dividing it into two, if you can, so as to allow yourself more time to explore.
As you might recall, we ended our Oregon adventure car camping at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Redwood State Park. The campground is beautiful, with its densely forested backdrop on 11 miles of untouched beach. It is also a great place to explore Fern Canyon - a magical mile long walk along a pebbled creek, between towering banks of fern and trees - and to spot the majestic herd of endangered Roosevelt elk that range in this area.
If you have more time, the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (north of the campground) is a great spot to hike through the giant Redwoods. The Trees of Mystery, which we passed on our way to dinner in Klamath, is another opportunity to view these amazing trees, but it is very touristy, so expect lots of people. In our opinion, a better option is to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Grove which lies in the Redwood National Park to the South. The Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center is also worth a stop.
As you head further south, you leave the dense green forests behind you, and the road winds through steep hills of grassland and scrub oak. We stopped for coffee in Eureka’s Old Town, which is a must-visit. It features over 150 beautifully preserved buildings from the Victorian era and we spent more time than we should have browsing the quaint little boutique stores.
After Eureka, the road takes you back into Redwood country as you drive through the Humboldt Redwood State Park. We made an impromptu stop at the Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area for a swim in a large natural pool at the bottom of the canyon (be warned, its a fairly steep climb). Refreshed, we grabbed a late lunch from IN and Out Burger in Ukiah - I know, not the most imaginative choice, but it was a rare treat for these former Californian natives!
Mendocino County is wine country with quaint little Californian towns and beautiful vineyards interspersed between sprawling ranches so we couldn't pass through without stopping for a glass or two. There were a number of great options, but we decided on the Francis Ford Coppolla Winery because we were intrigued by its famous owner. The tasting house is beautiful, and has some fascinating memorabilia on display from his movies (does The Godfather ring a bell!), making it well worth a visit.
11 Hours from when we started our day, we ended it in San Francisco - just in time to catch the Golden Gate bridge at Sunset. On the North side of the bridge there are two vista points which offer great views of the bridge and the San Francisco skyline. On the South side, from the visitors center you can stroll along the bay and see Alcatraz, which is beautiful, but it wasn't the best angle for photos. We made our way across to the Presidio vista point on the other side of the highway and were able to capture the shot below.
The next leg of our road trip will take us from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. So stay tuned for more installments on our amazing adventure!
Oregon/California Border, Fern Canyon, Roosevelt Elk, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitors Center, Eureka, Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area - Swimming Hole, San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge