Road Trip Guide to the Northern California Coast

8 day itinerary of Derek and Kerri‘s road trip down the beautiful Northern California coast!

We started our road trip in Eureka and worked our way down the Northern California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), through San Francisco, to Monterey.

Eureka (1 Day)

Activities

Eureka is a historic, quaint town perfect for our first stop on the Northern California coast. Both Old Town Eureka and the Eureka Boardwalk have unique shops and a beautiful view of the Humboldt Bay.  It’s a perfect stop for an evening stroll.

Eureka Boardwalk | Eurkea | Northern California

Eureka Boardwalk

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants is an awesome 31-mile scenic drive through over 50,000 acres of magnificent Redwood groves. This drive through Humboldt Redwoods State Park is easily accessible from Hwy 101 and runs roughly parallel to the highway. There are tons of pullouts to park, with lots of trails and picnic areas. You can easily spend a day wandering through these amazing redwoods; they’re so impressive.  It’s about an hour south of Eureka on Highway 101. Definitely recommend this stop if you’re visiting the Northern California coast!

Avenue of the Giants | Eureka | Northern California   Avenue of the Giants | Eureka | Northern California

Restaurants

La Patria Mariscos and Grill

We loved La Patria Mariscos and Grill.  We were surprised to find such good Mexican food on the Northern California coast.  They had some of the best carnitas and homemade flour tortillas we have ever eaten.  Everyone was so friendly.  The building looks sketchy from the outside, but look past that; inside is clean and authentic. They had generous portions, great flavor, and reasonable prices.

Hotel

Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn

In Eureka, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn. It was located blocks from Old Town Eureka. They offered free hot/cold buffet breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking.  There was also an indoor and outdoor pool, and a fitness center. Hotels.com guest rating: 4.2/5

Fort Bragg/Mendocino (1 day)

Activities

Glass Beach

Located in MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, just a few blocks off Hwy 1, the Glass Beach is a fun stop. The beach is known for sea-polished pieces of glass. For many years it was common for seaside cities along the Northern California coast to dump their trash into the ocean, and this occurred in Fort Bragg from 1906 to 1967. The practice stopped then, and the coastal dumps were cleaned up. But the sea is returning the glass in multicolored smooth pieces. Two visitors told us, though, that there is much less glass than in years past. A fun place to wander – lots of tide pools to explore. We were there at sunset and it was a peaceful, interesting place.

Glass Beach | Fort Bragg | | Northern California

Mendocino

Mendocino is a great town along the Northern California coast for a stop. It’s an artsy shopping haven with several blocks of interesting stores and art galleries to explore.

Downtown Mendocino | | Northern California

We were there on a Sunday so we took advantage of the walking tour offered at Kelley House Museum on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am ($10 each). Our guide was very interesting and we learned fun facts, such as this statue on top of the old Masonic Lodge was carved in the 1800’s from a single piece of redwood.

Mendocino Courthouse | Northern California

Restaurants

Mendocino Market and Deli

Mendocino Market and Deli had excellent sandwiches at the most reasonable prices in town because it was a few blocks off the main shopping streets.

Django’s Rough Bar

We enjoyed dinner at Django’s Rough Bar.  It’s mostly seafood. The outdoor eating area overlooks the Noyo River. Good food and atmosphere and reasonable prices. The bar wasn’t rough – we learned that’s the term for where a river meets the ocean and the current is strong!

Hotel

The Beach House Inn

We stayed at The Beach House Inn in Fort Bragg. It’s located about a half mile from Glass Beach.  They offered free continental breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking.  Fort Bragg and Mendocino are neighboring towns.  We found Mendocino is more touristy/expensive, so we recommend staying in Fort Bragg. Hotels.com guest rating: 4.0/5

Marin County (2 days)

Activities

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes peninsula is worth the detour off Hwy 1, and is a spectacular point on the Northern California coast. Most of the area is National Seashore and is a great place to hike and explore, with lots of hiking trails and picnic areas available. One trail leads to an elk preserve. Another trail (Earthquake Trail) leads to an area where you can see evidence of the shifting plates along the San Andreas Fault. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is open Friday – Monday and offers a spectacular panoramic view. Migrating whales are seen during the winter.  Fog is present there about 1/3 of the time, so your visibility could be hampered. A short drive and walk from the lighthouse leads to a viewing area for elephant seals – bring your binoculars for a better view. You could plan to spend an entire day here.

Point Reyes Lighthouse | Point Reyes National Seashore | Marin County | Northern California

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods is a must see on a trip to the Northern California coast.  Seeing the huge redwood trees is breathtaking.  The beginning of the hike is about a mile of paved path filled with slow walkers, children, and elderly, so there are hiking options for everyone.  Once you get past that, the trail turns into an actual hiking trail with fewer hikers.  The paths were pretty clearly marked and luckily we picked up a map at the front.

We arrived a little before they opened at 8am and the first parking lot was already full.  Highly recommend arriving that early because when we left, we saw people had to park quite a distance down the street.  Also, since we were there before 8am, the ranger station was not open and charging admission yet.  No guarantees, maybe it was a fluke, but could be an extra bonus to get there early!  There was a small, overpriced sandwich/snack counter available near the entrance, so I would plan on bringing your own food if you think you’ll get hungry. If you don’t want to drive and park at Muir Woods, they also offer a park and ride shuttle.  Park under Highway 101 at Pohono St Park & Ride.

Muir Woods | Marin County | Northern California

Hiking trails through the giant Redwood trees

Sausalito

We were a little disappointed by Sausalito.  It’s a cute little beach town across the bay from the city, but there is not much to do.  We walked around the little shops, and did a wine tasting at Bacchus & Venus Sausalito.  It was a good tasting and they did a good job about telling you a lot of history about each wine.  Unfortunately many restaurants in the area were very pricey.

Restaurant

Station House Cafe at Point Reyes

Station House Cafe, near Point Reyes, is pricier than we usually choose ($15-$25 entrees), but worth it! Popovers that come with every meal were terrific!  Food is locally sourced and organic.

Hotel

Motel Inverness

We were very pleased with Motel Inverness B&B.  It was a small, cozy motel with a beautiful view of Tomales Bay. They have a variety of room configurations, depending on your group, and some include a private balcony.  The owner was very personable and helpful.

Napa (1 day)

We’ve been to wineries all over the country, and though Napa is beautiful, it’s the most overpriced wine tastings we’ve ever seen.  That being said, it is something you must experience once!  It’s about an hour inland from the Northern California coast.  None of the wineries below required us to make an appointment for a weekend tasting, but keep that in mind, as some smaller Napa/Sonoma wineries do.

Andretti Winery – We loved our tasting experience here, but partially because we had a very friendly person pouring and he gave us a few extra pours.  Wines were good and vineyards were beautiful.

Andretti Winery | Napa | Northern California

V Sattui Winery – Wonderful wine, and bakery on site with great cheeses and picnic tables outside.  Good place to plan to go around lunch!

Robert Mondavi Winery – We took the tour here and did a tasting.  Wines were good.  Tour was typical; they showed us all about the wine production.

Robert Mondavi Winery | Napa | Northern California

Vineyards at Robert Mondavi

Trefethan Winery – Good wines and beautiful estate

Hotel

Hennessey House

We stayed at the Hennessey House B&B in Napa.  It was a beautiful house, located on Main St, near downtown Napa. They offered free full breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking.  The staff were all extremely friendly.  Also included in our stay were extra bonuses like freshly baked snacks during the day, and an afternoon wine and cheese tasting. Hotels.com guest rating: 4.9/5

San Francisco (2 Full days)

Activities

Grayline Hop on Hop off Tour

We spent an entire day seeing the city on the Grayline Hop on Hop off Tour.  It makes a good loop of all major tourist attractions in the city – from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.  (There was an option for an additional fee for them to drop you off at Muir Woods, which we would have done if we hadn’t seen it a few days before.)  We got out and walked around at many of the stops.  Buses came around every 30 minutes and narrated tours of the area as you go.  Tickets available all over town; ask for a discount – we got a discount for the tickets from a street vendor.

Ghirardelli Square | Grayline Tour | San Francisco | Northern California

View of Ghirardelli Square from Hyde Street Pier

Painted Ladies | Grayline Tour | San Francisco | Northern California

Iconic “Painted Ladies” in Alamo Square Park

Walking Tour of Haight Ashbury

This walking tour was offered as one of 2 free walking tours included in Grayline’s Hop-on-Hop-off tour. We had a one-on-one tour with a San Francisco native with a passion for the city and its history. He told us all about the Summer of Love in 1967, which was the beginning of the hippie movement – an important social change movement. We saw where it all happened that summer, and saw the homes of icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Grateful Dead.  He was very interesting and we highly recommend it.

Haight Ashbury Walking Tour | Grayline Tour | San Francisco | Northern California

Corner of Haight and Ashbury

Jimi Hendrix Home | Haight Ashbury Walking Tour | Grayline Tour | San Franciso

Home of Jimi Hendrix – upper right window

Boudin Museum and Bakery Tour

There is a free tour of the Boudin Museum and Bakery.  It’s located on Fisherman’s Wharf at the end of Pier 45. Watch the sourdough bread making and try a free sample. There is lots of bread for sale, as well as a restaurant featuring sourdough bread creations.  It was interesting!

Boudin Bakery Tour | San Francisco | Northern California

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a very unique hands-on science, art, and learning museum.  They offer really cool hands-on exhibits on a variety of really unique subjects such as electricity, lights, sound, visual illusions, biology, and mechanics. For example, there was a gallery on human feelings and social behavior, ecology, winds and tides, Morse code, etc.  It’s huge!  We were there several hours and didn’t see it all.  Go up to the rooftop to get a great view of the Bay Bridge.  Only downside is it’s pricey to get in.

Restaurants

The Codmother Fish & Chips

You can’t come to the Northern California coast without trying the seafood!  The Codmother Fish & Chips is authentic fish & chips, and was highly recommended to us by several different people.  It’s located on Fisherman’s Wharf in a section of Beach Street with permanent food trailers and outdoor picnic table seating.

Vikings Giant Subs

Vikings Giant Subs is really good toasted sub sandwiches at a great price. Nice man running the whole show by himself.  We got them to go as it was across the street from our hotel.  They were still warm when we ate them in our room.

Hotel

Comfort Inn by the Bay

We were very happy with our stay at Comfort Inn by the Bay. They offer a full hot breakfast, big updated rooms, free wifi, and an underground parking garage for a fee.  There is a stop for the Grayline Hop on Hop off tour 2 blocks down the street from the hotel.  It’s located a few blocks from Lombard Street, and around the corner from a grocery store where we stopped in to buy snacks. Hotels.com guest rating: 3.8/5

Transportation

Besides the day we did the Hop on Hop off bus, we used both the BART train and city bus to get around the city.  They were very easy to navigate.  Parking is a beast, so I would recommend leaving your car parked at the hotel and using public transportation to get around.  You do need a car to get to Muir Woods or Napa, if you’re staying in the city and visiting those as day trips.

Monterey (Half day)

17 Mile Drive

Monterey and the famous 17 Mile Drive is about a 2 hour drive south of San Francisco.  It costs $10 to drive through this wonderful scenic drive along the Northern California coast line.  The drive covers about half of the Monterey Peninsula.  It’s close to the water, so you see all the waves and dramatic rock formations.  There is a spot where the rock is covered with seals, and there are plenty of pullouts to stop and take pictures.  The drive goes by 2 of the most well known golf courses, Pebble Beach and Spy Glass Hill, as well as huge elegant beachfront mansions.

Pro Tip: Our suggestion is to do the drive from north to south because that puts the ocean and all your views on your right side – easier to see – as opposed to seeing the views across the street.  Also, the pullouts are all on the ocean side, so it makes it easier to stop.

Lone Cyprus | 17 Mile Drive | Monterey | Northern California coast road trip

Lone Cyprus at Pebble Beach, along the 17 Mile Drive

Northern California Coast

The Northern California Coast


Other Travel Guides You Might Like:

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Cape Cod, Massachusetts – Beaches and Lobsters: Cape Cod, Massachusetts

New York City, New York – Art Lovers’ Tour of New York City


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Road Trip Guide to the Northern California Coast. 8 Day itinerary, recommendations, and advice on activities, restaurants & hotels. | wornpassports.com


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