This North Coast vacation and travel guide will introduce you to one of the Golden State’s most charming areas which stretches from Point Arena at Mendocino County’s southern tip to the towns of Elk, Albion and Mendocino, then inland a bit to the Anderson Valley’s award-winning wineries, then north to the tallest trees on Earth in the Redwood National Forest near Eureka and, finally, to the Trees of Mystery park, near Crescent City and the Oregon border.
Along the way, you’ll enjoy rugged shale bluffs, headlands and offshore reefs. You may want to get out for a hike or a closer look at the teeming tide pools, or perhaps you’ll want to stop at a quaint seaside village for some shopping or at an easygoing winery to select an accompaniment for your picnic supplies.
If you’re visiting the North Coast between December and April, you may want to check out the whale watching opportunities at Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg. Beginning around the first of December, California gray whales begin their migration from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Cortez, where they will calve. Then, toward the end of March, the adults (some weighing around 100,000 pounds) and their calves (weighing a mere 1,500 pounds) reverse the course and again traverse these waters on their return to Alaska. This 14,000-mile journey is the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis.
Spring also brings vibrant sprays of wildflowers like blue lupine and verbena to the area, and summer brings fog, fruit stands and first Friday art walks in Fort Bragg.
Mendocino gets in the game, too, with second Saturday art walks, and you can also look in the Mendocino Beacon’s “What’s Happening” section to find out which artists open their studios by appointment.
An interesting way to see inland Mendocino county is aboard the Sierra Railroad’s Skunk Train, so named because its original gas engines prompted people to say, “You can smell ‘em before you see ‘em!” From April through October, the Skunk Train runs 40 miles from coastal Fort Bragg to Willits (inland near US Highway 101), a route that’s considered one of the top ten train rides in the west. You’ll cross some 30 bridges and trestles and pass through two deep mountain tunnels, all while viewing cathedrals of Redwoods from the line’s restored rail cars. The halfway point of Northspur is a popular lunch spot, giving passengers a chance to snack before continuing to Willits or heading back to Fort Bragg. Roundtrip between Fort Bragg and Willits takes around eight hours.
The eastern boundary for the North Coast area is Lake County, which is home to Clear Lake, possibly the oldest lake in North America and California’s largest natural freshwater lake. Known for its exceptional bass fishing and emerging wineries, Lake County offers fun for the whole family.
Back to Hwy. 101 and heading north, you won’t want to miss the collection of ornate Victorian homes in Ferndale and Eureka. You can even tour Blue Ox Millworks, a company whose dedication to preserving 1800s woodworking craftsmanship played a major role in those houses’ restoration.
Between Orick and Crescent City you’ll find the Earth’s tallest trees preserved in Redwood National Park. Some are as tall as a 36-story building and wide enough to drive through!
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