The Northern California Coast is beautiful, wild and rugged, especially more so in winter. We have actually driven the Northern California coastline a few times but this time we decided to take a road trip in February. Yes, you can expect there to be a lot of rain, plenty of wild storms, thunder and lightening. But surprisingly there were quite a few days filled with sunshine too.
Northern California Coast in Winter
We did this road trip from north to south and stopped at the following places:
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Avenue of the Giants
Our first stop after crossing the Oregon border was Crescent City. Even though Lonely Planet says this coastal town is not worth stopping at, we ended up staying for a couple of days because it had a nice mellow vibe and felt like a safe place to stay in the van. It has all the large chain stores so we stocked up on cooking supplies and found some wifi to check emails. There is a large park by the Visitors Center that is great for picnicking or stretching your legs, which is what we did.
Jamie was determined to find some waves but there wasn’t much swell. We found a safe place to park overnight right by the water where we could check the surf right from our bed and cook while watching the waves roll in. It was epic to say the least!
It was so pretty here because you could look back at the dramatic coastline.
Next morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise and a brisk sea breeze. The swell was still on the small side but Jamie was hoping somehow “Jamie’s Right” (the wave he found the day before) was breaking but this was not the case for the next few days. Admitting defeat, we decided to keep heading south in search of warmer weather.
Del Norte Redwoods State Park
Our next stop was only 30 minutes south at the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. We wanted to hike the Damnation Creek trail, a trail that we had done on our last road trip to the area two years ago which was one of our favorites. The Damnation Creek trail is a 3 mile round-trip hike down a steep trail to the ocean through some awe-inspiring coastal redwoods.
It was a little different in winter though with so much rainfall. The narrow steep trail was super slippery and we had to be careful as there were a lot of fallen trees we had to navigate. On the way down we were reminded of the sights and beauty we had seen some years earlier that made us fall in love with this amazing place.
Close to the end of the trail there was a sign posted saying that the rest of the trail was closed because there was a bridge that was unsafe to cross, but seeing as though we had got this far we were determined to reach the end of the trail. Especially knowing what we would be missing out on otherwise.
Being the problem solvers we are, we just went under the bridge as the creek wasn’t all that high and finally made it down to the wild and windy Pacific Ocean. The air was fresh, the wind was strong, and we felt alive all alone on the rugged piece of coastline. We spent some time scouring the bottom of the cliffs before making the struggle back up.
Getting back to the van we downed a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and then hit the road south-bound aiming for Eureka. On the way we saw a detour for a tourist loop drive that would take us on a drive atop some cliffs overlooking the ocean and being the adventurous twosome we are, of course we chose to take it. We didn't know exactly where we ended up but it was stunning and we were the only ones there. Because the day was getting late and Eureka was still awhile away we made the call to camp out here and catch the sunset.
Early next morning we woke to some stellar views then made ourselves a cuppa and on we went. We stopped at Orrick to see the herd of Roosevelt Elk on the way. Roosevelt Elk are the largest of the six recognized subspecies of elk in North America and this is one of the only three counties in California where they still persist. It was a super cold morning but we still made an effort to get out and up close.
The next day when we finally reached Arcata we were starving and feeling too lazy to cook so when we spotted the Chinese buffet we fell in to temptation. It was so good to be inside where it was warm and toasty. After over-doing it at the buffet, we thought it was best to go walk it off so we found somewhere to park in Eureka and got out to explore the town.
Eureka is a somewhat big town with some beautifully restored Victorian homes and interesting boutique stores in the downtown area. An interesting fact about Eureka that we discovered while strolling around is that there is a prison building right in the middle of town which was really weird and quite disturbing. The inmates were yelling out to pedestrians as they walked by from their cell blocks which was definitely creepy.
After walking around for a few hours and visiting some pawn stores we decided to get moving and make it to the Humboldt Redwoods State Forest.
On the way to the Redwoods we saw a sign for Fortuna and remembered the awesome Eel River Brewery we had visited once before so without hesitation we took the next exit. After a few hours of some of the tastiest IPA's, we realized we would not be driving any further so we kept the beers coming and ordered some of the best halibut we’d ever had.
Avenue Of The Giants
Getting up super early the next day, we finally made it to the northern entrance of Avenue of the Giants. We were extremely excited to be amongst these ancient giants once again. The beauty and scale of these tree’s has to be seen to be believed.
We stopped at a three mile loop trail which took about an hour to complete and had enough time to tackle another one. We then continued to drive at a really slow speed in absolute awe of our surroundings and these amazing living things. I think we stopped about 50 times for photo opportunities!
We stopped in at the Humboldt Visitors Center which is probably one of the best Visitors Centers’ we’ve ever been too! Here you can learn about the Redwoods and check out old photo’s, newspaper clippings and tools that were used back in the day for logging. You can also learn about the area’s wildlife and grab some cool souvenirs with the cash going towards the preservation of the area.
When we got back outside the weather had taken a turn for the worse so we sat on the front porch of the Visitors Center sipping on some coffees before making the decision to go and get cozy in the van for the rest of the day.
The following day was still grey and raining quite steadily but we didn’t want to waste our time here so we put on our raincoats and hit another trail. Arriving back at the van looking like drowned rats but with smiles from ear to ear we got into some dry clothes and said goodbye to the Redwoods and headed back out to the coast.
We were greeted by a glassy ocean but light was fading fast so we pulled up in a sheltered bay and parked right on the beach. It was a stormy night but we still had one six pack of IPA’s left to make the night a little less scary.
Upon waking we were amazed to see 10 to 15 foot waves rolling in across the whole cove. Our plan for the day was to get to Fort Bragg where we had arranged a last minute work exchange for a few days. We really enjoy doing work exchanges because you get to meet some great people and have a reason to linger in the area a little longer.
We ended up staying in Fort Bragg for almost a week working at a bed and breakfast that was built in 1886 with its own watchtower. Bed and Breakfasts are really popular in Fort Bragg if you are planning a visit to the area.
Our stay was perfect because we didn’t even need to leave the house to check the surf, just to climb up to the watchtower to see the ocean. We spent a few days helping renovate a room and in return got a bedroom and ballroom lessons. We spent our afternoons exploring the headlands, surfing and making friends with the super friendly locals.
We also got to pay Glass Beach a visit which is famous for its dazzling sea-glass rounded by the rolling waves created from years of dumping garbage into an area of coastline near the northern part of the town. What made the whole experience even better was that the weather was finally getting warmer!
After a week in Fort Bragg it was time to move on. It was hard to say goodbye to Fort Bragg, everyone here treated us like one of their own and we will forever be grateful.
Next stop... San Francisco! Vanning in San Francisco: Why We Were Happy To Leave