A Weekend Warrior's Guide to California's Northern Coast

Ever wanted to explore California’s northern coast, but didn’t know quite where to start? Here are some insights into what kind of scenery and activities you might encounter as you make your way north out of the San Francisco Bay Area and up the world famous “Route 1”.

Marin Headlands & Mt. Tamalpais

As the closest area to explore north of the Bay, Marin county offers up some incredible options to get away for a day or a weekend. You can do a day trip to the Headlands where you can hike to the Point Bonita Lighthouse and take in epic views of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco cityscape. You can bring your dog and spend the afternoon at Rodeo Beach. Alternatively, do a longer hike along the coastal trail up from Rodeo Beach and check out the old Battery Townsley and other abandoned World War II bunkers. For food, check out the ever wonderful Sol Food. Alternatively, choose any of the amazing hikes around Mt. Tamalpais (we were engaged along the old mine loop, highly recommend!), and grab lunch beachside in Stinson at the Siren Canteen.

Point Reyes

A little further up the coast, check out the wonderful National Seashore of Point Reyes, which offers hiking, camping, and more sea views. You can do the Alamere Falls waterfall hike (I wrote about that trek more specifically in this post). Alternatively, Point Reyes makes for an easy backpacking trip (check out tips for that here!). Adventures near Point Reyes should end with a pit stop in cute Fairfax for some Fairfax Scoop ice cream.

Waterfall near the end of the Alamere Falls hike.

Bodega Bay

There is more to this stretch of California coastline than the film spots for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Take in the cliff views and pounding surf of the ocean or stop for some fries at The Dog House.

Enjoying some coastal hot tub views in Dillon Beach, near Bodega Bay.

Sonoma Coast State Park, Salt Point State Park, & Jenner

Up past Bodega, the Sonoma Coast state parks begin to pop up around every turn along route 1. There are many different beaches you can pull off and explore. Bring a packed lunch or pick something up in Bodega, as it gets very rural after this point (spotty cell service too!). You eventually hit Jenner which has a few restaurants before you are back on the cliffs of Salt Point. In any of these areas, you can enjoy the beauty of the Russian River meeting the ocean, explore the tidepools, or go fishing! If you decide to go east back towards the redwoods, you can get a bit of wine country exploring in as well (check out this post on how to spend a day in wine country).

Mendocino & Fort Bragg

If you keep going north, you will hit a few resorts like Sea Ranch, before you land in the Mendocino region. This area is more populated with restaurants and places to stay, as well as a few beautiful forested state parks with redwoods and ocean blow holes, as well as the famous “glass beach” (sea glass of every color!). To learn more on how to spend your time in this area, you can check out this post. If you are tired of the sea, you can go east and check out Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville (a personal favorite!).

The glass beach in Fort Bragg.

Further north

If you aren’t tired of driving yet (Mendocino is approximately four hours by car from San Francisco), you can keep going up further to get deeper into the heart of Redwood Country. You can find more information about exploring this region in my post here outlining road trip opportunities through southern Oregon and the northernmost tip of California.

Magical, mystical redwood trees in Redwood State/National Park at the top of California.

You could spend many day or weekend trips getting to know the curves of the California coastline along route 1. In general, all of the above destinations offer jaw dropping cliffs into the ocean, coastal blooms of wildflowers and sea succulents, quaint towns that dot the coast, hikes among the redwoods, and the misty chill of the Pacific marine layer coming in at night. I personally believe that camping in these regions is the best way to experience them, but a cozy night in a bed and breakfast would satisfy too. Whatever you do, enjoy the journey!