One-week Northern California Coast Road Trip
A one-week vacation in northern California takes careful planning to fit in the many beautiful views and adventures. From the famous Highway 1 coastline to the majestic Redwood forests, California’s northern coast is the perfect canvas for an unforgettable road trip.
In this post, I’m sharing my latest northern California road trip itinerary! I’m including everything from my favorite hikes, overlooks, eats, and so much more. Hope you enjoy!
California Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1 – San Francisco to Fort Bragg – 195 miles via Highway 1
- Day 2 – Fort Bragg to Trinidad – 156 miles
- Day 3 – Redwood National Park + Prairie Creek State Park
- Day 4 – Southern Oregon Coast
- Day 5 – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
- Day 6 – Cresent City to Sonoma – 331 miles via Highway 101
Day 1 – San Francisco to Fort Bragg Area via Highway 1
San Francisco is a great starting point for a northern California road trip. We quickly rented a car and started our journey by driving across this iconic bridge.
We then made our way to the jaw-dropping Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 1 is a north-south state road running along most of California’s coastline. The mountains seem to dramatically dive straight into the ocean.
Note: You need an ample supply of time + patience to drive this route. It is a winding road where we rarely went more than 45 mph.
There are numerous stunning coastal towns with viewpoints galore. We stopped in Point Arena + Mendocino + Fort Bragg.
Day 2 – Fort Bragg to Trinidad
We started our morning with a fantastic breakfast in Fort Bragg at Home Style Cafe. You MUST try their homemade biscuits. Then we drove a few miles to MacKerricher State Park, home to the famous Glass Beach where the sand is full of sea glass.
As we continued north from Mendocino County into Humboldt County, we veered off the main highway to the famous Avenue of Giants – a 31-mile Redwood-lined drive with tons of history and following the eel river.
The drive would take about 30 minutes from the south to north entrance without stopping, but I recommend pulling off the road frequently for photos and hiking. We spent at least an hour taking our time and getting out of the car to enjoy the beauty of these massive trees.
We cut back onto Highway 101 and worked our way up to Trinidad. This is my favorite northern California coastal town. It’s a small town of 300 that sits up on a cliff overlooking Trinidad Bay and is an ideal base to explore both the coast and nearby redwood parks.
Day 3 – Redwood National Park + Prairie Creek State Park
It’s one thing to read about and look at pictures of California’s coastal redwoods, but it’s a whole other thing to experience them for yourself.
Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is just 25 miles north of Trinidad and home to herds of elk and ginormous redwoods. We started at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center and took the Prairie Creek Trail, then followed the Big Tree Loop and down the Cathedral Trail. This loop hike pretty easy + took approximately three hours + exposed us to some of the tallest trees in the world! It was magical.
Our next hike was Lady Bird Grove – a popular 1.5-mile loop hike in Redwood National Park. However, it was foggy, and at 1,200 feet above sea level, it’s too high to find the dramatic redwoods you can find at lower elevations.
Day 4 – Southern Oregon Coast
We ventured further north and spent the day exploring Oregon’s southern coast. Almost immediately after crossing the border, there are several excellent stops along the coast. Most of my favorite views are a part of the Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor. My must-sees are Arch Rock and Natural Bridges.
Day 5 – Howland Hill Road + Boy Scout Tree Trail
Of all the things you shouldn’t miss in northern California, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is at the top of the list. This is where we drove the insane Howland Hill Road, a 6-mile unpaved drive that is a must if you have never been in an untouched redwood forest. It led us to the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree Trail. This hike is a showcase of the world’s best redwood scenery.
The trail is a remote 6-mile out-and-back hike. Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps. The trail passes through a majestic redwood forest and is home to the largest single-stem coastal redwood tree in the world – and yes, we found it! What a thing to check off my bucket list!
Sidenote: We stayed at the Curly Redwood Lodge built in 1952 out of a single curly redwood tree. Unique!
Day 6 – Driving + Sonoma
Most of our last full day was spent driving from Cresent City to Sonoma – a 6-hour drive on Highway 101. We arrived in Sonoma just in time for a fantastic dinner (obviously included multiple bottles of local wine) + a swim at our beautiful stay – Westerbeke Ranch.
Day 7 – Fly Away Home
How much time is needed for this trip?
You could spend two weeks and not see it all. I’d recommend a minimum of six full days because of the amount of driving – especially if you take Highway 1 on your way north. So anywhere from a week to ten days will give you a great experience.
Best time of years to go?
The northern coast is actually pretty mild year-round. I prefer to travel during the off-season, so there are fewer people on the trails. I completed this itinerary in mid-March and had nice weather. Most days were sunny and 50+ degrees with only a little rain. Pack appropriately with layers so you’ll be prepared for a range of weather + temps.
One last thing to note…
Prepare to have little to no cell phone service. I personally enjoy this, but you need to plan ahead. I recommend buying a paper map or downloading Google Maps to your phone.
“You have to see it believe it!” This couldn’t be more true of the magnificent northern California coast + redwoods. It was a trip I’ll never forget and probably repeat in a few years. The trees are already calling.