NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Hwy. 1 North- Itinerary

MacKerricher State Park

This northern stretch of Hwy. 1 starts its journey just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County with an exit toward Stinson Beach. Attractions start almost immediately. Muir Beach is a nice sandy beach (part of which is clothing optional) that adjoins Muir Woods National Monument, a small park that protects some venerable coast redwoods and migrating salmon and steelhead. Mt. Tamalpais State Park is nearby, with lots of hiking and mountain biking trails in some pretty country. The village of Point Reyes Station is a nice stop-over, with the opportunity to buy a good meal and some artisan cheeses. Onward we go to part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) that incorporates the Point Reyes National Seashore and is flanked by the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay. Whether you hike, bike, camp, kayak, whale-watch or just vegetate, you can't help but be happy almost anywhere in this area. Stop at the Bear Valley Visitor Center on Bear Valley Road just off Hwy. 1 north of the village of Olema and grab a map. There are numerous relatively secluded beaches (Limantour is particularly recommended) and some great whale-watching opportunities near the Point Reyes Lighthouse in the Chimney Rock area. Tomales Bay State Park is in the neighborhood.

Speaking of Tomales Bay, time for a diversion or two. On Hwy. 1 north of the village of Point Reyes Station there are two nearby oyster farms that are well worth a visit. The first was for many years known as Johnson's Oyster Farm as is now called Drakes Bay Family Farms. Owned by a local ranching family it is the most rustic of the two and is a popular spot to buy some fresh oysters and barbeque them on grills provided on the grounds. Farther north is the Hog Island Oyster Company, a more corporate affair but if the food is good who cares. Their oysters appear on menus all over the Bay Area and beyond and have a nice restaurant if you prefer to have someone else prepare your lunch. As of November 2013 the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is operating under a federal closure order and may not be in business as you read this. The closure is not related to a health issue but rather a requirement to stop farming oysters on federal land in the local estuary.

Nick's CoveFurther up the road you come to the venerable Nick's Cove. Long a popular stop with travelers along the coast, in recent years it has been acquired by Bay Area restaurant legend Pat Kuleto and chef Mark Franz (Kuletto has since sold his part) and only slightly gentrified from its workaday history. The restaurant is well worth a visit for lunch or dinner and on a nice day BBQ oysters on the deck are a must. And for a unique lodging experience, rent a cottage on pilings over Drakes Bay and you'll have one to tell your friends about.

Moving north, you wend your way toward Bodega Bay, a nice place to get some seafood, either to eat on the spot or take to the campsite. If its lunchtime, just north of town follow signs to Spud Point Marina and watch for the Spud Point Crab Company on the right, across from the marina. Get a bowl (served in a styrofoam cup) of chowder that rates with the best and chow down at a picnic table in front. Sated, its onward to Jenner, gateway to the Sonoma Coast State Beach, a series of beautiful beaches, several with campgrounds.  A short detour on Hwy. 116 will take you to Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve/Austin Creek State Recreation Area. Within a short stretch you will encounter Ft. Ross State Historic Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve and Salt Point State Park, all with significant virtues. The next stretch is simply a pretty drive along the coast, with numerous historic villages unspoiled by success, where you can sample some fresh seafood and talk with people who actually live there. Further on, near Pt. Arena, you will pass Schooner Gulch State Beach and Manchester State Park, as well as Pt. Arena Lighthouse. Regarding the latter, if you are living in sin you can marry here; if you wish to continue your sinful ways rent a room or cottage and do it in style. Lighthouses are always worth of our support; the beauty of the area comes free. Click on our "Other Fun Things" link for information about renting facilities at Point Arena and other local lighthouses. And then its on to the village of Mendocino.

Village of MendocinoMendocino is a place that many local people want to dismiss as a "tourist" destination, but without success. We're all tourists of some sort. So we just relax and enjoy it for what it is, a beautiful little town in a beautiful location with some classy eating, sleeping and shopping places and access to lots of outdoors activities. Navarro River Redwoods and Van Damme State Parks hold down the southern end of town. Mendocino Headlands State Park occupies the center. A little further north and you've got Russian Gulch State Park, Pt. Cabrillo Light Station, Caspar Headlands State Beach and Jug Handle State Reserve. Then stop for lunch at Carine's Restaurant at Noyo Harbor in Ft. Bragg and thank the gods that you were able to be a tourist today.

Not done yet. Just north of Ft. Bragg, before Hwy. 1 merges with Hwy. 101, you still can camp at MacKerricher State Park and commune with nature at Westport-Union State Beach. For tips on travel between here and the Oregon border, move over to our write-up on Hwy. 101 North. Click the link.

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