What better way to get some nature and exploration in than with a good ol’ road trip up to Northern California’s rugged and beautiful coast? And what’s more beautiful than wine country and the California coast hugged by lush greenery?
A road trip across Northern California is a ton of fun. There are so many gorgeous state parks, charming coastal towns, and roadside attractions to busy yourself with! Here I list my top recommended road trip stops and attractions, spanning from San Francisco to Redwood National Park.
Now if you’re looking for a shorter California road trip, simply choose fewer towns on this list to stop at, or check out my California Big Sur road trip itinerary here!
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
ROAD TRIP PREPARATION: RENTAL CARS
If you don’t have a car (or don’t have a reliable car you trust) to get you out of San Francisco and back in one piece, I suggest you pick up a rental car for your road trip.
We like to rent from Hertz. Why? Well with their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive. Check out rental car pricing and availability here.
If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, we recommend searching for the best prices using Discover Cars. Not only does this award-winning car rental comparison website allow you to compare rental car prices between top trusted car rental companies, but most of the time you can book with free cancellation!
ARE YOU ROAD TRIP READY? YOUR QUICK CHECKLIST:
License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
Jumper Cables / Car Jump Starter | A must-have for any road trip! If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool was sent from heaven and serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one!
iOttie car mount | This is my partner in crime on any road trip. It’s got an amazing grip and popping your phone in and out of the mount could not be easier. If you’re renting a rental car and you’re not sure if it has a navigation screen, bring a phone mount with you. The iOttie attaches by suction, so it’s easy to transport from car to car.
Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This convenient little kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more.
SAN FRANCISCO TO REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK: MAP OF STOPS
Regardless of if you’re starting a road trip in San Francisco or not, this amazing city is worth mentioning. If you like nature, stunning architecture, shopping, museums, kitschy/hipster bars, and exceptional food in a city with a laid back vibe, San Francisco is a must.
If you have a few hours to a day, get some good food and see some of the iconic spots like Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz Island.
If you have a weekend, you can slow down a bit and really get to know some of the iconic neighborhoods such as The Mission District, Haight-Ashbury District, or North Beach / Chinatown. Plan for a visit to the ferry building (with an awesome Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings), a trip to Alcatraz or a sunset bay cruise, and a visit to Golden Gate Park and Sutro Baths.
No matter what you decide to do here, you’re sure to have a wonderful time. Just be sure to bring layers and prepare for some unpredictable wind and fog!
Have a few days to dedicate to San Francisco?
If you plan on hitting up a number of museums/attractions, you should consider getting a version of the Go City San Francisco Pass. It’s a really great way to see what you want to see while saving a bunch of money!
The Go City All-Inclusive Pass is really great for travelers who want to see as much as possible while they’re in San Francisco. With the Go City San Francisco All-Inclusive Pass, you can choose between a 1, 2, 3, or 5-day pass that will give you free admission to 25+ museums and attractions. This includes the following:
- California Academy of Sciences
- Escape from the Rock (Alcatraz cruise tour)
- Aquarium of the Bay
- The Walt Disney Family Museum
- Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus 1-Day Classic Tour
- All-day bike rentals
- and a bunch more good stuff not listed here…
If you don’t plan on visiting a ton of different attractions, Go City also has an Explorer Pass which will still save you a lot of money. With the Explorer Pass, you’ll pay one flat fee for a 2,3,4, or 5-choice pass. You’ll then have 60 days to use it. There is also no need to pick attractions ahead of time, simply choose attractions as you go! Passes start at $55 for 2 choices.
No matter which pass type you pick, you’ll ultimately save far more with these passes compared to buying separate attraction tickets!
Read more on SF:
- Best San Francisco Neighborhoods To Visit (And What To Do Beyond SF)
- 15 Best Views in San Francisco: A Guide to the City’s Scenic Spots
- 58 Free Things To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area, California
There’s so much natural beauty in the Marin Headlands area, so if you have the time, cross the Golden Gate Bridge (on bike, on foot, or by car) and get your outdoor exploration on. Check out the amazing 360-degree views from Hawk Hill, one of the highest points in the Marin Headlands.
Stop at Black Sands Beach early in the day (parking is difficult), then make your way to Point Bonita Lighthouse for more great views featuring this iconic lighthouse. In the afternoon, pack a picnic and relax at Rodeo Beach, an activity you can’t go wrong with. Consider staying for sunset as this is one of the best places to catch it.
While you can also reach the beach by car, the best way to arrive is via the coastal trail that picks up on either side of the beach.
Where To Stay: Acqua Hotel – great home base for exploring the Marin/Mount Tamalpais area!
Check out the local hidden gem that is Tennessee Valley if you’re looking to experience a semi-hidden beach/cove with gorgeous views. Tennessee Valley meanders for approximately two miles through serene, rolling hills down to the Pacific Ocean.
The 1.8-mile, well-paved trail to Tennessee Cove begins at the trailhead parking lot, about a mile down Tennessee Valley Road. The trails connect to other parks along the coast like Muir Beach to the north and Rodeo Beach to the south.
MUIR WOODS NATIONAL MONUMENT
If you’re short on time and can only make one stop to see redwoods, you can check out Muir Woods National Monument, though there is a steep entry fee and you’ll need to reserve a vehicle parking space. Unfortunately, Muir Woods draws extreme crowds during peak season, which doesn’t help with the usual peaceful ambience you get when among the trees.
As an alternative (and what I usually do)– take an alternative hike where the trail crosses through Muir Woods National Monument. That way, you won’t have to deal with traffic, parking or paying that overpriced entry fee.
Don’t want to deal with the logistics? Book this Muir Woods and Sausalito half-day tour!
STINSON BEACH / MOUNT TAMALPAIS
Stinson Beach is one of northern California’s most popular beaches, conveniently located just off CA Hwy 1 about 20 miles north of San Francisco. The wide, pristine stretch of sand runs for almost 3 miles and is known to be great for surfing, kayaking, and even swimming (it’s been noted to be slightly warmer than other Northern California beaches, which are always cold).
The town of Stinson Beach is a really cool place to visit before or after hiking around the area. Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, and Alamere Falls are all iconic hiking spots just a short drive away. One of my all-time favorite hikes: the 6.8-mile Dipsea, Steep Ravine, and Matt Davis Loop. My favorite way to start any hike in this area: with a decadent, freshly baked pastry from the bakery stand outside of Parkside Cafe.
In the ‘downtown’ area, you will find a few shops, galleries, cafes and markets, as well as some cute bed & breakfast options.
Where To Stay In The Stinson/Mill Valley Area: Mill Valley Inn
One of the best reasons to visit Bolinas is the 8.4-mile out-and-back Alamere Falls hike. On this hike, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the coast, combined with varying terrain through forests and tall brush, ending at a beautiful and rare waterfall plummeting 40ft into the ocean. If you’re lucky enough to do this hike during the summer, you can even take a swim in Bass Lake on the way back to the trailhead.
Back in town, take in the sights of civilization– stroll the streets and make stops at all the bookstores, cafes, and art galleries as the locals do. For food and drinks, check out Coast Café and Smiley’s Schooner Saloon and Hotel.
Other notable places to grab food: if you love oysters, then you’ve come to the right place. Tomales Bay Oyster Company and Hog Island Oyster Co. are absolute musts.
Where To Stay In Bolinas: Smiley’s Saloon & Hotel
Famous for the National Seashore, Point Reyes is a semi-hidden gem in Marin County. Hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and clamming are just some of the activities that attract local day-trippers, as well as checking out restaurants and browsing bookstores in the sleepy town center.
Start your day trip to Point Reyes National Seashore at Point Reyes Lighthouse, perched on the western headlands. If you want to get up close and personal, climb down a few hundred steps to check it out, then climb right back up.
Next, catch a glimpse of the California elephant seals over the sea cliffs anywhere along the seashore. Want to see herds of elk in their natural habitat? Take a hike to the Tule Elk Reserve beginning at the Tomales Point Trailhead.
Point Reyes Station, in the actual town of Point Reyes, has become a popular spot in recent years. There’s a huge focus on sustainable agriculture, locally produced artisanal foods, and outdoor activities.
From the summer to early fall, you can catch the Point Reyes Farmers’ Market, running on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm at Toby’s Feed Barn. It’s not the largest farmer’s market, but it sure is a great opportunity to check out the local artisans, dairy farm products (cheeses and butters), and bakeries.
Where To Stay In Point Reyes: Olema House
Read more on Point Reyes:
- Where To Stay In Point Reyes, CA: Your Guide To The Perfect Overnight Stay
- Point Reyes Day Trip Itinerary: The Perfect Weekend Adventure
Bodega Bay is jam-packed with hiking and biking trails that offer those stunning Pacific Coast views. It’s also one of the West Coast’s premier whale-watching spots. The whales can be spotted almost all year long, but the best chances will be during primary migrations (October through April). Interested in horseback riding? Well no-brainer, the coastal views of Bodega Bay make for a wonderful backdrop.
Bodega Bay and the surrounding area is also a foodie’s paradise — fresh oysters and seafood are not to be missed here. Make sure to stop at Bodega Bay Oyster Company on your way in/out of town to try some of the freshest oysters in the area.
If you’re not looking for anything fancy or fishy, check out Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen for breakfast, or head to Spud Point Crab Company for their famous crab chowder.
Where To Stay In Bodega Bay: The Inn at the Tides (mid-priced option) or The Lodge at Bodega Bay (splurge option)
Hop on the 101-N and cruise up to Healdsburg, a town offering a less touristy but equally memorable wine country experience. Healdsburg is a small, charming town filled with modern amenities as well as an abundance of world-class wineries and farm-to-table restaurants. It’s the perfect base for exploring the countryside of lush valleys and redwood forests that surround Lake Sonoma and the Russian River.
It’s structured similarly to the city of Sonoma, with its historic downtown dotted with art galleries, tasting rooms, eateries ranging from super-casual to fine dining, boutiques, and kitschy antique shops. There will be something for everyone here.
As a stop to a longer road trip, expect to spend about 2-3 hours walking around and browsing all the town has to offer before hitting the road again. Given the large variety of bed & breakfasts/hotels here, Healdsburg will provide you with an unforgettable overnight experience. Opt to stay downtown, as you’ll be within walking distance of the many restaurants, bars, and shops surrounding the main plaza.
Now let’s discuss the wine and the food. The city of Healdsburg is surrounded by an array of great wineries within the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley wine regions. If you’re looking for something more conveniently located in the city, check out the tasting rooms Banshee or La Crema.
To start your day off, stop in to Flying Goat Coffee in downtown Healdsburg for some of the best coffee in town. Hungry? Grab a table at the New Orleans-inspired breakfast spot, The New Parish, serving up beignets overloaded with powdered sugar…as they should be.
Other recommended options for eats include Chalkboard (small plates), Bravas (tapas), and Madrona Manor (for that special occasion fine dining meal).
Where To Stay In Healdsburg: H2hotel, Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza or Hotel Les Mars (if it’s in your budget!)
Looking for more of an adventurous stay? Consider glamping at Wildhaven Sonoma Glamping!
In terms of a formal downtown to explore, there really isn’t much here as it is comprised of only one tiny block worth of establishments. But please don’t let that be a reason for overlooking this gem of an area. For convenient wine tasting, check out Locals–they carry a ton of varietals and love teaching and talking about wine.
Make sure you check out one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve experienced in the United States, Diavola Pizzeria and Salumeria–Michelin quality food for very very affordable prices. Seriously some of the best Italian style pizza I think I’ve ever had (and I spent a whole month in Italy!).
In Geyserville’s surrounding countryside (and this is where Geyserville shines), you’ll also find many award-winning wineries, excellent B&Bs and inns, countless opportunities for outdoor adventure, and even a modern casino.
If you’re limited on time and want to do some wine tasting, definitely check out the picturesque Ferrari-Carano Vineyards for the complete wine country experience (good wine, good vibes, beautiful scenery).
Where To Stay In Geyserville: Geyserville Inn
Another quaint wine-tasting town! Cloverdale is a small town seated on the banks of the Russian River. Family-oriented and down-to-earth, this Northern Sonoma County river town is a charming stop for those looking to explore the nearby Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys.
From the first impression, you’ll notice a very well-maintained town with charming little houses and colorful gardens surrounding the downtown area. Art galleries, eclectic gift shops, and restaurants make up this lively part of town. You’ll then notice random art sculptures everywhere; Cloverdale is part of a public nine-mile Sculpture Trail (in conjunction with Geyserville), a display of outdoor sculptures in and between the two towns.
Like many other small towns in Sonoma County, tasting rooms are speckled throughout its main streets. Head to nearby Dry Creek Valley to taste hand-crafted wines at Fritz Underground Winery and enjoy the beautiful scenery while you’re at it.
Where To Stay In Cloverdale: The Pinschower Inn
Situated in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley lies a little town named Guerneville. Guerneville is a rustic and quirky town, popular for summer getaways and river activities. It’s had a long history, beginning as a logging town to now a summer resort destination.
Another plus? There’s a growing dining scene here. If you’re able to spend time in this casual and funky town, be prepared to have a great time outdoors and indoors alike.
Spend the afternoon relaxing next to the river at Johnson’s Beach (a local favorite). There you’ll find a spacious stretch of pebble beach surrounded by those majestic redwoods this region is famous for. Don’t forget your pool floaty– hanging out on the river is a million times more fun with one than without one. If you do forget, don’t fret, there’s more to do in the water. There are rentable beach chairs, canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats.
As for food, Boon Eat + Drink is a must-try, near Big Bottom Market (they have the best biscuits ever, so go there too if you can). For drinks, check out El Barrio bar, serving up tequila, mezcal, and bourbon, a healthy break from all the wine in this region.
Where To Stay In Guerneville: We personally love the rustic vibes at Highlands Resort! For an extra unique stay, see if you can snag a night or two at Autocamp, hosting a stylish collection of hipster Airstream trailers and luxurious glamping tents.
A summer destination for bohemians, artists, and vacationers since the 1900s, this tiny town has all you need for a laidback natural retreat — the Russian River at your feet, the majestic forest spanning more than the eye can see, and a quaint town full of local flavor.
If you do go through Forestville, it is totally worth your time to pick up a few loaves of bread at Nightingale Bakery (favorites include the potato rosemary roll and chocolate chunk brioche). For breakfast, stop by the Russian River Pub. This local spot serves up seriously good eats, from crab cake Benedict to the homemade Irish soda french toast.
Canoe or kayak down the Russian River or just relax by one of the many beaches in the area– Steelhead Beach, Sunset Beach, and Mom’s Beach. Bike the West County Trail through vineyards and orchards (a 5.57-mile flat, paved trail). And of course, you can’t miss Front Street, the hippie, laid-back ‘downtown’ area of Forestville.
Santa Rosa, the urban center of Sonoma County, may not be the first place you’d think of visiting when in wine country, but this North Coast city offers more than meets the eye. This up-and-coming city is evolving to be a wining and dining mecca, similar to other cities in Sonoma County.
It’s the perfect destination for people who want to spend their day wine tasting and engaging in outdoor adventures and their nights enjoying the arts as well as Michelin-starred restaurants.
Let’s start with the wine. Easily one of the most beautiful wineries in Sonoma Valley, Matanzas Creek specializes in Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah wines. The beautifully landscaped visiting area is a treat in itself, but don’t miss the Vintage Room, which hosts private tastings and cheese-pairings. You really can’t go wrong with this experience.
Outside of wine tasting, check out the wildlife preserve Safari West, where you can experience close to 700 animals in conditions close to their natural African habitat (animals range from gazelles, zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, cape buffalo, wildebeests, and giraffes). Looking for aerial views?
Given the varied views of this region (grapevines, coastal views, rolling hills), hot air ballooning is also a popular activity here.
Interested in a wine tasting tour without the hassle of driving? Book this Private Sonoma or Napa Wine Tours with Concierge Service.
Where To Stay In Santa Rosa: Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country or Vintners Resort
More on Santa Rosa:
Mendocino County is a picturesque region that showcases some of the most stunning natural landscapes that California has to offer. Located 163 miles north of San Francisco, it takes about three hours to get there.
Though a lot of the drive is on windy terrain, the cliffs, crashing waves, and adjacent green wilderness make for an unforgettable road trip. With over 90 miles of Pacific coastline, various state parks, countless redwood trees, and a treasure trove of things to do, here is my roundup of Mendocino’s most notable places to visit.
Welcome to the first stop of Mendocino County! Boonville is known as the hot spot on the road to the coast. Anderson Valley Brewing Company (great beer) and Pennyroyal Farms (award-winning cheese as well as wine) are notable stops here. Boonville is also home to winery tasting rooms, shops, and galleries.
While the beer-drinking crowd will enjoy Anderson Valley Brewing, this region is best for wine lovers, especially fans of pinot noir and chardonnay. Navarro Winery, Husch, and Toulouse are good starting points. For those looking to spend the night, there are lots of bed & breakfast options here. Stay at Boonville Hotel or The Madrones, a small stylish hotel that offers on-site tasting rooms– how cool is that.
For a great spot to eat, enjoy a farm-to-table feast at The Bewildered Pig.
VAN DAMME STATE PARK
Van Damme State Park is a great, relaxing spot for outdoor activity and overnight camping. It’s also the perfect location to enjoy a small beach, a creekside hike, and the unspoiled forest. Hands down best trail to do in this park is the Fern Canyon Trail. It’s one of the lushest and green trails I’ve ever experienced in California, so if you want to be transported to “Jurassic Park” times, I’d highly recommend doing a portion, if not the whole 8.3 mile hike. At the end, you can continue on to see the Pygmy Forest, showcased by a raised boardwalk winds through a thicket of stunted century-old trees no more than 10 feet tall.
Head across the street to Van Damme Beach, famous for abalone diving. Though abalone diving and catching will be restricted until their population restores over the next few years, it’s still a super cool and convenient beach to check out (especially for sunset).
Note: There are mosquitoes here, so don’t make the mistake of forgetting insect repellent.
Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach, seemingly covered in gems, is the result of decades of broken bottles, windows, and car taillights littering the area. These useless particles have naturally transformed into beachcombing treasures covering the beach. Hike down the smaller cliffs to the main parts of Glass Beach to check out the sea life and tidepools that exist here. It’s quite a sight to see.
Explore MacKerricher State Park if you want to see seals and migrating whales. Stop at photo-worthy Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park and the sprawling Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as you head north.
Where To Stay In Fort Bragg: If you’re in need of a place to stay in Mendocino County, the iconic Inn at Newport Ranch should be your first option if it’s within budget. Set on a 2000-acre coastal cattle ranch, the Inn is your ultimate escape from reality. Surrounded by epic ocean views and redwood trees, the property consists of over 20 miles of private trails perfect for strolling, hiking, or horseback riding.
For those of you who love animals or wish to travel to Africa, this one is for you. One of the most fascinating attractions in Mendocino is the amazing B. Bryan Preserve, dedicated to the livelihood of endangered African animals (giraffes, zebras, antelope, etc).
Now, this is not a zoo, it’s actually a million times better. The guided vehicle tour is close to an African safari as you’re going to get on this side of the world. The tour itself is fantastic, educational, and completely worth your time and money.
Point Arena Lighthouse is also a picturesque landmark you can check out. Thanks to the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline, photos of the lighthouse end up looking unreal. To get to the top, it’s 145 steps up a classic spiral staircase, making it structure the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast.
Visit the Victorian-esque town of Mendocino, and trust that it will be quaint, sleepy, and romantic all that the same time. You’ll come across spas, boutiques, gift shops, and chocolate shops, all of which tend to close around 5pm. What did I tell you about this town being sleepy?
After the shops close, take a stroll on the trails overlooking the cliffs as well as through the neighborhood to see all the houses with impeccably groomed colorful gardens.
You could easily spend a day exploring the town’s numerous art galleries, but if you visit only one, make it the Mendocino Art Center. This spacious gallery exhibits a revolving selection of local and national artists. It also offers more than 150 retreat-style classes each year in subjects such as ceramics, jewelry and sculpture. How cool is that?
For breakfast or lunch, check out the popular local hangout the Goodlife Cafe, serving an irresistible range of homemade soups, sandwiches, pastries as well as very well-made coffee. Have dinner at Fogeater Cafe, a cheerful vegetarian restaurant, or Cafe Beaujolais, serving up French cuisine in a Victorian farmhouse (a fine dining staple here).
Of course, romantic and casual B&B options are plentiful here for those looking to spend a night or two.
Where To Stay In Mendocino: Blue Door Inns, Four Sisters Collection or Agate Cove Inn
101 NORTH ROADSIDE STOPS
Confusion Hill (Leggett)
Confusion Hill is a prime example of roadside attraction magic. Kitschy, eclectic, and amusing all at the same time, this California State Point of Historical Interest has been attracting road-trippers since 1949. It features a gravity-defying house, Redwood Shoe house, mountain train ride, and the world’s largest standing chainsaw sculpture.
Confused and intrigued? Maybe, maybe not. If nothing more, at least stop here to stretch your legs if you’re passing through. The gravity house here rivals the more famous one in Santa Cruz (Mystery Spot), but for a fraction of the cost. There is a gift shop and snack bar here as well.
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (Leggett)
Chandelier Drive-Through Tree in Leggett is a privately-owned attraction that charges a $10 admission fee. It’s super close to Confusion Hill. Most visitors who pay the admission to drive through the tree say this one is the best in Northern California. Standing at an estimated 315 feet high and 21 feet in diameter, this 2400-year-old tree is a real sight to see.
Whether you drive through it or simply walk by it, seeing the size of it is truly incredible, to say the least. Looking to pick up some souvenirs? The gift shop sells pieces of live redwood trees to grow at your own at home, among other redwood trinkets you’re not likely to find anywhere else.
Legend of Bigfoot (Garberville)
Looking for a museum all about the history of bigfoot? Well, look again. This is actually a half-outdoor half-indoor store selling a mixed bag of stuff. Most of the products and gifts are bigfoot related, but they also sold jams and honey, clothing, themed garden sculptures, and outdoor decor. Unfortunately, you will not learn anything about Bigfoot, but it’s still a cool stop with pretty decent photo ops!
AVENUE OF THE GIANTS
Instead of continuing straight on the 101 North to reach Eureka, take the 31-mile alternative scenic route through the Avenue of the Giants. Surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this world-famous scenic drive is by far the most outstanding display of giant trees in the California redwood belt.
What a beautiful drive, to say the least. The best part is, it’s a free self-guided driving tour (with both a North and a South entrance and 8 specific stopping points). Dedicate a few hours here–stop at a few of the groves and enjoying your presence among the trees. If you’re limited on time, I’d recommend the Founder’s Grove.
Pro tip: Don’t rush it. Take your time soaking in the sights and sensations. Pack a picnic and spend some time in one of the groves really enjoying the connection with nature. It’s the perfect place to disconnect with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
At least once in your lifetime, you need to visit the magnificent coastal redwoods of Humboldt County.
Whether you enjoy taking scenic drives or hiking trails, you’ll find plenty of choices here, as it’s home to the Redwood National & State Parks in the north county and the Avenue of the Giants and Humboldt Redwoods State Park in the south county. Not to mention all the other various parks, forests, preserves and beaches, making Humboldt County a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
A portion of Eureka, mainly the historical downtown, is actually really quaint, but the other half is sort of rough (I’d recommend just stopping by and checking out Old Town). Old Town Eureka is chock-full of restaurants, antique shops, clothing and lifestyle/gift shops, and art galleries. It’s a great place for a 1-2 hour stroll.
If you’re passing through and looking to make a pit stop for food, check out Los Bagels in Old Town, Siam Orchid Thai Cuisine, as well as Samoa Cookhouse minutes away from Eureka, the last surviving cookhouse in the West serving up a fixed buffet menu that changes daily. Though the city can be a bit weird, the food certainly does not disappoint!
Where To Stay In Eureka: Carter House Inns or Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn
Who knew there would be such a picturesque Victorian village nestled deep in the redwoods? With its fantastically preserved Victorians, vibrant small-town charm, and history as a filming location for major movies, Ferndale, is the perfect stop when in the Lost Coast area.
Stroll along Main Street, where art galleries, general stores, and boutiques complement an array of Victorian architecture. In my opinion, Ferndale tops the charts on small towns to visit along the coast and is 100% worth a stop.
You definitely cannot miss: Golden Gait Merchantile. Named one of America’s most charming general store by Country Living, this store sells something for everyone–from candy, cookware, and antiques to local and imported specialty foods, jewelry and stationery.
It’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped back in time; the western general store vibe really makes it a cool place to just check out. Don’t miss the upstairs museum while you’re there (there are Victorian mannequins, so cool)!
Where To Stay In Ferndale: Gingerbread Mansion – easily the most charming hotel in this entire post!
Arcata is a super short drive from Eureka, but feels worlds away. Arcata’s beginnings go back to the Gold Rush when it was a shipping and supply center for the miners on the Trinity River. Today, sprawling over the hillside above Arcata, Humboldt State University dominates the city and promotes a youthful, artistic and intellectual ambiance.
Check out the main plaza, where lots of restaurants and shops reside. There’s an impressive lawn of grass situated smack dab in the middle of the plaza, making it a super chill place to hang out, sunbathe, and watch people pass by.
The town also contains many restored Victorian homes–driving or walking, getting lost in the neighborhoods of Arcata is not time wasted. Looking for something else? The Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary offers quiet trails and superb birdwatching.
Where To Stay In Arcata: Hotel Arcata
SUE-MEG STATE PARK (FORMERLY PATRICK POINT STATE PARK)
What a lush and sprawling state park to visit! One of the main reasons to stop at Sue-meg SP is Agate Beach–it’s a beachcomber’s paradise. Agate Beach is two miles of solitude and splendor with awesome beachcombing opportunities.
On any given day, you can find a variety of rare rocks, such as jasper, agate, and even jade (hence, its name). Collecting stones at Agate Beach is allowed, but visitors are limited to one armload per person.
To get to the beach, make sure to wear relatively sturdy shoes; you’ll have to take a decently long/curvy trail down from the parking area.
Where To Stay: Sue-meg State Park Campground
PRAIRIE CREEK STATE PARK
Prairie Creek SP is the perfect spot for those with limited time. Reserve half a day for your visit and you won’t be sorry. The main attraction: Fern Canyon Trail. This hike really cannot be missed. It is hands down one of the most beautiful places in California I had ever laid my eyes on.
Here, you’ll have countless opportunities to see elk, streams/river crossings, massive canyon walls covered with foliage, and stunning redwoods. Take a drive on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which will be an eye-capturing adventure in itself.
In minutes, you’ll be enveloped in beautiful groves of mature redwoods lining the road. Trailheads appeared approximately every half-mile, so select some at random and explore different parts of the park for a few hours.
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP PACKING LIST
Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without:
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Even adventurous times call for some pre-planning and preparation. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Travel Pillow | If you have room in the car for a regular pillow, I find that they are the most comfortable for long car trips. If you need a more portable option, this memory foam travel pillow works well not only for car travel but also for camping!
- Travel Blanket | For all your napping needs–especially if the driver likes AC and you’re trying to snuggle up for a nap. This one is packable so it won’t take up very much in your car.
- Slip-on Sandals | Slip-on/slip-off sandals are a must for that extra comfort while sitting in the car. This allows you to make lots of stops without having to go through the process of putting your sneakers/boots back on.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road-trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Garbage Bags | Because you don’t want the inside of your car to resemble a dumpster can. Plastic bags (or garbage bags) can also be used to hold wet clothes if you get caught in the rain, go for a swim, etc.
- GoPro | Capture all those awesome action/adventure moments with a top of the line action camera. Your regular camera or iPhone won’t be an option if you’re engaging in action sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting. For water sports, you could always get a waterproof case, but GoPro has time and time again proven to be the best for underwater photography.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time by the beaches, rivers or lakes, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in Northern California. The coastal California climate brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. Fog can also roll in unexpectedly up here. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Laundry Bag | Summer and outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from a river or lake to a car. This one here is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot and wet climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage if you’re traveling in the summer and plan to be on the water. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness or walk around a dark campground is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
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