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Northern California Road Trip (Redwoods + Coast)

Take a trip through Northern California on this 6 day excursion, map and stops included! Drive Highway 1, along the Pacific coast, explore the Redwood Forest, and make your way through wine country. See everywhere to see, hike, eat, drink, and more!

Interactive Map of All Locations

Daily Trip Outline

Day 1

We began our trip flying very early into San Francisco, grabbing a Turo rental car right outside the airport.

From the Turo location, we drove ~25 minutes to the Lower Haight neighborhood of the city for the first stop on our list, Tartine Bakery Dan enjoyed a morning bun and I an almond croissant.

When driving around SF, be wary of car break ins! We were warned that we should leave NOTHING in the vehicle as smashed windows are very common. Parking is also heavily monitored, so we made sure to turn our wheels in accordance to other cars on the road and avoid the (many) limited parking zones.

After Tartine, we began walking uptown to the famous Painted Ladies. The entire walk up (~30 minutes) was full of adorable houses and very cute cafes. From here, drove 10 minutes north to see the “Full House House” While looking for a spot to picnic, we came across the very lovely Pacific Heights neighborhood. We sat on the grass in Presidio Park and dined while looking over the Bay and Alcatraz.

Time to head out of the city! We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. A few miles outside of San Francisco, things got very rural very quickly. Think cows, rolling hills, and tons of vines from wineries.

About 2 hours in, we made a quick stop in Booneville at Pennyroyal Farm. This creamery produces freshly made goat and sheep milk cheese. We decided to try the local wine and cheese tasting and were blown away by the flavor and attention to detail. The farm apparently will host tours and we were able to see sheep up close.

Driving the next hour through the redwoods was definitely winding but very beautiful. The thick treetops really made the road dark – it felt like we were in a movie.

We were both grateful to land at the Little River Inn right on Highway 1. The breathtaking coastline is visible from nearly every room there; our room had its own fireplace which was welcome after a chilly, wet day. 

For dinner that night, we drove just 5 minutes north to the adorable town of Mendocino. We had a bite at the Mendocino Cafe  (nice waitstaff, but so-so food). 

Day 2

For breakfast, we ventured back into Downtown Mendocino, which is considered an artist enclave. We grabbed coffees to go at Bay View Cafe and headed to a phenomenal breakfast at the popular Good Life Cafe. I had a Belgian waffle topped with mixed fruit and Dan had a classic short stack of pancakes. Perfect hiking fuel!

10 minutes north we arrived at Jug Handle Reserve to hike the Ecological Staircase. This name is derived from the various “steps” formed as tectonic plates shifted over thousands of years. Each layer had unique environmental characteristics and there were many coastal redwoods. We turned around the Pygmy trees (dwarfed due to naturally occurring, highly acidic soil), finding our path well kept and not at all crowded. All in all, our hike lasted about 5 miles. 

Before dinner we hiked back toward the Mendocino business district for a very lovely cliffside walk before our dinner reservation at the Trillium Cafe. I had a beet strawberry salad and Dan had the veggie gnocchi – both lovely and colorful! 

Day 3

We checked out of Little River and headed 15 minutes north to Fort Bragg for a very traditional breakfast at the Home Style Cafe Their menu did have a couple of vegetarian and vegan options! I went with the classic shortstack pancakes (added raspberries) and Dan got two sunny side up eggs, home fries, and two biscuits.

We felt very well fueled to tackle the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail right next door. We learned a lot about the original settlers of the area (the Pomo people) and we also heard how a portion of the cliffside was once known as “the Dump,” due to the local proclivity to throw unwanted refuse over the edge onto the beach below. Thankfully, this practice stopped in the 1950s-60s, and now it is known as “Glass Beach” due to the well-worn pieces of beach glass.

Our out-and-back hike was a bit over four miles long and we also were able to see a sailboat traverse the relatively choppy waters, many lovely orange California poppies, and one of the native seals swimming right in the whitecaps. 

We next ventured into the nearby Downtown Fort Bragg home to North Coast Brewing and some historical train stations that were once key to the logging industry in the area.

We had some time to kill before our drive to our next inn and Dan had heard great things about the harbor-adjacent Sea Pal Cove  fish and chips.

Ready to get moving to our next destination, we hit Highway 1 and drove what may be the prettiest stretch of highway either of us had ever experienced. The road meandered for about 20 miles right alongside the ocean, with a steep drop to the beach below on the left and towering trees and mountainside to the right.

The drive from Fort Bragg to Benbow/Garberville took about 2 hours (though it was just 44 miles). Gratefully, we checked into the historic Tudor-style Benbow Inn. We then got ready for our evening dinner reservation at the onsite Benbow restaurant right upstairs. 

We started by splitting a beet and arugula salad that was perfectly dressed and punctuated with creamy bits of tangy local goat cheese. Sitting on the patio, we then enjoyed our entrees – mine a quinoa stuffed poblano pepper on a bed of cumin black beans, Dan’s a locally-caught roast salmon atop polenta and cherry tomatoes. Dessert was a blueberry tiramisu and a raspberry creme brûlée!

Day 4

After our complimentary breakfast out on the front patio, we left the Benbow for the Avenue of the Giants. Some of these trees have fallen and registered on the Richter scale.

We hiked for about an hour and then headed north to the seaside town of Eureka. Lunch was at Los Bagels. After lunch, we walked to the famed Carson Mansion, built by timber barons entirely out of intricately carved redwood. After a quick stop at the Eureka Bookshop, we headed back out on the road, 65 miles from the Benbow.

Not wanting to venture too far for dinner, we drove 5 minutes up the road to quaint Garberville. The very unassuming Just Two Sinks restaurant (located inside of a gas station) was well worth it. With just three menu items to choose from, I selected the falafel and Dan the chicken and beef gyro.

Day 5

We headed 5 minutes over to Garberville to visit the Chautauqua Natural Foods market. There were SO many gourmet, small-batch, organic groceries, including many brands I was not familiar with.

After playing checkers in the Great Room and walked around the Eel River shore, we headed back into town for a bite at Local Flavors. My Vegan-asaurus” sandwich was very similar to the California Veggie I recently published! Dan enjoyed his “Cod-father,” a fish-and-chips-style sandwich. Sitting on the front balcony, Dan surmised that the enormous Earth Roamer parked outside was the same one owned by Jason Momoa. We did not spot Jason but kept our eyes open just in case, LOL.

For dinner we ran 10 minutes down the road to The Lost Frenchman. We ordered two brick oven pizzas – one with local goat cheese, local honey, and arugula and another with vegan pesto and tons of veggies. The menu also featured a number of juices and smoothies, very unexpected but a winning option. 

Day 6

Time to head out! We hit the road early and made great time, driving from Benbow to San Francisco in under 4 hours. The drive was lovely, full of rolling hills and valleys of redwoods in Humbolt and then vineyards in Sonoma County. We headed to a downtown SF market for sandwiches, returned the rental car, and got to SFO for the flight home. Time to look through all the photos!

Portrait of Emily, founder of Garlic Head

About the Author

Hi, I'm Emily! Garlic Head is a plant-based recipe website for all eaters who want to easily, affordably, and sustainably incorporate more vegetables into their diets. My recipes focus on entertaining-style cuisine, perfect for celebrating all of life's little moments! Meet me here.

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Comments

  1. Starr says

    Saw your little article here, introduced to you two for the first time here online by accident, checking through my phone on my day off. Enjoyed seeing your trip along 101. Loved the pics of all your pit stops from S.F to Fort Bragg and so on. ‘Garlic head’ looks fun…. love garlic btw
    -Starr

    • Emily says

      Hi Starr, thank you so much for commenting! It’s great to “meet” you and I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 – Emily

  2. Ruthie says

    So fun to read of your adventures on the road! Sounds like a fantastic trip, and great pictures to go along with the stories! I cannot wait to see that part of the country soon. ❤️

  3. Steven Padilla says

    Good write up of the CA North Coast. I grew up in Eureka, have driven between SF and Eureka countless times. Glad your had a such a good experience. It is a special part of the world!

    FYI, you mention several times that you traveled on (US) 101 along the coast. In that part of California (Fort Bragg, Mendocino) you would have to be on CA Hwy 1. I believe you traveled north on Hwy 1 (the slower, scenic route) and returned south on 101, the faster inland highway.

    • Emily says

      Hi Steven,
      Thank you so much for sharing – that’s so neat! I agree with you, it’s a very special part of the world.
      And ah thank you for catching those typos – you are correct, updated!
      Thanks,
      Emily

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