In early October, Matt and I set out for a weeklong road trip exploring the Northern California coast. We planned the trip based on a friend suggesting that we would love the tiny town of Trinidad in Humboldt County. Our destination was Patrick’s Point State Park, in the heart of the redwoods, with a few stops on the way to and from.
We drove to Mendocino, California on a Sunday morning. We scored a great deal via Groupon for a room at the Hill House Inn, a hotel with an ocean view and a lobby filled with signed cast photos from the television show Murder She Wrote. After checking in, we immediately headed to Mendocino Headlands State Park.
The Mendocino Headlands offer miles of trails above the rugged coastline and it’s why I love this quaint little town. The scenery is gorgeous and it’s fun to listen to the crashing surf and the barking sea lions. On this particular walk, we could hear the sea lions echoing around the cliffs, and we tried to find them.
After a fruitless search to find the elusive sea lions, Matt convinced me to leave the Headlands to head back to our hotel so we could enjoy the sunset from our balcony. We took a long, meandering way back through town because I love looking at all the things in bloom in everyone’s yard.
The Hill House Inn made our choice of where to dine very easy. They provided a coupon for dinner at the Mendocino Hotel (built in 1878). And since the ocean was right outside, we ordered fish and chips and seared tuna.
(You can read more about things to do in Mendocino here.)
The next morning, after another stroll around the Headlands, we drove north to Fort Bragg – which isn’t very far. We planned on eating lunch in town before making the drive up to Patrick’s Point. We stopped at Glass Beach because when it’s not crowded, it’s a pretty cool place.
Matt had spotted a new brewery across Highway 1, Overtime Brewing Company, and they were serving lunch! (The alternative would’ve been North Coast Brewing Co.) We split a burger with melted Havarti and a spicy pulled pork sandwich. They were both messy, but delicious.
Back on the road we made another stop in Leggett – also not very far, but Matt really wanted to drive through a tree. It costs $10 to drive through a tree. (If you can’t read the Chandelier Tree sign, it says: Height: 315 ft. Diameter: 21 ft. Maximum age: 2400 yrs.)
About two hours later we arrived at Patrick’s Point State Park. The park, which is one square mile, is a combination of coastline and trees, cool rock formations and dense shrubs. There are four cabins available in addition to over 100 campsites. We reserved a cabin about a month in advance, not knowing what kind of weather we would encounter. I’ll admit my expectations about the state park cabin were pretty low after our Anza-Borrego cabin experience.
This cabin was beautiful inside! (The exterior – not terribly exciting.) In addition to being immaculately clean, we had space, we had a countertop, we had electricity(!), There was even an electric fireplace for heat. Outside featured a picnic table, a grill, and a fire pit. The view is of a parking lot, and the bathroom is on the other side of that parking lot, BUT we were right above Agate Beach.
The trail down to Agate Beach is about 1/4 mile long and a little bit steep. We went down there several times during our visit.
We spent a lot of time on Agate Beach, but we also wanted to hike in the redwoods. Our first stop was Prairie Creek Visitors Center, a great resource for finding your perfect hike in the redwoods. (Since the Redwood National and State Parks cover 40 miles of coastline, you might need a little help deciding what to do.) The guides at the all the visitors centers are prepared to make hiking trail suggestions based on length, difficulty, etc.
At the Visitors Center, we obtained a free permit to hike the Tall Trees Grove. According to the National Park Service, the hike is 4 miles out and back with an elevation change of 1600 feet. That’s 800 feet going down and 800 feet elevation gain coming back up.
The permits are issued to keep the crowds down and if you think you can hike without one, you’ll have made the long drive for nothing. There is a locked gate with an ever changing combination code. On busy days, they may run out of permits, so it’s best to obtain one the morning you plan to hike.
After the hike we wanted to check out the town of Trinidad. The beautiful beach was far too windy to enjoy, so we took refuge at the Moonstone Crossing Winery, tasting a handful of good wines from an overwhelming list of choices. And after that, we stopped in the Trinidad Bay Eatery, where we ate a couple quick appetizers of crab cakes with pesto aioli and coconut shrimp with a very spicy chili garlic sauce. Finally, we stopped in the Trinidad Market so Matt could buy a sampling of local beers.
The next morning we had no power in our cabin. No problem, we never expected to have power in the first place! It was windy outside, similar to the day before. We had quickly learned that the power was out because Pacific Electric & Gas (PG&E) had cut the power to a large portion of California during the night because the conditions were right for potential wildfires.
We hiked into Fern Canyon, a cool hike that winds through canyon walls covered in ferns and moss. This hike has plenty of large water crossings. Instead of trying to balance on potentially slippery rocks or fallen trees, it’s much, much easier to wear hiking sandals and power right across the river.
We chose to hike out and back. There is another option to hike through, then up and then loop back along the canyon wall. We stopped at one of the pullouts to eat our sandwiches on the beach. Though still very windy, the picnic area was a bit more protected. Any attempt to walk on the beach was uncomfortable, so we drove the Newton B. Drury Parkway (an alternative to Highway 101) and chose to hike the Brown Creek Trail, a 3.5 mile loop.
After hiking, we took a chance beachcombing on Agate Beach. The beach was protected from the wind, so it felt warm and calm along the water.
Our plan was to go out to dinner that evening, but most restaurants were closed due to the power outage. We ventured out on the back road from the park into Trinidad. The gas station was overflowing with cars and the parking lot to the market was traffic jam, but the market was open! When we stepped inside, it was a shock to see the sparsely stocked shelves and the deli counter completely empty – opposite of the day before. We grabbed a package of chicken sausages and a bag of salad and were grateful that we had cash to pay for it.
The power came back on (for us) at 2am.
The next morning we hiked the rim trail at Patrick’s Point. The trail is a 2 mile loop past rock formations and tons of coastal vistas.
After the hike, we packed up at the cabin wishing we had reserved it longer than three nights and went to Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville for lunch. (The alternative being Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka.)
We drove to Santa Rosa via the Avenue of the Giants, another scenic alternative to Highway 101. In Santa Rosa we had reserved an Airstream trailer through Airbnb. The trailer was parked in the hosts backyard in a residential neighborhood. It was a quiet spot with access to a hot tub.
The next morning we drove out to Bodega Bay and hiked all around the peninsula that is Bodega Head. We saw whales, sea lions, seals, egrets and blue herons.
For lunch we stopped at the Fishterian Fish Market for shrimp tacos and kale slaw and ate at a picnic table on a small beach (see above).
We couldn’t resist stopping next door for wine tasting at Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Actually, I was trying to maximize my coast time. From here we were heading back inland to Santa Rosa, and even though we planned to stop at a couple more wineries, I really didn’t want to leave the ocean.
Have you visited the North Coast of California? What are your favorite things to see and do?
Want to read more about Northern California? Check out Weekend Getaway: Mendocino