Driving Highway 1 from San Francisco to its northern terminus.
From Muir Beach to Leggett, CA.
From Visalia we drove to Petaluma just north of San Francisco and camped at another KOA. Coming down towards the coast out of the arid west after months of dryness was like taking a deep breath for the first time. You could feel the green and life absorbing into your pores. The childlike laughter of new spring leaves overwhelmed my senses. Home. Back into the embrace of the forests.
From Petaluma it was a quick drive down 101 to SR1 (highway 1) where it meets up at the Golden Gate Bridge and to Muir Woods where we decided to begin our drive north. From there you white knuckle along the rocky cliffside coastline with spectacular views and endless hairpin turns and steep dips and rises. Not recommended for anyone with car sickness, a fear of heights, or those adverse to a healthy sense of adventure. The Rialta chugged along dutifully but heaved and groaned at the steep grades and winding turns that prevented us from ever getting enough speed to overcome our inertia.
We stayed first at the charming fishing town of Bodega Bay and enjoyed the mussel speckled shores, then next at the seaside village of Mendocino, and then eventually to the Highway 1 terminus where it joins 101 just before the redwoods.
Muir Woods and Muir Beach
Muir Woods is a beautiful redwood park just north of San Francisco. It’s a small park so it was more populated than the desert parks we had been visiting. And parking needs to be secured in advance. Since our vehicle was oversized, we had to pay $30 (17-22 feet) with a 30 minute arrival window and were limited to 1.75 hours. Vehicles 22-35 feet pay $45. Passenger cars under 17 feet pay $8.50 and have no time limits since there are several car lots nearby. All spots fill up so book in advance. There are few alternatives.
We chose to hike the main loop up one side of Redwood Creek, across bridge three, and then down the other side. This consumed the majority of our park time so we didn’t get to see the longer trails, but it was a nice walk. Honestly if you have the time, there are much more secluded and grand forests in northern California. But still a great park close to San Francisco.
Muir Woods to Bodega Bay
We had planned to explore Muir Beach which is just down the road a few miles from Muir Woods but the parking lots were all full and fairly tight so we could find no home for the Rialta. We continued north through green farmland and then out onto the winding shoreline.
We camped for the night at Westside Regional Park campground on the seaward side of the bay, a primitive lot with no hookups but there were bathrooms with flush toilets and pay showers (reserve in advance online, no attendant). Bodega Bay is a working class fishing community with fish and crab shack popups along the bay road, moored boats and stacks of crab traps lining the water. In the morning we visited the shore at the Bodega Bay trailhead and climbed around the mussel studded rocks and pebble beaches in the piercing cold winds. I enjoyed the bright green and red seaside succulents in this area that were blooming. But it was too cold to stay long. We had a seafood lunch from a local fish shack in the RV before heading out.
Bodega Bay to Mendocino
The area between the bay and Mendocino was winding cliffside roadways punctuated by small coastal towns with a mix of rock and haystacks across sandy beaches with usually a steep hike down to get to the ocean. This is a great area for a beach picnic and if it was a bit warmer a swim, but it was too early in the season for us.
Point Arena Lighthouse
Be sure not to miss the Point Arena Lighthouse just north of Point Arena, CA. This is the quintessential west coast postcard lighthouse, tucked away at the far tip of a peninsula atop sheer cliffs and deep blue seas breaking on massive rock formations below.
For our second night we rented a room in the cute little town of Mendocino at the Hill House, a small hotel with a whole wall of celebrity photos of people I’ve never heard of. I imagine it had better glory days, it was a bit run down, but we liked our room, and the town was great. Whereas Bodega Bay was working class, Mendocino was more of a boutique tourist town with nicer restaurants and fun shops.
The rock formations along the Mendocino Headlands State Park (pretty much the entire seashore west of town that has been protected from development) are beautiful and fun to explore. We found a trail along a thin jut of land surrounded by the sea and islands and sat with the ocean crashing around us. And the cliffside just south of town has great views of massive haystacks sitting along sandy beaches.
From Mendocino we continued north along still more cliffside roads until highway 1 pulls away from the coast and heads up over mountains until it connects with 101. This is an amazing few days of driving on its own but even better when you continue along 101 north into the northern Californian redwoods. This roadtrip will be continued in the next northern California redwoods post.