This is part of a larger series, our North American Rocky Mountain Tour. This leg takes you through the Northwest United States along the west coast, from Crescent City, California to San Francisco, California . You can find Leg 3 here and Leg 5, which includes San Francisco, here (coming soon).
Previous – Leg 3 | Next – Leg 5 (coming soon)
Day 7 – Crescent City, California to Point Arena Lighthouse
This leg starts at the Oregon Department of Transportation Rest Area at Harris Beach State Park, Oregon near Crescent City, California and ends at point Arena Public Lands. It includes crossing the California/Oregon border, where they inspect your vehicle for produce which may pose threats of disease to their agricultural industry.
This part of California is one to savour. The lack of population makes it one of the more relaxed and less populated parts of the drive, similar to Oregon. Leg 4 and Leg 5 are probably the quietest part of this trip, so soak in the silence and space before we get to the more hectic part of the West Coast.
The drive is pretty straightforward, heading south on the 101. At Leggitt, California, you’ll follow the coast by turning right on Hw 1 where the road becomes significantly slower due to curves, until you reach Flumeville, where you turn right on Lighthouse Road. If you prefer to avoid the winding, narrow highway, you can head south on the 101 to Santa Rosa, California and find a more established highway to reach the coast, but where is the adventure in that?!?
- Crescent Beach Picnic Area: A great little beach that is off the beaten path. We were among the locals as we stopped here to wander the beach as we prepared breakfast. Fully serviced washrooms were on site and picnic tables made for a great outdoor kitchen to reheat our leftover burritos from Casa Amiga (see Leg 3).
- Trees of Mystery: While I’m not one for tourist traps, this place lured me in with their astoundingly large Paul Bunyan and his blue Ox, Babe. We didn’t take time to ride the gondola, but reviews mentioned is was a good way to gain a glimpse of the giant redwood trees. Take a moment to stand in front of Paul Bunyan and have him creepily call you out (for real though) and give you a wave.
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail: a great quick loop where you can learn about the beginnings of the protected parks. As a Canadian, I was shocked to discover you can go 4×4-ing and off-roading in the US National Parks. You could probably spend a week here if you wanted to wander countless trails.
- Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum: An interesting piece of history, this lighthouse retains it’s charm and heritage. As a bonus, you can book to stay the night, and tour the lighthouse and gift shop.
As the Lighthouse is located on public lands, we parked in the pullout near the lighthouse admission gate and stayed the night. There was a handy port-a-potty through the fence in the adjacent grazing lands, so we had everything we needed. We arrived in the darkness of night to find an intense wind that rocked our van continuously, but the sound of the crashing waves foreshadowed the amazing view we woke up to.
Day 8 – Point Arena Lighthouse to the Golden Gate Bridge
While this is definitely one of the curvier sections, the views are incredible as you stick to the coast almost exclusively. We noticed the real estate becoming more and more prestigious as we neared San Francisco thanks to it’s proximity to the metro area. Despite the populations increase, traffic was manageable and there was still a lot of wild space to explore.
- Palace Market at Point Reyes Station – a great little small town market place with a farmers market vibe. My only complaint was that the fresh cheese and meat shop didn’t have any ice cream for sale. It seemed like a major oversight, but luckily the local grocery store a half a block away had pints for a couple bucks. With a few spoons from their deli counter, our problem was in the past.
- Cypress Tree Tunnel -more recently, this notable spot has become popular thanks to Instagram, but it has a deep history as a communications base for military and shipping traffic throughout the pacific ocean. Closed most of the week, the radio facility is operated by local amateur Ham radio enthusiasts. With some prior planning, you may be able to get a tour of the building. Note that there was a section of the road in that was under water when we visited.
- Stinson Beach – Just another small town beach. Even when parking is hard to find, we found the beautiful sandy beach wide open with lots of space to enjoy. If you like beaches that aren’t overrun, this is worth a stop.
- Muir Woods National Monument – At the risk of sounding redundant, the woods here are worth taking time to enjoy. Steeped in history, you can spend minutes or months exploring these woods. Their proximity to San Francisco make it a great place to take a break from the crowds if you decided to spend a few days in the core of San Francisco.
- Point Bonita Lighthouse – Part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse and various batteries are worth a stop. Perfect for the end of the day, you can look across the bay over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
- Golden Gate Bridge View Vista – This rest stop makes a good place to stay the night. The view is spectacular and you’re in a good spot to get into the city the next day to explore.
At the state rest stop at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, we were in the company of a number of RV’s and vans, some of which were catching a plane back to Europe and hawking their belongings before selling their vans. Rumours abound about it being a bit dangerous, so lock your doors and make friends with your neighbors to lessen the chance of something going wrong. There were bathrooms (albeit dirty) that were open all night and a water fountain and larger bathroom facility that was open during daylight hours. The state police passed through a few times throughout the night but didn’t seem to care that we had all parked there.