Big Sur is one of the most iconic drives in the world, and one that draws tourists from around the world all year long. In light of recent events however, this pristine coastline has been all but removed from the map. After fires and devastating mud slides this past season, the roads have been completely shut down to the public with no known reopening date in sight.
For the California locals like me who have grown to love and cherish this magical place, this is devastating news. But what really inspired me to write this blog was a couple I met while traveling in Europe last winter. When they found out I was from California, they were so excited to tell me that they had finally planned their first trip to the states, and had arranged to rent a convertible to drive up the Big Sur Coast. We talked for hours about their trip and I gave them tips on all my favorite spots that they had to visit.
When I heard about the mudslides and destroyed roads, I immediately thought of them and how disappointed they would be to have to cancel the trip that they had been waiting for for years.
That is why I want to call attention to and suggest a forgotten piece of California… a place most have yet to venture out to, and a place that offers the same (if not better) otherworldly kind of coastline that can be found in Big Sur. Not only does this drive offer stunning coastal views, it will also take you through some of the most quaint seaside towns in the state - a must see for lovers of seafood and foggy mornings. This is a trip that I took just a few weeks ago as an alternative to the Big Sur drive, and I want to share it with anyone else who still thinks Big Sur is the end all be all of coastal drives.
The Northern California Coastline: Raw, rugged, and remote. So many people neglect northern California because there are no more big cities above San Francisco, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. What they don't realize though, is that every inch of the drive anywhere in Northern California is packed with breathtaking views.
Where to fly / start your trip:
Fly into San Francisco or Sacramento. Sacramento is a short 2 hour drive from the coast, and the drive will take you inland over beautiful rolling green hills and marshes.
From there, make your way up north on highway one. Make your first stop in Bodega Bay - an adorable town made up of small boutique stores and some of the best seafood in the state. Grab lunch and take it up to Bodega Head (pictured below), where you can hike along the cliffs and even climb down to a secluded private beach.
The next town as you drive north will be Fort Bragg. While your'e here, time the tides right and venture out to Hidden Beach of Fort Bragg. The northern coast offers many secluded beaches like this - just do your research and be prepared to hike a bit further from your car, the views will definitely be worth it.
The next part of the drive along Highway One will take you inland as you bypass the “Lost Coast” which is the largest area of undeveloped coastal land in the county. If time allows, this is a great place to hike in for the day to see some of the most remote and untouched beaches in the state.
Eureka! Home base of all things Redwood Coast.
Enjoy an endless selection of insane coastline and private beaches, or head inland to explore the Giant Coastal Redwoods. This is also a coastal climbing mecca, offering hundreds of bolted sport routes with ocean views. Of course if you would rather stay on the ground, a great day hike is Fern Canyon - a mossy green canyon that feels like a fairy tale.
This area is also scattered with first come first come first serve campsites, so no worries for you last minute planners. Nickel Creek Campground is also a great option if you don’t mind packing in and hiking a couple of miles - the views are well worth it.
You can stop your journey here and explore this area to your heart’s content, or if time allows press on wards towards the northernmost town in California: Crescent City, where you can enjoy more unique beaches and great craft beer.
From here you also have the option to continue on into Oregon (it's only another 40 minutes or so) or start your trip back. Perhaps take an inland route this time and explore Mt. Shasta or some of the many norcal waterfalls.
This trip can be done in as a little or as long as you need, and can be completely tailored to your interests. Without crowded vista points and campsite reservations to worry about, you can completely immerse yourself in everything the area has to offer.
So, while we eagerly await the full reopening of the Big Sur drive, lets not forget the rest of the raw beauty this state has to offer. Take advantage of the Northern California coast for a truly unique adventure that you will want to return to again and again.