The very best of the California coastline packed into one long, serpentine road.
After a week in foggy San Francisco for a work conference, I hopped onto California State Route 1 and headed north toward Oregon, tapping my steering wheel with excitement as I merged into a barrage of city traffic (not an easy feat with a 25+ foot load). I had roughly 6 hours ahead of me before I would stop for the night just before the Oregon border in Northern California, where one grand destination awaited me the following day: Redwood National Forest. I queued up some of my best road trip songs and hit the salty stretch of highway winding through the hilly California coast in front of me.
By the time I reached the sea, the fog I had left behind in San Francisco (which locals have so charmingly named Karl) hadn’t yet lifted from its neighboring shores. My view was marred by a thick white cloud that dissipated into a choppy gray sea. Instead, I focused my eyes on the narrow and slightly treacherous road in front of me. If I hadn’t already had enough experience towing my camper through the worst of extremes, I was getting a crash course on State Route 1—high cliff faces open to the crashing sea, 45º turns, and a crowd of tourists headed in both directions. Undeterred but highly concentrated, I forged on.
From tiny seaside Bodega Bay to Fort Bragg and north toward Eureka, the coastal views are endless, and nothing short of spectacular at every single turn. For miles and miles, State Route 1 overlooks grassy promontories perched above thundering waves, sandy beaches speckled with sunbathers, turquoise lagoons hidden in the cool shade, and towering pines that grew in size the closer I got toward the Pacific Northwest.
To celebrate my official arrival at the Pacific Coast, I stopped at Stump Beach in Salt Point State Park, a quiet area with a rocky shoreline and a few short hiking trails. I grabbed my camera, splashed in the chilly sea, and soaked in the sunshine, feeling relieved to have made it from coast to coast intact and on schedule. At every western milestone in my journey, I suffered a brief, fleeting moment of panic as a solo traveler. It’s a weird feeling—being so far from home and completely alone, one that felt even stranger at every westernmost point.
Solo travel is not a feat for the weak. It can be gritty, confusing, frustrating, and discouraging at times, and of course, it can be lonely, but it opens the door to so much self-growth. I may never again have the opportunity to wake up each morning and decide with no doubts, inhibitions, or obstacles what to do with the day ahead of me. More than anything else, solo travel is liberating, so on that pebbled beach right off of State Route 1, I relished in my unconditional freedom for a while and stayed as long as I pleased.
Eventually, I hopped back in my truck and continued my drive north, gesticulating wildly out the window while blasting White Sun by The Doobie Brothers for the hundredth time on my trip (the sound of unconditional freedom). I stopped for the night at a small RV lot in Clam Beach and ate a gas station supper while I watched the sun go down. Too sleepy to crank up the camper, I climbed in the backseat of my truck and dozed off for a surprisingly restful night of sleep.
Early the next morning, I plugged the Redwood National Park into my GPS and hit the highway for a short 1 hour trek to the park entrance. I began my day at the Big Tree Area, where a grove of massive 1,500-year-old redwoods are nestled in a ferny forest. From there, I headed north on the Cathedral Tree Trail and began a calm 2.5 mile hike through a quiet stretch of the park.
I had been warned that the Redwood Park would be life-changing in an unexpected way, and I can confirm that it’s somehow even more compelling than I anticipated. There’s something almost spiritual about a walk through the ancient groves swaying softly in the breeze over 200 feet up. The thick canopy blocks out all sound, reducing conversations below to whispers as visitors stare reverently at the statuesque trees that came long before them. A visit to the Redwood National Park forces onlookers to accept their inferiority among the far grander and greater natural world, a difficult thing for humans to do at times, but a humbling experience we all need.
I spent my day lollygagging through the interconnected trails, biking up the steepest hill I’d ever climbed, and nearly being chased by a mama bear guarding her precious cubs—the full experience, I’d say. I can think of no greater entrance to the Pacific Northwest than a road trip on State Route 1 followed by a day among the mighty redwoods.
With so much still to see and so little time, I continued on toward Oregon, leaving behind a haven of otherworldly sights on unassuming roadside stops and forest trails. The very best that California has to offer is packed into the 655-mile stretch of State Route 1—a bucket list must-see if there ever was one.