Elaine Masters a RoamRight Blog Author

Eight Diversions Along California’s North Coast Road

Plan your ultimate California road trip with these fun, family friendly stops.

Any road trip has its challenges but for those braving Northern California’s narrow, twisting highways and coastal routes, it’s well worth the effort.  Villages and fishing communities full of color and character; artist enclaves and historical sites are tucked along the coastal highway. Getting there takes a bit of doing. A drive from the Marin headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, will take the better part of the day but mostly because of the intriguing stops along the way. 

1. Petaluma

Northern highway 101 flows inland en route to Petaluma, with its bustling, historical storefronts that have been popularized in movies and wine tours. Once the self-proclaimed ‘Chicken Capital of the World’ today the town is full of cafes serving trendy cuisine and artisanal brews.

2. The Routes

Further north, past hillsides corrugated by vineyards, are two routes to the beach: Highway 20 through the town of Willits leads directly into Fort Bragg. The southern route, Highway 128 meets the coast just south of Mendocino. Both are scenic and offer different diversions.

The Highway 20 route is somewhat quicker but also a more remote, two lane road through forests and has spotty cell phone service. Highway 128 is a more open, rolling route with easier turnouts for slower traffic and trucks making their way between the coast and businesses. Coming and going from San Francisco it’s simple to take one route in and another out.

3. Wine tasting

From the 128 route, get out and stretch your legs at Husch, the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley. Success came after decades of growth and now the family-owned label caps production at 45,000 cases. You can find out why this might be some of the best wine you’ve never heard about at wine tastings offered seven days a week between 10am and 5pm.

4. Van Damme Park

The Shoreline Highway north to Mendocino from 128 is sprinkled with small coves and tide pools. Van Damme Park is worth a visit. There’s a small campground sitting right next to the beach and trails through the pygmy forest. Nothing remains of what was once the hub of the local forestry industry where chutes sent logs to waiting steamer ships, a school house once filled with over 100 children and a mill stood tall on the headlands.

5. Mendocino

The village of Mendocino shared a history buttressed by logging wealth, but turned towards tourism before 1900, beckoning San Franciscans to its Victorian homes and views of a rough and picturesque bay. Today the Blair House Bed and Breakfast holds onto its more recent notoriety as the exterior location for the TV series, Murder She Wrote, and its star, Angela Lansbury once strolled the beachfront boardwalk. There are fashionable boutiques, small hotels and many delicious cafes, enough to explore for several days.

6. The Glass Museum

As you continue north along the Shoreline Highway small galleries and cafes are scattered alongside the road. The most eccentric is the Glass Museum, lovingly curated by Captain Cass Forrington, a retired sea captain. The petite space holds the history of the area in shards and panes. Glass cases are filled in chronological, color and source order and the entry, where the Captain spends most of his time, features all manners of jewelry fashioned by the mariner as he waits for guests. If you have time get his directions to the local glass beach and spend a few hours along the rocky cove wiggling your toes in polished glass pebbles.

7. Noyo Harbor

As you enter Fort Bragg take the turn-off down to the working piers of Noyo Harbor. Once the hub of the California Salmon Industry, today hearty divers comb the local kelp beds for sea urchins and other seasonal catches. Before the railroad came through this sheltered harbor was port to every passing ship en route to San Francisco. Today kayaking and sport fishing is available with reservations. There are several seasonal restaurants along the harbor but the largest, Silvers, hosts great sunset views from the dining room and a patio for summer’s sunny days.

8. Skunk Train

In the 1800’s, getting redwood logs to builders in San Francisco was big business in the northern forest regions. Logging companies invested in a steam engine rail line between Fort Bragg and Willits to supplement what ships were providing. Eventually the trains were retired and single motor coaches plied the rails, filled with passengers warmed by pot-bellied stoves fed with crude oil. Its pungent smell led to the Skunk train moniker. Today the line runs daily and offers special events, a forest stop-over B-B-Q and even a camp site in the summer months.

Which of these stops sounds best to you?

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About the Author

Elaine Masters

Elaine Masters, a RoamRight Blog Author Elaine is constantly in motion. She's called most of the major cities along the U.S. west coast home and travels or scuba dives as often as possible (Her latest passport is almost out ofpages.) The one constant has been writing and she's contributedto numerous publications and blogs as well as her own,TripWellness.com. Flytime Yoga was founded through her yoga practice, including a session at 30,000 feet on a dive trip flight to Fiji. Her Indie Excellence award-winning Drivetime Yoga techniques have helped RV and bus drivers, police officers andother travelers get where they're going feeling great atDrivetimeYoga.com. She podcastsThe Gathering Roadweekly and brings authors and experts together with travelers at monthlyTravel Well meetupsin San Diego. Follow Elaine onLinkedIn,Pinterest,Facebook,TwitterandGoogle Plus.

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