Six California North Coast Highlights
Mendocino Village, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Glass Beach,
MacKerricher State Park, Pacific Star Winery and Avenue of the Giants
A drive along California’s Pacific Coast is amazing no matter which section of the state you travel. My husband and I began our trip north from Oxnard, diverted inland north of Capitola and rejoined Highway 1 about nine miles south of Mendocino Village. The highway is known as Shoreline Highway at this point. It was here we found the most stunning scenery. And the twistiest roads!
If you watched the old television show Murder She Wrote with Angela Lansbury, Mendocino Village may remind you of Cabot Cove, the fictional setting for that show. That’s because the show was filmed in Mendocino Village. Set on a slightly hilly peninsula, it is a charming town surrounded on three sides by coastal bluffs.
Once a logging and mill town, Mendocino Village is now known as an artist community. It contains unique shops, galleries and restaurants. Many Victorian homes have been turned into bed-and-breakfast inns.
Early settlers piped water from nearby creeks and rivers into their homes. Tall windmills caught coastal breezes to power the pumps and water tanks were elevated to allow for adequate water pressure. Most of the windmills are now gone, but many of the water towers remain. Some have been converted into artist studios and gift shops.
At the edge of town, Mendocino Headlands State Park offers walking trails and scenic views.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg contain a variety of flowers and grasses which bloom from spring to fall. The Gardens are best known for their rhododendrons which bloom in March and April, but they contain a variety of other plants as well, including cacti, succulents and coastal prairie plants. A coastal bluff provides magnificent ocean views.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is a former dump site. It stopped being a dump site in 1967. Metal and other objects were moved away, but glass and pottery remained. Over time, waves tumbled these into small, smooth stones. The sea glass brings thousands of tourists to the beach each year.
There are actually three glass beach sites, all former dumps. Glass Beach #3 is the most commonly visited. To get to it from Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. The amount of sea glass has depleted over years due to the amount of collecting which was done. There is now much less glass than there once was. You can still hunt for glass. If you find a gem, take a photo and put it back. It is now illegal to remove glass from Glass Beach. Even if you don’t look for sea glass, the natural beauty of this spot is worth a visit.
If you don’t find any sea glass at Glass Beach, you may want to visit the free Sea Glass Museum just south of Fort Bragg.
MacKerricher State Park
Glass Beach is technically part of MacKerricher State Park, but it is not reached via normal park access. Mackerricher State Park is three miles north of Fort Bragg. The park has a variety of habitats. Seals may be seen offshore. The headland is a good lookout point for whale watching in winter and spring. The beach is calm and sandy. I enjoyed the walkways leading to vista points.
Pacific Star Winery
Twelve miles north of Fort Bragg, Pacific Star Winery is worth a stop whether you are a wine lover or not. The views are spectacular. You can picnic on the cliffs. There are many spots to sit and view the scenery. Samples are available in the tasting room for a fee. Or you could purchase a bottle to drink outdoors with your picnic.
Avenue of the Giants
About thirty miles north of Fort Bragg, Highway 1 bends inland to join up with US Route 101 and take you into redwood country. Redwoods are the world’s tallest trees. Avenue of the Giants is a scenic 31-mile drive off US Route 101 along the old highway just north of Gaberville. The drive has towering redwoods on either side and is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Its Visitor Center is located along the Avenue and worth a visit. In addition to containing park information, it houses a free museum with information about redwoods and history of the park. For more information on the Avenue of the Giants, read Walk and Drive Through Towering Redwoods.
This was truly a spectacular drive. Have you visited this area? Do you have other highlights? For information on the Oxnard to Capitola portion of our coastal drive, read California Coast: Oxnard to Capitola.
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There’s no denying it, all are beautiful areas. I feel ver fortunate to live close enough to take them in from time to time.
Susan, you are fortunate. So many beautiful areas.
In our West coast RV travels we missed some of the places you wrote about because we had opted to drive a portion of the 101. We did however drive the Avenue of the giants and it was truly awe inspiring!
Eva, it was tough to make choices about which road to take because there were things to see in so many areas. We will have missed some things you saw.
I’ve never heard about Glass Beach in Fort Bragg – what a great way to rehabilitate a dump site. And thanks for the advice on leaving the glass on site. It would be so tempting to pick up a piece.
Michele, it would be tempting to take a piece of sea glass as a memento. Lots of people have done that over the years and the amount of sea glass has dwindled as a result.
Beautiful tour of the north coast. The town of Mendocino is very interesting and I’ve often enjoyed stopping or staying there, but I’ve always found it a little eerie, too (particularly a night at the Mendocino Hotel which is said to be haunted!)
Cathy, I did not find Mendocino eerie, but I also didn’t go into the Mendocino Hotel. I did not know the bit about it supposedly being haunted.
You’ve talked me into taking the same drive if we visit California again. Mendocino Village looks so charming that it might be hard to leave! Anita
Anita, there were a lot of charming places along this drive which were hard to leave.
Thanks for the tour Many beautiful places. I’d especially like to see Glass Beach.
Ken, lots of beautiful places for sure.
I had always wanted to go to Glass Beach. Now that I’ve read about it, it doesn’t sound as appealing. I didn’t realize you couldn’t take any sea glass you find and that there isn’t as much there as in the past. Oh, well! I would love the drive through Avenue of the Redwoods, however, and the whole area would be worth meandering through. Mendocino Village looked very appealing.
Debbra, I found the scenery at Glass Beach to be stunning even if one doesn’t look for sea glass. I think there are some areas of the beach where there is still more sea glass than others, but they may be a little more difficult to get to. And there is to see and experience on this north coast drive beyond Glass Beach.
In all my days of beach combing I’ve only found a few pieces of sea glass. If I did have the chance to really explore any coastal area, I would be sure to look up beaches with the best chance to find sea glass.
Jeri, there are areas of the beach with more sea glass than others if you are prepared to spend a bit of time on research and trek into more difficult-to-get-to places.
Driving Highway One north from San Francisco to Mendocino has always been one of my favorite road trips. You might like to know about the Blair House Inn for your next visit. It was used as the exterior for Jessica Fletcher’s house in “Murder, She Wrote.” https://weekendadventuresupdate.blogspot.com/2013/08/blair-house-inn-45110-little-lake-st.html
Carole, we stayed a few miles outside of the village at Brewery Gulch Inn, a place I also highly recommend. I will keep Blair House Inn in mind for my next visit.
Love your photos of Glass Beach and the giant Red Woods. I need to give some serious consideration to more travel in North America once I leave Asia and head back to Nova Scotia.
Nancie, travels in North America could certainly keep you busy for quite a while. Nova Scotia itself is so beautiful. I’ve only seen a small part of it and it is high on my list of travel destinations.
I did almost exactly the same road trip a few years ago and loved it! My favorite part was Avenue of the Giants. Pinned it!
Thanks Patti. It’s a great trip, isn’t it?
Yay! Can’t wait to go in April.
Jennifer, it’s a great trip. Enjoy.
I missed all those except for the Avenue of the Giants! We have driven down and up the west coast twice but still have not seen everything there is to see….like that Glass Beach!
Carolina, there is certainly a lot to see up and down the west coast. I don’t know how many trips one would need to take to see it all.
Great trip Donna! Thank you for introducing us to new places we definitely have to explore on our next trip. Check out our California coast scenic drives and map your way using our free roadtrip planner: https://www.myscenicdrives.com/drives/california/redwood-highway
Marla, it was a great trip. I will have to check out some of your other scenic drives. Do you do any scenic drive roadmap planning for Canada?
Completely agree! The California is so beautiful and so many things to discover along the way. I was so thrilled that you were exploring a part I hadn’t visited yet. I’ll have to add this section to our must-travel list. Nice report!
Thanks Sue. I hope you enjoy exploring more of the coast.
Beautiful! The scenery is reminiscent of parts of BC. I can never get enough of those redwoods, so majestic and old, I love seeing them reaching for the sky.
Nathalie, I agree that some of the scenery is reminiscent of parts of BC. The redwoods are amazing.
More gorgeous spots along the California coast, for sure. I must admit that while I’m a rule-follower, darn it would be hard for me to pick up the glass stones and put them back. I would, but drat…
RoseMary, a piece of sea glass would be a lovely memento, but too much of it has already been taken