Northern California Coast Road Trip: Your Ultimate Guide with Driving Routes, Best Photo Stops & Hikes Along the Way

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Think of the California coast. What comes to mind? Big Sur probably? Maybe SoCal? Had you ever heard of venturing up the coast North of San Francisco? After driving along almost the entirety of Highway 101 of California, I have to say the more North you go the better! The crowds disappear, the cliffs and coast get more dramatic, towering Redwoods loom over you; it is pure magic.

I arrived to San Francisco, CA in January 2021 for a travel nurse assignment. I spent an epic 5 months there, going on many road trips to Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Napa Valley, and up the Northern California coast!

In this blog post, I will map out an ultimate Northern California road trip from San Francisco to Oregon along the coast. I’ll list where to stop along the way for the best photo locations, hikes, and ocean views!

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Planning your trip? Use my favorite resources!

Accommodation – I recommend Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels.
Flights – I recommend Skyscanner to look for the best prices and deals on flights.
Rental cars – I recommend DiscoverCars to shop around at multiple car rental agencies.
Travel insurance – I recommend Safety Wing; keep your trips insured to protect yourself while traveling.
Tours/experiences – I recommend Viator!


Northern California Road Trip Driving Route Along the Coast

What To Do

Point Reyes

  • Alamere Falls hike & Cypress Tree Tunnel- Read more about this in my blog post here!
  • Point Reyes National Seashore South Beach Overlook. Beautiful spot to see where the land meets the ocean. Perfect sunset spot!
  • Chimney Rock Trail. A short trail along the coast- spot elephant seals, gray whales, spring wildflowers, and sweeping views of the ocean.
  • Tomales Point Trail. A longer hike along the coast where you can spot spring wildflowers, elk, and gorgeous cliff and ocean views.

I would spend two days around Point Reyes on your California road trip to be able to do these hikes and hit the view points! If you only had one day- I would pick one longer hike, head to the Cypress Tree Tunnel and end the day at South Beach Overlook for sunset.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay is located about an hour and a half from Point Reyes and is one of my favorite areas of the California coast. It is a seriously beautiful, underrated place that I’ve been to twice, and each time it was not crowded at ALL. It’s not a huge area either so it’s great to spend just one afternoon at and catch the sunset. Spend extra time here if you want to visit a local winery! Check out Sonoma Coast State Park and Goat Rock Beach while you’re in Bodega Bay!

Mendocino & Fort Bragg

Drive two hours north from Bodega Bay along Highway 101 and find Mendocino. Here, check out Mendocino Headlands State Park where you will find amazing beaches, cliffs, and natural arches over the water!

Next, continue a little farther north to Fort Bragg where you will find the famous Glass Beach. Note that it is illegal to collect and take home the sea glass from this beach, but it is beautiful and fun to see in person!

Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove is a relatively undiscovered part of the California coast. You’ll need to take a little bit of a detour to get here coming from the main road. However, in my opinion it is well worth it! Here, you can find a magical black sand beach. When we went on a weekday summer morning, it was deserted which made it even more out of this world.

We only had an hour or two to spare here, but if I got the chance I would spend a half day here or stay overnight!

Redwood National & State Parks

Conclude your trip near the Northern California border, there are multiple Redwood State Parks and National Park. Just driving through the miles of Redwoods is a once in a lifetime experience, but I would suggest checking out a few trails and viewpoints along the way as well!

One of my favorites was the Prairie Creek Trail which you can check out here! It’s relatively flat and only 2.5 miles roundtrip!

If you enjoyed my content and found it helpful for your next trip, please like this post, subscribe to my blog, and follow me on Instagram for more travel inspiration. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Want more California content? Check out my blog post on a 4 day road trip through the Sierras!

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