California Highway 1, The North Section.
There are 222 miles from San Francisco to Leggett via highway 1 coastline rout.
Google maps estimate this drive to be as almost 6 hours but, in my view, this is more like 6-7 days road-trip if you really want to visit and enjoy the many amazing nature attractions and parks along this road.
Yes, you can also do this road-trip as 3 days travel, focusing on the main towns, parks, viewpoints and short hikes.
I highly recommend visiting here as a trip destination by itself or as part of your longer road-trip along the California coast. Driving north into the Redwoods in North California ocean or south to San Francisco, Monterey, and highway 1 in Big Sur.
You can visit here for 3 days or even for a week, plenty of things to do and see in the area.
Highway 1 forking off highway 101 four miles north of the Golden Gate bridge, from here the road heading west, crossing the mountain ridge and getting to the ocean. Heading north the road is following the ragged California ocean coastline all the way to Fort Bragg and from there it climb bake east inland, reconnecting to highway 101 near Leggett.
This area of the north section of California coastline is a year-round destination, there is no snow or extreme cold temperatures. After stating this it is important to note that winter months (Dec. – Apr.) are colder and may have many rainy days. The best months to visit here and have good, relatively, warm and no rain weather are July, August, and September.
At summer months it is usually clear and warmer compared to other seasons.
With the good weather the summer months bring with them the crowd, during weekends, the beaches, parks, and other attractions are having many other visitors and prices are high and accommodations availability is low.
I visit here also in mid-winter months when it was raining and we enjoy it a lot, or even one time during January where I had sunny and relatively warm days. In California you can have weeks without any rain even during the winter months.
No matter when you are visiting here, and as in many other North Pacific Coast destination plan for potential foggy, grey, overcast, or even rainy days.
It is always good to have a light rain gear and as always dress with layers.
The road itself is one lane road for all its length, it may be narrow and, in many cliffs, and mountain section also winding.
There are relatively few sections where you can pass slow cars and you should always expect incoming traffic.
Plan to drive slowly, nothing to rush for.
There are countless viewing point options along the road, drive slowly and stop for the view and to stretch your legs.
Hotels, Inns, Resorts, Lodges - Accommodation:
Although this is a prime tourist destination because no interstate highway is passing here or there is no large cities along this rout the overall hotels/motels options are somehow limited, especially during summer months.
Yes, there are many accommodations options for weekend travelers like Air B&B, local Inns, Lodges, and Resorts but not so many hotels/motels from large national chins.
At the summer month prices are higher and availability for last minute reservation is limited, try to book your hotels in advance, months before your visit.
Weekends and holidays are extremely packed with travelers so plan ahead and book, with cancelation option, when you know your expected trip plan.
I will try to list below the main towns you can look for hotel’s accommodations (listed from south to north, [distance from San Francisco]):
There are many hotels’ options here, read my main San Francisco Blog where are the preferred locations to look for hotels:
San Francisco – How to plan your 2-3 days visit
Marin County [10 miles]:
This is another option near San Francisco, here highway 1 fork out west of the main highway 101.
There are few large cities in Marin County just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can sleep in many places along highway 101, in Sausalito, and around Mill Valley.
Point Reyes Station [40 miles]:
Unfortunately, there is somehow limited availability of hotels in this small town near Point Reyes National Park. You can find here and nearby few motels/Inns.
If you are planning to be in point Ryes for 2 days it will be good to find an hotel here.
Bodega Bay [71 miles]:
There are several large hotels in this small fishing harbor tourist town.
Russian River [82 miles]:
There are few accommodation options in the town of Monte Rio. This town is located inland from the ocean, less than 15 minutes’ drive from highway 1 on highway 116 east along the Russian River.
There is also one option in Jenner, right on highway 1.
Gualala [120 miles]:
This is another small town where you can find relatively many hotels and motels options.
Point Arena [133 miles]:
There are only few motel options in this small town.
Mendocino [170 miles]:
In and near this town there are many options for accommodations, usually this is more upscale level with higher prices compared to the nearby city of Fort Bragg.
Fort Bragg [179 miles]:
This is the largest town along this highway 1 section, and it provides many accommodation options. You can find simple lower coast motels, hotels, inns, and more upscale options.
You can stay here for few nights and explore the many local state parks and other nearby attractions.
Inns, Resorts, Lodges:
Along highway 1 road there are many small Inns, resorts, lodges, and other local accommodation options that are not in a specific town, usually they are more on the higher price range.
Parks and campgrounds:
There are many parks and campgrounds options along the road.
Do not think that because there are many options you do not need to book your site in advance.
No matter if this is state park campground, state beach or private campground/RV site all are fully booked during the summer months, especially during weekends and holidays.
This is a prime summer weekend destinations for people living in San Francisco and the bay area, during mid-weekdays it is more relax.
Where to eat:
I’m not covering this aspect of the traveling in my blogs.
There are so many options to eat, almost in any small town. There aren’t many fast-food chains along the way, this is more like located restaurants and bars.
According to your budge and taste you will be able to find where to eat along the ride.
Although it is not as “famous” as highway 1 Big Sur drive (the road section from San Francisco to Santa Barbara) this area of the coast and the drive along highway 1 is probably my preferred California coastal destinations.
If this is one day drive trip from San Francisco up to Point Reyes, weekend destination visiting Bodega Bay, the Russian River, and even Salt Point State Park, or driving up to Mendocino and Fort Bragg for long weekend destination.
I visit here many times and always had fun.
Points Of Interest Along Highway 1 Drive
For all the below 25 locations and park I wrote detailed blogs, you can follow the links and read a lot more information on each location.
As always for me, pictures is important part of my traveling so in every blog there are many pictures from each site.
I rated the location in 1-5 * rating to help you prioritize what to do. I visit every one of the below location, some even many times, and in every one you can have great time.
1. San Francisco (*****)
This is one of the most beautiful cities in America, so many things to see and do here.
2. Golden Gate Bridge (*****)
Probably one of the most iconic bridges in the world and the symbol of San Francisco, you can find viewpoints both on the south and north side of the bridge.
A large park covering all the hills and ocean front northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although there are many interesting things to do and see in this park people that highway 1 is their trip destination can skip this park.
4. Muir Woods National Monument (****)
One of the best parks to see up close and walk under the giant redwood trees. The park proximity to San Francisco contribute to it popularity. If you are planning to travel to the northern California shoreline and visit the redwoods park you can skip this visit but if you do not than this is one of the best park to see redwoods.
5. Mt Tamalpais State Park (**)
A large park surrounding mount Tamalpais, this is not a must stop on your highway 1 road trip unless you have time to this side trip. You can enjoy the many hiking trails or just drive up to the mountain top and enjoy the unique view of the north bay.
6. Point Reyes National Seashore (*****)
One of the “hidden” gems only one hour drive north of San Francisco. You can spend in the park 2-3 days but even in one day you can see a lot of things. Visit the lighthouse and Drakes Beach, stop to take a picture of the Cypress Tree Tunnel, see the elephant seal on the ocean front and the Tule Elks grazing in the fields.
7. Bodega Bay (****)
A small tourist town located in a protected bay on the ocean front, you can visit the harbor, enjoy the local restaurants, and stay here for the night. Just across the bay you can hike at the Bodega Head Park.
8. Goat Rock State Beach (**)
A small state park located on the south side of the Russian River. You can hike on the bluffs or enjoy some time at the beach below.
9. Fort Ross (***)
An old Russian trading outpost that is now protected and preserved as state park. You can explore the fort, learn about the history and even hike along the ocean cliffs.
10.Salt Point State Park (****)
One of California many state parks, the uniqueness of this park is the strange rock formations you can find along the ocean line. Many rocks, called Tafoni, as strange holes in them creating interesting patterns.
11.Gualala Point Regional Park (**)
This is one of the many local regional parks you can find along the road. This small park has few hiking trails to the ocean viewing point and other leading to the nice, protected beach.
12.Bowling Ball Beach (***)
This is probably the most unique geological phenomena you can find along the coast. Many large, rounded rocks are laying on the beach, right where the wave are breaking. Those almost round rocks remind people huge bowling balls.
13.Point Arena Lighthouse (*****)
One of the most beautiful lighthouses along California coastline standing tall above the ocean at the tip of a finger like bluff. You can set your visit here to be short, enjoy the view and move on or you can explore the nearby open Coastal trails.
14.Manchester State Park (*)
Large state park protecting long stretch of coastline, except walking along the coast and exploring the dunes there is not a lot to do here.
This is only a short drive from highway 1 into Navarro Beach, I really like this cove where the Navarro River find it way to the ocean and there are rocky cliffs on both sides of the sandy beach, perfect location for relax time.
The Navarro River Redwoods State Park is along highway 128 and you can see here the redwood trees.
16.Van Damme State Park (**)
I did not visit the main park section but rather went and walk the Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail on the park east side.
You can explore the main park section or enjoy the beach where the little river flowing to the ocean.
17.Mendocino and Mendocino Headlands State Park (*****)
Probably one of the nicest “small old towns” along this drive. You can walk in the old town and from there walk to the nearby bluff and ocean front, enjoy the beach, and explore the rocky coves. There are many restaurants and shops in this small town.
18.Russian Gulch State Park (*****)
This is probably the best state park to visit in Mendecino county. There are many things to see and do here including the Sinking Whole, hike into the redwood and see the Fern Waterfall, enjoy the view of the picturesque Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge, more commonly known as the Russian Gulch Bridge and even spend time in the sandy beach below the bridge.
19.Point Cabrillo Lighthouse (*****)
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse has been a aid to navigation since 1909, today it is preserved as state park and provide short hiking trails to the lighthouse.
20.Fort Bragg (*****)
This is the main city of Mendocino Counth and you hub for visiting the area. There are many hotels and restaurants and many things to see here and nearby.
21.Glass Beach (****)
One of the most famous attractions in Fort Bragg is the Glass Beach. Several decades of wave force eroded old dumpster with many glasses to glass bubble send. Today one of the small, protected cove has glass sand.
22.The Pudding Creek Trestle (****)
This is old railroad wooden bridge that crosses the large opening of Pudding Creek just at the exit north from Fort Bragg. Come here to enjoy the view of the Trestle, spend time on the popular beach or walk along the coastal trail.
23.MacKerricher State Park (**)
The park covering and protecting 10 miles coastline north of Fort Bragg. This is not a must visit park but if you have even short time, you will be reworded by the bay view and walk the boardwalk the cliff above the ocean.
24.Usal Beach Campground (****)
This is one of the most recommended offroad 4x4 drive north of Fort Bragg, the 6-mile narrow forest road will take you into a secluded bay nested within the mountain range.
There isn’t much to see in Leggett, but this is your entry point to the redwood’s forests and parks in north-west California. From here highway 101 leading north through the redwoods, you can go through Avenue of the Giants scenic drive and visit the many state and national parks.
Plan Your Trip:
As you can see above, where I listed the main towns, state parks, and attractions along the drive there are many options and places to visit. You can’t visit all of them even in one week, so you need to see how to arrange your visit here.
Be open plan changes, stay longer in places you have fun.
When coming to create your road trip itinerary you need to tailor it to how you travel and what you want to see and do.
Some want to start the day easy, eat long breakfast/lunch and enjoy their time in nice places, others want to see more things in one day.
People may want to explore the small towns local stores, shops and pubs where other are only want nature.
Some are looking for long hikes in the state parks others are looking for viewpoint stops without hikes.
You need to plan accordingly, be flexible and always be open to changes.
I will try to suggest 2 options, the first one is full 3 days, and the second option will be 7 days road trip.
3 Days Trip Planning:
This trip option is very tight and briefly visiting few parks.
Starting at San Francisco early in the morning
Short stop at the Golden Gate Bridge
Drive to Muir Woods National Monument
Afternoon visit Point Reyes, drive to the south side and visit the lighthouse.
Sleep in Point Reyes Station or north in Bodega Bay
Short visit at Bodega Bay head.
Drive north cross the Russian River opening and visit Fort Ross (short visit at the fort)
Later at noon visit Salt Point State Park, short walk along the rocky coastline.
If you still have time on the afternoon, on your drive north take the side-visit to see Point Arena beautiful Lighthouse.
Drive north to Fort Bragg/Mendocino, sleep there.
In the morning visit Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
If you have time visit Russian Gulch State Park and walk the short hike to the west bluffs and the Sinking Whole (I do not think you have the time to hike to the park waterfall).
Visit Mendocino and Mendocino Headlands State Park
Late afternoons drive back to Fort Bragg and visit the Glass Beach, see the sunset here or at the nearby Pudding Creek Trestle.
Sleep in Fort Bragg
6 Days Trip Planning:
If you will dedicate the time you can easily spend 6-7 days in this area.
By having more time here you will be able to visit more nature parks, hike into the redwoods and along the coast and beaches.
You will need to book your hotels in advance according your day planning.