Highway 1 From Sun Francisco to Fort Brag - 3 days Road Trip



In this blog I will describe my December 2023 3-days road trip, driving north on highway 1 from Sun Francisco to Mendocino and Fort Brag and back.


I wrote my road trip description below and added many pictures I took during this trip.

I also provide below links to detailed blogs I wrote on each destination.

This segment of highway 1 is considered to be the “less famous” section of highway 1 compared to Big Sur at central California or to the north section of highway 1 passing through the Redwoods Parks.

I visit here many times in the past exploring the large state parks along the road and the Mendocino Ocean coastline.

Because this was not my first time here, during this trip I tried to visit new locations combining “mast see” attractions and parks with others less known.


If you plan to visit here for the first time, I do recommend not to follow one by one my description below.

For your first time visit plan to visit other recommended locations, area highlights, parks, and towns.

For more information, planning tips, and few trips itinerary options see my detailed blog covering all the locations and attractions that I visit along this highway 1 section.


High level Map of my road trip:


Link to my detailed blogs for the locations I visit in this 3 day trip (ordered from south to north):


Mendocino weather doesn't vary much during the year. The cool ocean breezes, keep the average daily high in the 60's during the summer months. The winter daytime temps are usually in the 50's.

It can be stormy with heavy rain and windy as well as foggy specially during summer months.

Weather can impact and change your visit experience here, check it in advance and plan accordingly.

It is not fun to walk on the beaches or ocean cliffs during a stormy weather and you need to have plan B, like hiking in forests or in other protected places.



My Trip:

I started my drive up north early in the morning.


After several hours of driving from San Jose north, I arrived at Salt Point State Park.

It was rainy and windy all night and morning, and I thought it will not be so fun to hike along the open ocean front.

I visit Salt Point State Park several times in the past, it has an ocean front with unique rock formations, open grasslands, sandy beach, large bay as well as marine preservation. If you have time, I do recommend visit this park.


Because of the stormy weather and the rain, I decided to visit instead the nearby Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve.

This was my first visit here. I drove up the forest dirt road and park at the small parking lot near the trailhead.

I did the short hiking loop near the parking lot. After the short hike I drove up the road for about 4 miles, enjoying the forest in the rain.

This is not a must visit destination and you can find nicer redwood forest along your highway 1 drive.


From Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, I kept driving north on highway 1.


I stop at the unique Sea Ranch Chapel, just to take few pictures.

I pass Gualala on my way north heading to one of my favorite places to visit in this area, Point Arena Lighthouse.


When I arrived at the lighthouse the rain stopped but it was still cloudy and windy.

This time I did not hike here or visit the lighthouse small museum but rather a short stop, enjoy the view from the viewing platform near the gate.


I kept driving north on highway 1 in the direction of Van Damme State Park near Mendocino.

When I arrive to the park, I saw that it was close, and you can’t hike into it.

I decided to visit again Russian Gulch State Park that is located not so far north, just north of Mendocino.


I started my visit at Russian Gulch State Park in Russian Gulch Bridge Viewpoint section. I did not hike to the cliff edge to see the sinkhole.

After a short visit I drove down, and I hiked the Russian Gulch Fern Canyon and Waterfall Loop.

It was already late, around 2pm, mid-week, and rainy so only 2 more cars where in the parking lot.

I went to the waterfalls and back, overall, 5 miles long hike.

It was fun hike, and I enjoyed the “fresh and green” forest atmosphere after the rain.

The waterfall was running high and after taking few pictures I turned around heading back to my car.

It was just before sunset when I arrive to my car at the parking lot below the bridge.

The clouds at the west start to clear up and the setting sun glow the water and cliffs with red orange light. I was having fun, taking sunset pictures of the arch bridge and the bay.

I manage to get perfect reflection pictures of the bridge and nice sunset colors.


I left the park when it was already dark, I drove north in the direction of the nearby large town Fort Brag.

See my blogs on Fort Brag locations.


I went to Noyo River harbor, located just below the highway 1 bridge. Here I stopped and eat my dinner.


From here I drove to the north exit of Fort Brag and park my car on the small parking lot on the left side of the road, just at the Pudding Creek Trestle.

I went out, cross the small dune, and took night pictures of the impressive old wooden trestle.

It was low tide, and the water were calm without ripples, so I manage to get nice long exposure reflection pictures.

After spending here almost 1.5 hour taking pictures of the bridge from both directions, I went looking for my night parking spot.


I wake up very early morning, it was before 6 am and it was still dark.

I organized and after short time I start driving north on highway 1.

Along the drive north the dark night start to transform into to early morning, I drove slowly and stopped at few locations for taking pictures.


At some point highway 1 stop following the ocean and turn inland northeast into the forested mountains, heading in the direction of highway 101 and the small town of Leggett.


After additional short drive I arrived at the dirt forest road leading to Usal Beach on the left side of the road.

From here I start my 6-mile drive north on this forest dirt road.

See my detailed blog on my visit to Usal Beach.


My destination for today was the Enchanted Forest of Candelabra Redwoods near the beach.

After the muddy drive through the woods (it was raining half day yesterday) I arrived at my destination.

I was the only one here, I went and hike into the Enchanted Forest and enjoy my time with the trees.

In this forest the redwood tree’s trunk were fracture by ocean winds, the tree keep growing and the broken trunks continue to grow from the sides up towards the sky.

After many years the growing branches created the unique candelabra shaped.

This is probably the only place on earth you can see such redwood trees. The unique tree shape saved them from logging.


After walking back to my car, I cross the road deep muddy section without getting stuck, cross over the bridge, and drove to the campsites near the beach.

After short hike to the beach, I came back to my car.


I decided that I want to keep driving north on the forest road to Shelter Cove but right at the road entrance there was a sign that say that the road north is close during the winter months.

I will do this drive in another visit.


I turned around and drove back the 6 miles forest road to highway 1. I started driving south on highway 1, in the direction if Fort Brag.



Right after crossing the long bridge, I parked my car on the right side of the road and went to hike in Inglenook Fen & 10 Miles Dune.

I was here for about 1.5 hours, walking over the large dunes, heading to the ocean front. I hiked on the beach north, all the way to the river opening. Here I walk along the river back to the direction of the road.


After the fun hike and visit at the dunes I drove south and stop at MacKerricher State Park. It was low tide time and I spend some time at the tide pools at the rocky section.

There was a group of seals resting and enjoying the warm sun on the rock.


From here I drove south and visit Mendocino Headlands State Park.

I did a short hike following the cliff edge, watching a large group of pelicans resting on the rocks in front of me.


It started to get late at the afternoon, it was the shortest day of the year and it get dark early, and I wanted to visit Point Arena Lighthouse for sunset.

I drove south on highway 1 and when I arrive to Point Arena, I saw I still have almost 1 hour of light before sunset.

I decided to stop on the roadside before the lighthouse and to hike into Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands.

I hiked south along the cliffs; I saw the large sinkhole where ocean wave are crashing into it. At sunset I walked buck to my car and drive to the lighthouse entrance parking, just before the gate.


In my view, Point Arena Lighthouse is one of the most beautiful lighthouses that I saw in the US west coast. The tall white lighthouse tower and the small nearby cabin (today acting as a museum), located on the open flat cliff edge, where the parallel rock in the ocean creates a quite relaxing atmosphere. I visit here many times in the past and always enjoy it.

I stied here for about 30 minutes after sunset, taking long exposure pictures of the lighthouse and the ocean.


It was well after dark when I finish here, and I start to think about my destination options for the following day. I can go and visit again Salt Point State Park, Bodega Bay or see another location I already visit in previous trips.

I decided to visit locations that I never visit before in Point Reyes.

With Point Reyes I will also shorten the distance the following day beck home so I can be early for family dinner.


From Point Arena Lighthouse it was a long drive south to Point Reyes. It was dark and highway 1 in this section is a narrow road winding over the cliffs above the ocean, so I took it slow.

On my way south I pass through Jenner and Bodega Bay, keep driving south on highway 1 in the direction of Point Reyes Station.

On my way, just before arriving to Point Reyes Station I stopped at Nick's Cove to take night pictures of the Christmas light decorated pear. That night there was no wind, and the bay water were flat like mirror. I took many pictures of the lighted peir from different angles.

I spend some time here and when I finished, I drove south, looking for a roadside location I can spend the night (it was not allowed to park in most roadside turnouts).

After short drive I found a good place and get organized for the night.


I woke up at 6 am, it was still dark, and I drove to Cypress Tree Tunnel at Point Reyes.

I arrived the location before sunrise, so I kept driving south, looking for Tul Elks.

Indeed, I spotted Tul Elks male herds not so far from the road.

The large males were eating and playing/fighting checking who is the dominate male.

After some time with the elks, I went back to Cypress Tree Tunnel and took some sunrise pictures. To my surprise I was the only one there.



From here I drove north and after short drive I turn right into Drakes Estero Road, on my way to the Trailhead I saw Coyote not so far from the road. I parked at the trailhead parking lot and went to my hike. Overall, I hiked here for about 2 hours and did 5 miles.


My next destination was Limantour Beach at Point Reyes.

I arrive to the beach large parking lot, walk over the short dune section to the ocean beach and decided to hike south along the sandy beach.

After about 2.5 miles where the beach is wide and sandy the cliffs get closer to the beach, and you need to pass rocky sections. Make sure you are aware of tide times; you do not want to get stack when the water are rising.

I remember that I saw once that there is a unique crater hidden on the cliff edge, and I wanted to see if I can hike to it. The tide was not low enough and I reach a section where cliffs are blocking my ability to walk south.

In this bay I saw unmaintained trail that climb the cliffs, the trail connect to the coast trail. I kept walking south looking for places to hike back down to the beach but did not find such. I try to approach the crater from above (no trail) but it was looking VERY dangerous and un safe, the cliff can collapse any time. I reach out with my hand and took a picture.

At some point I turned around and hiked back north to the parking lot. Overall, I hiked here 9 miles, out and back.


It was about 3pm at the afternoon, this was the time to head back home, arriving just in time before dinner.




It was a fun short road trip.

3 days packed with activities, exploring locations I already visit and discovering new ones.

It was good combination of driving, hiking, and enjoying the amazing views of this highway 1 section.

Quality time with myself and nature.



Additional Pictures: