Archive for the ‘Highway 1’ Tag

The Rugged Sonoma Coast   8 comments

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

On this last trip, returning home to Oregon, I almost missed this place.  Sure I’ve been through there before.  But I never really appreciated it fully.  I even got back on Interstate 5, the main (boring) freeway traveling north-south through California, Oregon and Washington.  Something made me swing back over to the coast north of the Bay Area.  I did it at night, as if it was somehow wrong.

I hit the coast at Bodega Bay.  This is the perfect place to stroll the quintessential California seaside town.  (If you’re heading north of the Sonoma Coast Mendocino is even better!)  Wander the quaint streets, sample salt-water taffy and shop for souvenirs ’till you’re heart’s content.  Then, for more adventurous doings, head north.  But before you do, stock up on things like picnic fixings, drinks, and even gas.  There aren’t any big towns for quite a ways.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see.  Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see. Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

The wonderful Sonoma Coast State Park stretches north from Bodega Bay for miles and miles.  It includes marvelous sea-stack-filled vistas that even a veteran of the Oregon Coast will have trouble getting through in a day.  I must have stopped a dozen times, walking out over a headland or stumbling down to a rugged beach.  I had camped at a quiet spot just east of Hwy. 1, where the county is in the process of turning an old dairy ranch into a park.  Very peaceful and quiet, beautiful weather, the perfect setting for a detour!

I did a longer hike near Goat Rock, just south of the Russian River mouth.  What a spectacular place for a walk!  The trail, which parallels the coastline not far from the road, is easy and flat.  It’s accessible at several points, allowing a shuttle if you want to do the whole stretch (about 5 miles).  I did an out and back hike.  An aside:  since I became a more serious photographer, I have forgotten my former insistence on doing loop hikes.  Now I don’t mind out and backs so much.  I think it’s because you get a completely different view going the opposite direction.  It’s something I knew before, of course; yet didn’t appreciate as much before now.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

For the Russian River mouth, you can simply view it from pull-outs to the north along Hwy. 1, where surfers park to go try the rough surf created by the sea-dominated delta.  Or you can, a mile or so south of the bridge over the Russian, take Goat Rock road down to the spit of flat land that projects north between river and sea.  This is a nice place for a beach walk.

North of the river, the highway climbs up and over a spectacular series of headlands.  You can easily park at one of several small pull-outs and walk the short distance out to the edge.  The views are stunning.  There are also steep trails leading down to pocket beaches which you’ll likely have to yourself.  Highway 1 climbs steeply over the main headland, where you have an incredible, eagle’s eye view down to the rugged coastline.

Traveling north, you would be wise to make time for Fort Ross.  I already posted on this beautifully-situated place last year, so I’ll just say that it’s a fascinating piece of American (and Russian) history.  Check out that post for photos and more info.  For photographers, a huge eucalyptus grows there that Ansel Adams famously photographed.  North of Fort Ross, Stillwater Cove is a lovely place to hunt abalone shells and take pictures.  You’ll need a permit to collect the shells.

Practicalities

You can certainly visit this coast for the day while staying at one of the inland towns (Healdsburg is a great choice).  If you are doing the Sonoma wine-tour thing, this could be the best way to get a first-pass overview of the Sonoma Coast.  But plan to get started early and spend all day; otherwise it will feel like you just drove all day.

Better is to stay the night, in one of the lodges in Bodega Bay or Mendocino, or at one of the many campgrounds.  There are campgrounds in the state park just inland as well as along the coast.  Anchor Bay is a tiny town positioned more centrally on the coast.  It has both lodging and camping options.  And there are a number of B&Bs and other lodging options dotted along the coast, that is if you don’t need town amenities.

If you’re coming down from the north, Fort Bragg is the last big town for groceries, gas and the like, whereas if you’re coming from the south, Bodega Bay is your best option for stocking up.

There are more wonders to the north, in Mendocino County.  And the wonderful Point Reyes is a short jaunt to the south.  The really nice thing about this stretch of coast is that you often find nice weather even in winter.  It can get wild in stormy weather, but when placid it’s downright mild!  Thanks for reading.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

 

The (crowded) California Coast   Leave a comment

A late afternoon winter's sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

A late afternoon winter’s sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

I’ll say right off that California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A., and is arguably one of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever been in the world.  But I wish I had been born earlier and could have experienced it in the early 20th century, no later than the 50s.  While I’m in the wishing mode, I’d actually like to have roamed around here in the missionary days.  Or trapping and exploring with Jedediah Smith!

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

Other than the desert, and the far NE and far NW corners of the state, California is really too crowded and developed for my tastes.  The coast has about three times more traffic and people than I prefer.  And so despite its physical beauty, it falls down on my list of favorite states.  It’s not in the bottom half, but it doesn’t quite crack the top 10 either.  Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon are the top 3, in case you’re curious.

An Anna's hummingbird feeds on flowers in a garden on the California Coast at Big Sur.

An Anna’s hummingbird feeds on flowers in the garden at Big Sur Coast Gallery.

The traffic and pollution in southern California are pretty bad, and the traffic in the Bay Area is a big turnoff as well.  I particularly don’t like the fact that in southern California both the air and immediate offshore marine environment are polluted.  Light pollution, the disappearance of stars from the night sky, is also a huge negative for me.  All that said, the high Sierra, the Redwood Coast, parts of the wine country (the Alexander Valley for e.g.) and of course the Mojave Desert are places I will return to again and again.  These are very worthwhile destinations for anyone who loves the natural world.  Mostly these places are not very crowded.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

I am currently on the Monterrey Peninsula. I had traveled almost all of the California Coast before now but had missed out on the section north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Cruz.  So on the way home to Oregon now, I am taking the opportunity to drive up this coast.

It’s a very beautiful piece of coastline: rocky headlands, crashing waves, mountains which plunge directly into the ocean.  It reminds me strongly of the Oregon Coast.  But here is the problem, as far as I can see.  If you want to travel a coast that has abundant natural beauty, along with quaint towns, picturesque lighthouses, etc., why not go to Oregon?  It’s less crowded, there is more of the spectacular stuff, and beach access is much much better than in California.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Granted, this time of year, between Christmas and New Years, I should not be surprised that it’s crowded.  Many people take off during this week, families with kids on school break especially.  But I’ve been on the Oregon Coast at this time of year, and it is nowhere near as busy as the Big Sur/Monterrey area.

I have seen so many folks from other countries, particularly Europe, while traveling this coast over the past few days.  While for Californians this is closer than Oregon (so I get why they are here), I don’t really understand why I don’t see so many visitors from other countries on the Oregon Coast.

Have a Seat

Those from other countries are planning this as a travel destination.  Of course they also want to see San Francisco.  But why not fly into that city and travel north?  I simply can’t understand why anybody would want to see L.A.  The San Diego area is awfully warm this time of year, compared to Oregon, so that makes sense.

I am sure this part of the California Coast would be much more calm and uncrowded during a different week.  When I was south of Big Sur, on Christmas night, the highway north was blocked by a landslide.  It was deserted, and I loved being perched high up on a cliff, camped while the wind and rain from an overnight storm buffeted my van.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

The day after Christmas was beautiful, and the number of people on the road stayed low.  But over the next few days, and as I moved north, the car numbers increased steadily, until now on the weekend before Christmas in the Carmel area it is downright overcrowded.

When the road finally opened (I snuck through at night after the workers were gone) boy did the cars ever come from the north.  Just north of Big Sur I watched long lines of cars heading south, and was glad I got in a hike and otherwise enjoyed Big Sur before the rush.  It’s a little frantic around here, and I’m not used to it.  Now before you write a comment and point out that I am one of those visitors, I am already well aware of this.  I had to see this area at least once.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

I am going to post a strong travel recommendation.  I would never do this if I had a legion of followers.  I prefer that people continue to come here and leave Oregon alone.  But if you are considering a trip along the California Coast, reconsider.  If you started in Portland, Oregon and headed south to San Francisco, or began in the south and headed as far north as the central Oregon Coast, that would be an epic trip.  If you don’t want to do the one-way rental car, you could always return via the quicker Interstate 5 inland.

So that’s enough of my whining.  I will end by saying that it would be much much worse if the people were not so darn friendly here.  Most everyone I’ve met, travelers and locals alike, has been nothing but warm and friendly.  So there!  I’ll post some recommendations next time.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

 

 

 

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