California’s Pacific Coast Highway: Hills and Dazzling Seascapes

Gerstle Cove at Salt Point State ParkChuck PlaceWaves splash against the rocky headlands of Gerstle Cove at Salt Point State Park.

Route Details

Trip Tips

Length: About 220 miles.

When to go: Popular year-round, but
best in winter, spring, and fall.

Nearby attractions: Fisherman’s Wharf
and Alcatraz Island, San Francisco.

Further information: Sonoma County
Tourism Program, 520 Mendocinio Ave,
Ste. 210, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; tel. 800-

Print a map of this route.

Majestic cliffs rising over an endless,
churning sea; workaday
fishing towns set in tidy coves; ancient
forests nourished by moist ocean air;
and ridged hills that parade toward
the shimmering blue waters of the
Pacific — these are but a few of the
sights to be savored along California’s
North Coast. No wonder residents,
who are never far from nature’s
bounties, consider this coastal strip
one of the state’s most prized possessions
and regard its main thoroughfare — Rte. 1, known simply as the One — as a highway to heaven.

1. Marin Headlands
It would be hard to imagine
San Francisco Bay without
this heroic, ruddy marvel.
North across the bridge, the
Marin Headlands — part of the vast
Golden Gate National Recreation
Area — offer exhilarating city and
ocean views. From here, north of
the Golden Gate, the city is framed
by the bridge’s twin towers. Beyond,
urban bustle gives way to
natural splendor: the rounded hills,
gray-sand beaches, and soaring
seaside cliffs that characterize the
North Coast. (Traffic lights will
be few and far between for the
next 150 miles, but the road’s many
curves do a splendid job of governing the traffic flow.) A few miles
north of San Francisco, take the
Panoramic Highway west toward
Muir Woods National Monument.

2. Muir Woods National Monument
They are nature’s tallest trees, a
living link to the age of dinosaurs.
They are the redwoods of coastal
California, and while specimens
here are dwarfed by their siblings
to the north, the redwoods of
Muir’s Cathedral Grove — the last
such remaining stand in the Bay
Area — are awesome by any measure,
soaring 250 feet above the
ferny forest floor. The oldest
among them, at 1,000 years, was
a mere sapling when Vikings first
set foot in the New World. Six
miles of trails guide visitors along
the banks of Redwood Creek and
into the heart of the grove, which
the naturalist John Muir, exaggerating
only slightly, called “the best
tree-lover’s monument in all the
forests of the world.”

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