Northern California rugged coast with kids might not sound like an ideal romantic getaway location. Allow me to dispel that delusion with only a handful of photographs.
Along the Pacific Coast Highway up north from San Francisco: Part 1
Sonoma and Mendocino counties simply do not receive enough attention since the neighboring Napa Valley steals all the worldly attention. Yet the narrow strip of land between the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway harbors some of the most breathtaking view in all of California that only a few locals know about.
Let’s begin our mini expedition on Hwy 1 from San Francisco. Once we cross the Golden Gate bridge and enter the Marin county immediately you will be immersed into a wilderness of the SF Bay area. Just about half an hour drive you may take a short hike at the Muir Woods that features tall coastal redwood sequoias. The entire path around this state park is relatively flat, has multiple benches and resting points. Hence you’ll easily enjoy it with the little kids. The rules for visiting the woods recently have changed and you might want to read the article above to get a better insight.
Swing by the Stinson beach for refreshing coastal breeze while indulging in one of only four local boutique cafes for brunch. There are several cozy cabins to choose from if you’d like to spend a night in this pearl caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Tamalpais Mountain range. For more adventurous seekers we’d recommend heading to the camping grounds a walking distance from the Stinson beach town.
Hike the nearby hills to the Steep Ravine – cabin styled glamping on the cliff overlooking the great Pacific. A perfect place to take your kids to for a “remote” getaway from the city.
To the Russian River: Part 2
Continue on to the Point Reyes National seashore where you can check out the abandoned Marconi radio station, more known for the magical Cypress Tree Tunnel. We really enjoyed walking around half a century old Monterey Cypress trees with our son. It was really fun to run around the trees playing hide and seeks while having a mini photo shoot with our kid.
You may drive all the way to the tip of the National seashore and check out the Light house and the unforgettable views opening from the top of the bluffs. Although the road was closed due to “technical restirictions” while we were visiting we hope that you will have better luck while driving all the way to Point Reyes National seashore.
Swing by the Tomales Bay Oysterete or the Hog island Oysterete in Marshall for freshly harvested mollusks. Chucked right in front of you salt-water sweet shellfish seasoned with vinegar is an ideal snack after hiking for miles at Point Reyes.
Only a few miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, you will find an old Russian settlement – Fort Ross. While the English expanded westward from the east coast with devastating plague of steal germs and fire arms, the Russians were peacefully setting their fishing expedition lodges. They settled along the thin coastal strip of Alaska (a former Russian territory) down to modern day Washington and Oregon coast all the way down to the center of California including Bodega Bay formerly known as the Rumyantsev Bay.
Continue your journey up the coast to the Timber Cove lodge – a local resort where you can hike along the coast or play games such as bocce ball or ping pong. Simply kickback with the fire in the outdoors rings biting your toes in the evening. It’s a perfect place to spend the night over and have dinner.
We really enjoyed the restaurant’s unusual menu, which was quite refreshing after seeing the same old selections in most of American restaurants. Furthermore, the central foyer of the hotel has a very lodge-like feel to it with a warm large central hearth continuously kindling the pleasant atmosphere of this special resort.
Continue on PCH to Gualala: Part 3
Spend a night over at The Sea Ranch. A place so beautiful every other romance movie should be filmed here. It’s a perfect place to greet the sunrise with a hot cup of homemade brew. You can literally rent an entire house for a price of a hotel room.
A place with a Jacuzzi overlooking the pacific Ocean. Every house seem to be individual come with a fire place and a sensation of a story behind the wooden walls. Designed by Lawrence Halprin, Sea Ranch is an experience you simply must indulging in. “It’s a wonderful feeling… and the sound of the Ocean is like music all the time” – says the architect.
Make it note to stop by the Gualala cliffs to watch some local marine life including seals. There are several cafes and restaurants to choose from including Trinks cafe and the Vue. Additionally several small time galleries operate in the town and might be worth stopping by for collectors of local artists.
Hwy 128 – Mendocino wine scene: Part 4
You may choose to drive even further to the Mendocino. Take a quick tour at the breath taking point arena light house, followed by some wine tasting in Anderson Valley. Hwy 128 is a unique wine scene available only to a few, not because of the prices but due to the remote location. Honestly, you have not tasted Pinot Noir until you’ve taken a sip of Navarro or Toulouse goose selections.
Even though there are several vineyards along the Pacific Coast on the way up north, we were not particularly impressed. One that stood out the best was – The Flowers and one that we found least enjoyable was a place bearing a proud “Fort Ross Winery” name.
Check out North coast brewery with its signature Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Brother Thelonious Belgian Style abbey ale; or classical Scrimshaw pilsner if you’re going to For Brag to check out the Glass Beach at Noyo headlands or the unimpressive Mendocino Botanical Gardens.
Here ‘s a suggestions from a local that I found on Reddit:
Make sure to stop by the North Coast Brewing Co.’s tap room in Ft. Bragg to get a flight and a few bottles of barrel-aged Old Rasputin. And you’ll most likely pass through Booneville if you cross over to Mendocino on the coast from Santa Rosa. There you can swing by Anderson Valley Brewing Co. and try some of their perfect-for-the-summer goses.
Mendocino best places to visit summary:
California is so… so much more than palms and beaches, deserts and mountains, planes and hills. It’s a country that lured and lures many for its natural resources and its natural beauty. Area known today as Sonoma and Mendocino has attracted early settlers from all parts of the world. Spanish, American, Old Europe and even Russia! The un-harvested succulent earth waiting to be planted, nuggets waiting to be panned & forests waiting to be axed into. Northern California coast, rich with sea food and pelts, slopes ideal for grape wines even until these days seem undeveloped and waiting to be explored.
There’s no reason to hide my love for this beautiful landscape of mini fjords reminiscent of the Baltic shores known to me as a child. Rocky seashore lures me to hike it every time we visit our favorite Timber Cove resort, Sea Ranch or Gualala. In fact I almost stayed there forever on one of the expeditions while exploring the remains of an early day settlement.
In this post I’d like to present a few locations which will link up into series of getaways, as always on the road of life – the majestic Pacific Coast Highway.
- First stop would be of course the warm and welcoming little town of Stinson beach. A little universe on the edge of civilization. A town that defies any expectations. A pearl so dear to residents and the regulars – a treasure that won’t last another decade – so we highly recommend taking your time and spending a weekend in the Stinson Beach Cabins with kids and family!
- & into the Point Reyes National seashore. A park so huge – that will require month to explore. Known for Lighthouse and Cypress Tree Tunnel – it’s a place of unexpected vastness and clarity. On a breezy day you might need a coat and a scarf to explore the trails crisscrossing the land from East to West and South to North. Take on a Kayak voyage in the Tomales Bay. & Feast on some freshly harvested shellfish at the Tomales Bay oyster Co. or the Hoag Island oyster Co.
Roll past Bodega – a dirty little fishing village where we were shamelessly swindled by one of the locals. We were served some low end seafood from what seemed like a grocery store instead of indulging in a fresh catch of the day. Thus we avoid Bodega bay every time we drive up north.
- Onwards to Fort Ross. A Russian Settlement – the only Russian settlement on the shore of California.
- Off to Timber cove resort. A strange Nordic-like building that housed one of the best kitchens on the northern California Coast. A few indoor games for kids and adults. A small yet picturesque landscape and a central hearth that would keep you coming back again and again
- Gualala – a quiet peaceful town that sits at the ….. bay with multiple hotels with fantastic seascape views. Multiple galleries. A couple of decent stores and a cafe. A place where you can spend just 30 min walking the “Sea cliff trail” or stay for a while. Couple of good restaurants including the”Vue”
- The Sea ranch. Lorence Halprin’s utopia. Out of all the places I’ve been to in California and USA in general this spot is ultimately the closest thing that comes to utopia. Trails and trails of mesmerizing views. Fascinating houses …..
- Point arena Light House is an absolute must stop destination, since the shore near the light house is being constantly eroded. Thus the light house might not be around for the next generation to enjoy. Furthermore Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands is an amazing place for a hike unlike anything else we’ve seen along the coast of the golden state.
- Have a pleasant stay at the Irish beach community. Planted on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway it’s a little paradise. We stayed in a enjoyable cabin with Jacuzzi right in the middle of redwood tree forest – it was one of the best experience with our friends on our mini-explorations around California.
- Wine hwy of Mendocion. From wine to waves highway – hwy 128 stretching through 4 counties all the way from Yolo – Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino. If you’re trying to revamp your wine collections and looking for new degustatory marvels – you’re in the right spot
- Fort Bragg. A small town of fort brag a house to North coast brewery and a few other cool places including the glass beach.
There’s so much more to explore going up north, although it is not easy to jam everything into an expedition only a few days long. I’d recommend planning several trips to take your time and truly immerse yourself in everything that Sonoma and Napa has to offer. There are several awesome campgrounds that you might like to explore, as well as couple of places where you can go on an Ocean fishing trip or Abalone hunt. Like I’ve mentioned, Mendocino will continue impress us for many more decades to come. This part of Pacific Coast Highway is unlike any other and we would love to come back here again and again.