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Pacific Coast

The green forests of the Pacific Northwest carry on into California, forming a mountainous seaside landscape that continues until the edge of metropolitan San Francisco. Along this stretch you’ll find a number of old logging and fishing towns that vary from rugged to elegant the further south you travel. Crescent City in the north is best treated as a jumping off point to explore the surrounding wilderness—the entire northern section of the state is dense with various national forests.

Just south, Redwood National Park offers the last vestiges of the more than two million acres of redwood forest that once covered the entire Northern California coastline. Stroll past dozens of well-preserved Victorian houses and enjoy a flight of local craft beers at Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, then head down to beautiful Mendocino for lush inland canyons, a waterfall, and other natural wonders along more than a mile of undisturbed coastline. You can set up camp in the redwoods, or stay in one of the many beachy, New England-style B&Bs.

As you get closer to the Bay Area, kick back on the beach in Sonoma Coast State Park, just west of wine country, or dig in to a bowl of fresh clam chowder in upscale Bodega Bay. Whale-watch in oyster-rich Point Reyes, or take a hike through the majestic but touristy Muir Woods. For a more low-key experience, climb Mt. Tamalpais, or bike through the Marin Headlands, a former military base that offers top-notch views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The city of San Francisco itself is a pleasure to explore, especially on foot. With its scenic vistas, steep hills, and pastel-hued Victorian rowhouses, there’s a lot to take in, and each neighborhood has its own distinctive charms—not to mention world-class restaurants where you can relax after a day of sightseeing.

California Road Trip Books