The spectacular coastline between Marin County and the Oregon border defies expectations. The landscape is defined by the Pacific Ocean, but instead of boardwalks and bikinis there are ragged cliffs and pounding waves—and the sunbathers are mostly sea lions. Instead of strip malls and freeways, you’ll find a single-lane road that follows a fickle shoreline. Although the towns along the way vary from deluxe spa retreat to hippie hideaway, all are reliably sleepy—and that’s exactly why many Californians, especially those from the Bay Area, escape here to enjoy nature unspoiled by the agitations of daily life.
This stretch of Highway 1 is made up of numerous little worlds, each different from the last. From Point Reyes toward Bodega Bay, the land spreads out into green, rolling pastures and sandy beaches. The road climbs higher and higher as it heads north through Sonoma County, and in Mendocino County the coastline follows the ins and outs of lush valleys where rivers pour down from the forests and into the ocean. At Humboldt County the highway heads inland to the redwoods, and then returns to the shoreline at the tidal flats surrounding the ports of Eureka and Arcata. Heading north to the Oregon border, the coast is increasingly wild and lined with giant redwood trees.
When you travel the North Coast, turn off your phone; you won’t have much of a signal anyway. Everything about life here says slow down. If you don’t, you might miss a noble Roosevelt elk grazing in a roadside field or a pod of migrating whales cruising along the shore.