California Driving Trip of the Northern Coast and Wine Country – Highway 101, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino

Beautiful Northern Coast of California
Beautiful Northern Coast of California
California Driving Trip of the Northern Coast and Wine Country – Highway 101, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino (10/1-12/2012) – This is the laid back uncrowded California that you dream about – and it’s real!
Pat with Our Toyota Venza - Trididad, California
Pat with Our Toyota Venza 
- Trididad, California

We drove California’s beautiful Northern Coast on Highway 101 and Highway 1 north of San Francisco in our Toyota Venza. Below we present our highpoints of our trip offering great trip planning tips for you.

California’s northern coast is a landscape of rugged coastlines, towering forests, and beautiful lakes and rivers. It is countryside full of farms and vineyards and a place where small towns preserve the past. You can treat yourself to wine tasting in the wine country, experience wonders of nature in the California Redwoods, and drive the scenic coast for a romantic getaway or a relaxing beach vacation. You can also discover artist enclaves, fine dining, and local festivals. The politics are liberal and in some parts the economy depends on growing marijuana. Learn more about this unique region...

We started our adventure exploring California’s northern coast driving north of San Francisco across the famous Golden Gate Bridge. First stop was Sausalito. Located on San Francisco bay, Sausalito is a pretty town with outdoor cafes (see photo). On Sausalito’s main street, Bridgeway Blvd., we enjoyed crab enchiladas for lunch on the harbor with a view of San Francisco across the bay.

Stinson Beach - California, USA
Stinson Beach - California, USA
Taking the pretty and winding Highway 1 northeast takes you through Marin Country and to Muir Woods, a beautiful old growth Redwood Forest. For more on California’s Redwoods, click here. Continuing north past Muir Beach, we stopped at Stinson Beach, a nice 3-mile long beach (see photo) with a small cute town.

Before continuing north, we enjoyed California’s premier wine regions of Napa, Sonoma, and the Russian River Valley located north of San Francisco. Some of the greatest wines in the world are produced here. Because we have previously done many wine-tasting trips to these areas, we decided to focus on the main towns visiting Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, and Sonoma. Our favorites were Sonoma, Healdsburg, and St. Helena.

Pat with Our Toyota Venza - Beringer Winery, Napa Valley, California
Pat with Our Toyota Venza
- Beringer Winery, Napa Valley, California
Central Plaza - Healdsburg, California, USA
Central Plaza - Healdsburg, California, USA
We loved Sonoma’s cute town plaza with shops and restaurants surrounding it. Making things even more special, we attended the farmers market that going on with food and music – so much fun! Healdsburg also has a charming, Spanish-style central plaza (see photo), shaded by palm, redwood, and other trees and surrounded by quant shops, restaurants, wine tasting, upscale boutiques, and art galleries (see photo). OK, it appears we like these charismatic yesterday plazas.

Old Faithful Geyser - Calistoga, California, USA
Old Faithful Geyser 
- Calistoga, California, USA
St. Helena is also nice. No central plaza but it has an attractive 1880’s-looking Main Street with interesting shops and restaurants. St. Helena has been the center of the wine business for a century. We had great lunch at Annie’s Backdoor. We also had fun stopping in Calistoga and viewing Old Faithful geyser that shoots water about 100 feet high every 20-40 minutes (see photo).
Calistoga, California, USA
Calistoga, California, USA
Enjoying the beautiful drives between these towns is often more fun than the towns themselves. Route 29 from St. Helena between and north of Calistoga passes wineries and beautiful countryside. Stopping for wine tasting is fun. River Road along the Russian River with the town of Jenner at the coast is very scenic with forest and river vistas and passes through quant towns.

Mendocino, California, USA
Mendocino, California, USA
Bed & Breakfast Hotel - Mendocino, California, USA
Bed & Breakfast Hotel 
- Mendocino, California, USA
Heading north on Highway 1, our next stop was Mendocino. Small but wonderful, Mendocino looks like a small town along New England with Victorian homes and stores (see photo). It is located right on the coast with a beautiful view of the rugged ocean cliffs with white ocean waves crashing in. We had a very nice lunch at the Mendocino Café and then wandered Main Street. Mendocino actually has real boardwalks made of wood.

Pat Writing in 'Write Room" - Andiron Seaside Inn
Pat Writing in 'Write Room" 
- Andiron Seaside Inn
We had a treat staying at The Andiron Seaside Inn & Cabins located a couple of miles from Mendocino. Every cabin is decorated in a different theme. Being travel writers, we stayed in the Write Cabin #6 where we could write on the walls (see photo). Pat wrote one of our favorite travel quotes: “The world is a book, and the person who stays at home reads but one page.” The hot tub in the woods is an enjoyable indulgence.

If you want to return the fast way back south from Mendocino, be sure to take Highway 128 from coast to Highway 101. It is a beautiful drive - redwoods in the north and wineries and country road to the south. We thought the small town of Boonville was cute.

California's Beautiful Northern Coastline
California's Beautiful Northern Coastline
We continued north on Highway 1 to Fort Bragg. We wanted to stop at Fort Bragg to visit Glass Beach that was once a city dumb creating thousands of small pieces of glass polished by the ocean waves. Glass Beach is not covered like it once was but you can find thousands of small pieces of glass mixed with the rock pebbles. From Fort Bragg, you can take the scenic Skunk Train ride.

Heading north, Highway 1 joins back up with Highway 101 taking you into California’s Humboldt Country. Humboldt Country has a couple of main claims to fame. One being a top Marijuana growing region in the U.S. Famous for producing some of the best marijuana in the world, the economy here depends on this crop.
Bluegrass Band at Apple Harvest Fest - Fortuna, California, USA
Bluegrass Band at Apple Harvest Fest 
- Fortuna, California, USA
In Fortuna we attended their Apple Harvest Fest and had a great time listening and watching the children dance to a Bluegrass band (see photo). We visited Humboldt County to enjoy the absolutely spectacular California Redwoods and the must-do Avenue of the Giants. California’s coastal Redwoods are so wonderful that they deserve their own blog post. For more on California’s Redwoods, click here.

Victorian Buildings - Downtown Ferndale, California
Victorian Buildings 
- Downtown Ferndale, California
Old Fashion Hardware Store - Ferndale, California, USA
Old Fashion Hardware Store 
- Ferndale, California, USA
We next visited Ferndale off Highway 101. The entire town of Ferndale has been designed as a State Historical Landmark (see photos). The Victorian homes and buildings have remained largely untouched since the 1890’s making Ferndale one of the best complete examples of California’s Victorian era. They call these home “Butterfat houses” because this area became wealthy as dairy farmers, a tradition that still continues today. We had lunch at Mario’s Lost Coast Café & Bakery and recommend his holistic approach to food. The owner grinds his own flour and bakes his bread.

Victorian Carson House - Eureka, California, USA
Victorian Carson House 
- Eureka, California, USA
Pastels on the Plaza - Arcata, California, USA
Pastels on the Plaza 
- Arcata, California, USA
Next up heading north is the town of Eureka. Eureka is one of the largest towns on California’s northern coast. It has the beautiful Victorian Carson House (see photo) and a restored old town. 

We liked the small town of Arcata and attended the Pastels on the Plaza event where the chalk art lining the sidewalk of the central plaza was beautiful (see photo). Arcata is considered to be “hippy tolerate” because of their very liberal acceptance of young Rasta-style young people, complete with dreadlocks, who come to harvest the marijuana and stay in the streets.

Then it was up to the Redwood National and State Park to visit the spectacular Redwoods and Fern Canyon. Again, California’s coastal Redwoods are so wonderful that they deserve their own blog post. For more on California’s Redwoods, click here.

We would like to thank Toyota for lending us a new Venza for this trip. The Toyota Venza is a very comfortable cruising car with many nice features – great for having an adventure. It made our trip more enjoyable. We liked this car very much and now miss it after our trip. You should check out the Toyota Venza.

Please see our other 11 blog posts on beautiful California:

Santa Barbara, California


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