State Route 1 runs along the Pacific Coast in California. We recently drove it for approximately 100 miles from Mendocino to Bodega Bay. The vertigo-inducing twisty coastal route traces steep cliffs, secluded beaches and occasional fishing/tourist towns along the Pacific coast. The road is slow going but very rewarding. While gas is available, we still remember a time when we were driving on fumes and a prayer between towns. Since then, we make sure the tank is full.
The cliffs are almost as tall, steep, eroded, and awe-inspiring as those in Big Sur. And given the number of turnouts, vista points, trails, and state parks, they are even more accessible. While each stretch is somewhat different, virtually all are characterized by steep, wind- and sea-battered, 100-300-foot cliffs that are pocked with sea caves, sea arches, occasionally collapsed roofs (where the eroded bases could no longer support the land above the eroded cavities) and blowholes (caverns into which water rushes so quickly as to spray it from holes that have been eroded in the roof). Then there are the dozens of wind-swept, driftwood-littered coves and beaches. And, just offshore, ocean-battered sea stacks and sea rocks often create giant plumes of spray when struck by large waves.
While all the sights, state parks, beaches, and lovely coastal trails are too numerous to mention, a few of the most dramatic, historic, and artistic stops include:
- Vista Trail, near the small town of Jenner, whose loop trail covers about a mile of coastline with spectacular cliffs and offshore rocks;
- Schooner Beach and Bowling Ball Beach near Point Arena, the latter of which is named for the rows of smooth “concretions” of rock that are a couple of feet in diameter. They are, however, only visible and accessible around low tide;
- Point Arena lighthouse, with its cliff walk, sinkhole, lighthouse museum, and various tourist attractions including a labyrinth and Druids’ Circle;
- Jenner, home to Fort Ross Historic Park with a restored and reconstructed stockade and fort built by the Russian American Company in 1812 as the Northern California which served as a military outpost and trading post for Russian fur traders.
- Gualala, the largest coastal town (about 2,000 people) between Mendocino and San Francisco is the art center of the region. It has several galleries and the Gualala Arts, a regional cultural center that caters to and helps draw artists to the area. It hosts workshops and several regional art shows, especially the annual (60 so far) Art in the Redwoods Art Fair. The large Dolphin Art Gallery, the Art Center’s gallery, is also located in town. And if you have an urge for a barbeque during the drive down route 1, a tent in the Surf Market parking lot offers ribs, pulled pork, and BBQ chicken.
- Bodega Bay is famous as the home of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds. It is home to two lovely coastal walks. Sonoma Coast State Beach, with its 17 miles of cliffs, coves, and beaches (especially the particularly scenic Gleason and Coleman beaches) between Gualala and Jenner and Bodega Head, a particularly lovely trail around the headlands with spectacular views along the cliffs, down to the sea rocks and across the cove to town and a lovely beach that can be accessed via a steep trail. And if you can make it to Bodega Bay for food, check out Fisherman’s Cove restaurant in Bodega Bay. It is not much as far as restaurants go. In fact, it’s more of a dockside fishing Bait & Tackle shop with a few tables, a galley kitchen, and a standard home barbeque next to the front door. The lunch menu is limited. But the oysters are very good.
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