Magazine article Sunset

Make the Most of the Coast

Magazine article Sunset

Make the Most of the Coast

Article excerpt

You could drive the heart of the North Coast (from Fort Bragg to the Oregon border) in five hours. But that would be missing the point. To suck up the wildest beaches, tallest trees, and freshest oysters in the state, you'll need at least three days. And a plan. We've got the second part covered.

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DRIVE Highway 1 was meant to hug the whole California coast, but an 80-mile stretch above Fort Bragg was too rugged to tame. The Lost Coast is Big Sur on steroids: Jagged peaks loom at the Pacific's edge, with old-growth forests and beaches in between. Just 22 miles, Shelter Cove Road cuts through the thick of it. But budget at least an hour for the slow, winding drive.

HIKE You'll see more wildlife than people on Black Sands Beach. The 4-mile hike from the parking lot up to Horse Mountain Creek and back is a good way to take in the views. Farther south, the short Cape Mendocino Lighthouse stands above Mal Coombs Park, home to tidepools, and a great place for spotting seals and the occasional gray whale.

REWIND

The ancient trees that line Avenue of the Giants--a 31-mile scenic route off of U.S. 101--are the tip-off: You've gone back in time. First up is the town of Scotia, where the theater uses tree trunks as pillars. Neighboring Ferndale is populated with Victorian homes, including the Gingerbread Mansion, an 1894 residence turned B&B. From $165; ginger bread-mansion.com.

HIKE

Redwood National Park is great, but nearby Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park might just trump it in grandeur. The moderate 2.2-mile Foothill Trail gives you an eyeful of the giants, including the aptly named Big Tree, a 286-foot-tall, 23.5-foot-wide behemoth estimated to be 1,500 years old. Redwood: Free; nps. gov/redw. Prairie: Free; parksca.gov.

SPY

Twenty minutes west, Gold Bluffs Beach is one of the best spots on the coast to see herds of wild Roosevelt elk. This month, you'll hear the 1,100-pound males bugling and clashing antlers to attract female partners. Keep your distance (200 feet, at least). In autumn, elk are looking to get up close and personal.

Just not with you. $8 day-use fee; redwoods.info.

EAT

Tucked beside a building-supply store is sandwich-shop Cafe Dolce. …

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