California's famed redwoods grow along the coast from Big Sur to the Oregon border. Close to 50 California state parks preserve these national treasures, towering trees that comprise some of the oldest and largest virgin redwood forests in the world. The bulk of the parks are north of San Francisco, where one of the world's most scenic drives awaits adventurous road trippers.
Known as the Redwood Highway, you'll take Highway 101 over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge through Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties, stopping along the way to see these living monuments, soaring up to 370 feet high. Plan at least a few days for this journey, as the highway itself spans about 350 miles from San Francisco to California's northern border.
Partway between Ukiah and Mendocino, Montgomery Woods is an ideal stop to stretch your legs and admire the two main redwood species in the western U.S., the Coastal Redwood and the Sierra Redwood (the Big Tree). Tackle a few short hiking trails, and see if you can find the tree that once was thought to the be the tallest in the world at 367.5 feet. A fun way to see the redwoods is on the Skunk Train, leaving from Fort Bragg. It rattles along on tracks laid in 1885 for logging and also for transporting lumber workers and their families to various logging camps.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Further north, you'll enter Humboldt Redwoods State Park, consisting of 53,000 acres of land, one-third of which is old-growth redwood forest. Here you'll find the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of scenic road, once part of the original Highway 101. Take your time driving through this area. Dotted along the way you'll find tiny towns where you can stock up on picnic supplies. If you want to drive your car through a living tree, just like you've seen in pictures, then you can do that too. Shrine Tree in Myers Flat has a naturally created split.
Eureka and Arcata
Take a break from the trees and indulge in civilization. The Victorian waterfront in Old Town Eureka charms visitors with a lively arts and dining scene. Local oysters on the half shell are served up alongside fine regional wines, as well as a number of local craft brews. Arcata is a college town, home to Humboldt State University, and it's the kind of place that steers clear of chain restaurants and embraces organic foods and art.
Redwood National and State Parks
What's a trip on the Redwood Highway without going to Redwood National and State Parks? Combined, the national and four state parks protect almost half of the coastal redwoods that remain. Since these parks border the Pacific Ocean, the forests give way to beach access, so don't miss the tidepools and breathtaking views. Birds abound, and every sunset is a showstopper.
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