4-Day Northern California Road Trip Itinerary

Spend four days touring San Francisco and the coast with this Northern California road trip itinerary.

Day 1

Start your trip in San Francisco, where you can fly into San Francisco International Airport and rent a car. If you’d like to explore the city, try these suggestions for spending a day in San Francisco like a local.

Photo © vadimsto/123rf.

Day 2

Your journey north begins with a drive on U.S. 101 over San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. After five miles, turn off U.S. 101 to Highway 1 at Mill Valley. On the slow, four-hour drive up the coast (around 160 miles), make time to stop at Fort Ross State Historic Park to explore the re-constructed Russian settlement.

End the day in the community of Mendocino with a view of the sunset at Mendocino Headlands State Park or a pint at the lively Patterson’s Pub. At night, dine at the historic MacCallum House Restaurant.

California's rocky Mendocino Coast. Photo © Elizabeth Linhart Veneman.
California’s rocky Mendocino Coast. Photo © Elizabeth Linhart Veneman.

Day 3

Follow Highway 1 north to Fort Bragg then continue inland to connect with U.S. 101 (about one hour). Take the Avenue of the Giants, a breathtaking drive through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Even though it’s only 31 miles, the trip could take a few hours if you get out of your car to ponder the big trees.

Get back on U.S. 101 and head an hour north (60 miles) to Eureka. Stop to wander the Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park before continuing north another 10 minutes or so to charming Arcata. Wander through Arcata Plaza, then grab a drink at The Alibi. Afterward, dine at one of several restaurants surrounding the lively plaza.

Avenue of the Giants. Photo © 
Suppavut Varutbangkul/123rf.

Day 4

Start your morning with a tasty crepe from Arcata’s Renata’s Creperie before hitting U.S. 101 north on your final day. About 20 minutes (15 miles) north of Arcata, exit to the scenic coastal city of Trinidad. Walk down to the beach at College Cove or explore the rugged coast by kayak.

After another half hour north on U.S. 101 (26 miles), turn onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Drive to explore Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If you have the energy, drive out Davison Road to Gold Bluffs Beach, where Roosevelt elk roam the sands. Continue on the dirt drive to hike the one-mile round-trip up Fern Canyon, which passes through a steep canyon draped in bright green ferns.

Fern Canyon is draped in bright green ferns. Photo © Igors Rusakovs/123rf.
Fern Canyon is draped in bright green ferns. Photo © Igors Rusakovs/123rf.

Head back out to U.S. 101 to drive the 45 minutes (38 miles) to Crescent City, where you can get a hotel room and a full night’s sleep.

Northern California

Elizabeth Linhart Veneman

About the Author

Californian Elizabeth Linhart Veneman grew in up San Francisco and Carmel, where she was lulled to sleep by the din of the cable car line and chilled to the bone at foggy 4th of July celebrations. Since then, she has explored the natural and cultural landscape of the West traveling forgotten highways and hiking backcountry trails; working in bookstores and restaurant kitchens; baking bread under Alaska’s midnight sun; and finding home in rural farmhouses, and cramped urban apartments. At UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz, she studied American history (north and south), specifically issues surrounding identity, social movements, and the history of food. Her writing has appeared in 7×7, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Alaska Magazine, and she has written and contributed to nearly a dozen books including Moon Napa & Sonoma, Moon California, and Moon Northern California.

Elizabeth Linhart Veneman now lives in San Francisco where she spends her days taming small children, big appetites, her yen for the outdoors, and a love of the written word.

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