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Northern California road trip


Michelle Mars at Bodega Bay California

The Head trail at Bodega Bay

Last week Matt and I went on an epic road trip through northern California. Even though we live on the west coast, we really haven't explored much of California besides LA and SF. Because we had limited time, we flew into Santa Rosa and flew out of Arcata and rented a car to drive between the two: a method I highly recommend. You save yourself a few days of driving and the boredom of re-driving the same stretch of highway. 

Wine tasting in Sonoma 

Sonoma is usually a day trip from SF but we wanted to skip the hustle of the city and get right into wine country. We flew directly into the Santa Rosa airport: a small but cute airport right near Sonoma. 

We decided to stay at Airbnbs instead of hotels for this trip and I'm glad we did. Not only are they more affordable but it's really nice to have your own deck and to occasionally cook your own food. Our Sonoma Airbnb even had two goats and a pony!

Downtown Sonoma is wonderful for walking around and you can drink legally in the Sonoma Plaza park. We visited a number of tasting rooms and wineries including Fulcrum, Ravenswood, and Kunde. I highly recommend you do the mountain top tasting at Kunde. You get a full tour of the wine cave and the vast vineyards. You get to see where they filmed scenes from Bottle Shock and where the fires from last year nearly wiped out the vines. The Buena Vista Winery is nice (but no buena vista) and the Bartholomew Park Winery is a great place to take a picnic lunch break. 

Kunde Winery Mountain Top Tasting

Kunde Winery Mountain Top Tasting

Sonoma tourism is down right now because of the fires last year. But even though a lot of the land was scorched, the wine business is alive and well and there is more wine and wineries to visit than you can possibly do in one trip. 

From Sonoma, it's  a short drive out to the coast. We drove out to Bodega Bay and walked along the head trail. The ocean views were spectacular. We then drove up highway 1 to Jenner where the Russian River meets the sea and you can see the harbor seals sunning themselves on the banks of the river. 

Russian River Valley

Next we stayed in a cabin on the Russian River. The Russian River is also a famous wine producing area and a short drive to Healdsburg. The downtown square of Healdsburg has a bunch of restaurants, shops and wine tasting rooms and there was even an outdoor jazz festival happening while we were there. We stopped by the Banshee tasting room for some very good pinot noir and rose wine and went on a relaxing hike along the old Willow Creek Road.

Russian River California

Russian River

Arcata and the Redwood Forest 

For the last leg of our trip, we drove up to Arcata to be near the Redwood National Forest. I had been to the redwoods as a kid but I was not prepared for the spectacular grandeur of these trees. On the way, we drove up the 128 to Mendocino for lunch. The drive through Anderson Valley (another wine area) was gorgeous and I hope to revisit it one day. Mendocino is a quaint town with some good lunch options and if you walk a ways past the town, you can see some spectacular views of the ocean. 

Mendocino

The coast near Mendocino

We then drove up highway 1 to the 101. Highway 1 is a ridiculously curvy road that can make anyone a little car sick but the views are worth it. We then drove through the Humboldt Redwoods State park and the Avenue of the Giants which gave us our first glimpse of the majestic redwoods before reaching Arcata.

The climate is much cooler in Arcata. It's much closer to Oregon weather than California. The town is small but with a bustling city center and it's probably busier when Humboldt State University is in session. Everything is close by and we just had to walk a few blocks to get to downtown.

It's an easy drive to the Redwood National Forest from Arcata. We first went to the Lady Bird Johnson Redwood grove which is up on a ridge and in the clouds. Then we drove along the Newton B. Dury Scenic Highway where there are hundreds of trails you can hike on to see more redwoods. We ended up on the Big Tree trail and the Cathedral trail. The trails all interconnect and you can walk as far as you like.

Lady Bird Johnson trail National Redwood Forest

Hiking the Lady Bird Johnson Trail

Redwood National Forest

Hiking the Cathedral Trail