Driving to Nowhere on Highway 1 North of San Francisco

Despite many years living in California we’d never ventured far on Highway 1 North of San Francisco. There are rumors of redwood trees and gorgeous coastline. And lots of wine. Hmmm, wine.

Last weekend, I dragged Jack out of the bed against his protests, put him in the driver seat of a rental car, and told him to drive. “Where to?” he mumbled with a look of resignation.

“North. We’re going North.”

And off we go on one of my weekly exploration missions or as Jack likes to call it: a mission to spend countless hours in a car driving to some vague destination.

One of the most exciting things about heading towards Highway 1 north of San Francisco is crossing the Golden Gate bridge. Marin Headlands on the other side of the bridge provides some of the best viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge. A stop here is mandatory when you’re on a road trip north of San Francisco.

Tip: It’s better to visit Marin Headlands for the view in the afternoon because of the light.

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headland

Along the way we passed small beach towns that look like they haven’t changed much since 1960’s. We stopped by Stinson Beach and Dillon Beach. Both were packed with visitors and we didn’t stay long.

the town of Point Reyes, California
The town of Point Reyes, California
Dillon Beach, Highway 1 north of San Francisco
Dillon Beach, Highway 1 north of San Francisco

We passed Tomales Bay, famous for its oysters. Lines of cars outside every oyster bar are testaments to these oysters’ fame. If you find oysters delectable and not slimy molluscs that they are, Tomales Bay is where you need to go.

North of Point Reyes on Highway 1 is where the coastline gets crazy. It’s a rugged and desolate coastline broken by long, sweeping beaches. Jack grudgingly agreed that it was worth waking up early that Sunday.

north of san francisco on highway 1

highway 1 north of San Francisco coastline

I was aiming roughly for Mendocino a 4 hour drive away. I’ve heard someone likened it to a ‘New England fishing village’ which sounds idyllic enough to make me want to go there. At the rate we kept stopping to see the views, we’d never make it there in time. Not as a daytrip.

So we started to head inland passing tiny communities nestled among groves of redwood trees. We curved southward in Russian River Valley passing many vineyards. Unfortunately, many were already closed for the day.

Tip: if we’re doing this all over again, we’d do a counterclockwise loop: head north inland and south down the coast.

You’ll find wineries, redwood, and miles of wild coastline on Highway 1 north of San Francisco. So the rumor was true.

Many say that the coastal route of Highway 1 between LA and San Francisco to be one of America’s best road trips. I’d say that the stretch of Highway 1 north of San Francisco can safely compete.

As for Mendocino, I still want to go there. Next time we’ll do it as a 2 day road trip. One of these days, I’d definitely like to drive the whole length of Pacific Coast Highway although it’ll definitely be more than a weekend getaway trip.

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27 Replies to “Driving to Nowhere on Highway 1 North of San Francisco”

  1. I realize I’m posting this comment a terribly long time since you made this entry, but I’m curious what is your reason for driving North Inland and then South along the coast? Is it just so you can get up there faster and have more time to work your way back? My hubby and I are doing a day and a half trip from SF to uh, somehwere North of Fort Bragg in a couple of weeks and I’m trying to plan the route, so hard knowing that there are some many things to see along this piece of coastline!!! PS: I did the lost coast scenic drive many years ago, I definately reccomend it, it was possibly the most memorable trip I’ve ever taken.

    1. Hi Dottie, it’s because we wanted to hit the wineries (located inland) before they’re closed ๐Ÿ™‚ and we’ll be driving along the coast in the late afternoon when the lighting is best.

  2. I am looking at taking a drive from San Fransisco north through Oregon and into Seattle this June. I anticipate flying from Orlando to San Fran and renting a car. If I take PCH all the way to Oregon, how much time should I plan? San Fran to Seattle via highway is 14 hours. Should I triple the time?

    Thanks for input, and your photos were beautiful.

    1. Thanks Don. I usually at least double the drive time when taking the coastal road to account for slower speed limit and stops for pictures. So you’re probably looking at around 28 hrs? At minimum.

  3. gorgeous photos- Highway 1 looks absolutely gorgeous! How far of a drive from San Francisco is it? Going there this summer and thinking (and hoping) I can fit this in!

    1. A couple of hours. If you have the time, you should do it! There's so much good stuff up there in addition to the coastline: wineries, redwood trees, cute little towns, etc.

  4. We drove up the coast and the Oregon coast several years ago. I wish we spent more time in each of those towns. The drive is much further and takes more time than you expect.

  5. I can stay whole day here and watching the sun sets on the horizon and still wanting to take in all the beauty. This is amazing and SF just continue to be one of those great places I would love to see in the future.

  6. Ahhh – the Pacific Coast Highway – I've ridden it often but never drove it… can't sight see as much if you're driving ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Beautiful shots! We've driven the Pacific Coast highway from LA to Oregon and it was just one stunning view after another.

  8. I was there at Dillon Beach just 6 months Ago. The water of the beach looks quite crystal clear but the sunny day made us to be relaxed in it till the evening. In evening , it's a Good place for the camp fire and roasted chicken.

  9. Road trips are the best! You're so luck to live in a place where you don't need to go far to see beautiful sceneries from the road.

  10. California has the best scenic coastline in the whole of America. Too bad the ocean is too cold to swim in.

  11. It's a gorgeous drive at any time of day, but make sure you're in the passenger seat so you only have to concentrate on not thinking – just see it ALL. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. The redwoods are next on my list to see in California. Although, I may get sidetracked by all that wonderful wine on my way there…

  13. I think San Francisco is most amazing place on the earth. I had visited San Francisco in last summer vacation with my family and had great experience. Thanks for reminding my beautiful memories once again.

  14. I absolutely love the region north of San Fran right up to Portland. It is such beautiful country.

    1. Right up to Portland is right! ๐Ÿ™‚ We love suggesting that people head to California and make the drive all the way to Vancouver, B.C. Some of the best landscapes and communities on the planet ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Gorgeous country up there. I can't wait to get back to the northern California coast. The landscape changes when you get into Mendocino county. Lots of evergreens and the views are simply awe-inspiring. Yet another reminder why I need to live on the Left Coast!

  16. These views look very familiar because one of my favorite places to visit is the coast. We spent a couple of great vacations in Point Reyes and Bodega Bay. I haven't been to Mendocino yet, either. btw, I don't think I knew that you two lived in SF.

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