California Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway North

The last three days of our travels through northern California was a drive down Pacific Coast Highway 1. Our first stop was for a late lunch in Fort Bragg at Sea Pal Cove, tucked away behind an industrial fishing area on the Noyo Harbor. We stuffed ourselves with fish and chips and clam chowder. Seating is outside only but there are views of the inlet, where we spotted a harbor seal and a sea otter. The otter had caught a fish and was boldly showing off by swimming around on his back. This is what we came for.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California
Having driven several hours earlier that morning, we were in desperate need of coffee. We stopped at Headlands Coffee in downtown Fort Bragg to get us to our next destination. Driving back north for just a few miles, we visited Glass Beach. We walked the path and headed to the first beach entrance we saw…then looked around and thought “Where is all the glass?” We walked along the rocks for a bit before heading south on the main path to another inlet. We climbed down some tricky steps that ended in a makeshift driftwood ladder before landing on the beach—the one I was looking for. This one was covered in millions of small, smooth shards of glass.

Northern California Road Trip: Glass Beach

Northern California PCH Road Trip: Glass Beach

As the tide comes in, you can hear the glass being washed up on shore. I could’ve stayed for hours.

It’s hard to believe, but for about two decades this beach was an official dumping ground for Fort Bragg. Anything from glass bottles to kitchen stoves to entire automobiles were cast off here until 1967, when apparently someone in the city had a moment of clarity and decided it wasn’t the best idea to dump trash into the ocean. However, the pounding ocean waves broke down the discarded glass, metal, and ceramics, polishing them into smooth objects.

We checked into our hotel, the Little River Inn, and were instantly impressed by the beautiful view from our room. We ate dinner in the cozy, historic pub on site.

Northern California Road Trip: Point Cabrillo Light on the Mendocino Coast
The next day, we began at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse north of Mendocino. A short walk takes you to the charming Victorian lighthouse that was completed in 1909. It was built on the sandstone headland after there had been several shipwrecks there. The lighthouse offers historical tours from 11 am – 4 pm.

Mendocino, California: the perfect fall getaway!

It was the first sunny day of our trip (and also happened to be our last day). After viewing the lighthouse, we ventured into Mendocino. This small, historic fishing village had been recommended to us by several people. The entire town is on a peninsula between Highway 1 and the coast, and is surrounded by Mendocino Headlands State Park. During this trip, we were constantly amazed at what we had seen, as our expectations were always being blown away. Mendocino did not disappoint. I’ve seen it described as California’s “New England coast” and I could see why, with its charming streets lined with Victorian houses and boutique shops. We picked up a light lunch at Goodlife Cafe & Bakery before venturing to the state park at the edge of town.

Magical Mendocino Coast: a Northern California Road Trip
The headlands are walkable by a network of dirt paths carved through meadows along the cliffs. From the paths, you can look out to see tall sea stacks, coves where seals like to hang out, and tides rushing over rocks. Coming from the southeastern coast where the beaches are flat, we were enthralled by the views of the craggy coastline.

We headed south down Highway 1, periodically stopping to stretch our legs and take in the amazing views. I was in the passenger seat, and nervously looked over the edge to see the plummet down to the Pacific. The sun was beaming down and the water was a beautiful dark turquoise. We took a brief detour to see another lighthouse—the Point Arena Light at the end of a narrow peninsula that juts out almost a half of a mile into the Pacific.

Highway 1 North Road Trip: Point Arena Light
Our next destination was Bodega Bay. I’m a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock films and particularly love the ones from his Hollywood era. I’d been to several filming sites from Vertigo in San Francisco, and Bodega Bay from The Birds was on my bucket list.

The Birds Cafe in Bodega Bay: the perfect fall road trip in California

Northern California Road Trip

We stopped for food at the aptly named The Birds Cafe where we ate fried artichoke fritters and artichoke tacos. It was delicious.

The movie was filmed in the small town of Bodega, a few miles inland from the coast. There are a couple of structures that survive, including the 19th century schoolhouse and church nearby.

Since it was the only sunny day during our trip, we wanted to make sure we could see at least one sunset over the ocean. Crossing over to highway 101, we made it into San Francisco just before sunset, and witnessed beautiful views from Land’s End.

Pacific Coast Sunset in San Francisco, a perfect end to our road trip in Northern California
A perfect end to our trip! Farewell, California. We’ll be back again.

This post is the second in a series about our adventures in California. View part 1 here and part 2 here

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