LOLLYGAG ALONG A HISTORIC LIGHTHOUSE LOOP IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
Cruise the Northern California Lighthouse Loop from Mendocino County to Humboldt County then finally to Del Norte County – on the edge of the Oregon/California border – for a scenic drive to 7 of the Pacific Ocean’s shiniest beacons: Point Arena, Point Cabrillo, Punta Gorda, Cape Mendocino, Trinidad Head, Battery Point, and Point St. George Reef.
Escape the bustle of city life for something peaceful yet wild as you explore coastline that’s truly “North of Ordinary.” Cruise nearly 275 miles of Northern California’s coastline and discover seven historic lighthouses that have each been lighting ships to safety for more than a century. Plan your road trip to the North of Ordinary region of California!
Press the reset button with a 6-hour scenic joy ride on highways 1 and 101. This itinerary is written south to north, so simply reverse the stops if you prefer cruising north to south.
Begin your scenic drive in Point Arena. Towering 115 feet on an outcropping surrounded by sea on three sides is the Point Arena Lighthouse. Originally built in 1870, an earthquake all but crumbled the original lighthouse. It was rebuilt in 1908 and, reinforced with iron rods, has been standing since. Tour the grounds plus indoor and outdoor museums daily 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day the grounds stay open until 4:30 p.m. and tours are available to the lighthouse tower.
As you make your way down legendary Highway 1 from Point Arena, you’ll want to make a pit stop in the village town of Mendocino for some picnic supplies – trust us. Drink up the Meyer Family Cellar tasting room and wine garden. Explore regional wines with a tasting or take a bottle with you. (Psst: there is a chocolate store next door if you’re so inclined.)
Just one hour from Point Arena, you’ll find seaside bluffs and idyllic structures throughout Point Cabrillo Lighthouse State Historic Park. This retreat just south of Caspar will help even the most stressed of us relax. The lighthouse first burned its original kerosene oil in 1909 to illuminate the way of the busy timber trade. San Francisco was thriving so lumber was in high demand. Meander around keepers’ residences and the old blacksmith and carpentry shop, which is now a marine science exhibit with a 240-gallon saltwater aquarium.
It took three keepers to run the original systems of the lighthouse. You can sleep on the shores of this history. Several of the buildings in the park have been converted to rental cottages, including the assistant lightkeeper’s residence.
Stroll the many trails throughout the park’s 270 acres of coastal prairie or take a moment for a serene picnic. Watch for Gray whale spouts December to April. The park is open daily sunrise to sunset and tours run 11 to 4 p.m. year-round. Dogs are also welcome on the first floor of the lighthouse.
It’s about 3 and a half hours to the next beautiful beacon, so you’ll definitely want to fuel up. Swing into Fort Bragg for Old California charm and award-winning beers at North Coast Brewing Company’s taproom, restaurant and bar. From burgers to vegan delights, and pet-friendly outdoor space, this “Mendocino County Restaurant of the Year” is the place to kick up your feet.
Before combing the wild coastline further, you may want to take a short detour (10 minutes of Highway 101) to Ferndale, nicknamed the Victorian Village. Stroll back in time down Main Street’s ornate and vibrant storefronts. Peruse a master blacksmithing collection at The Blacksmith Shop or snag some old timey candy from Golden Gate Mercantile.
Continue north to the historic town of Trinidad for a century-old lighthouse accessible by a lush, easy trail. Trinidad Head Lighthouse was proposed in 1854 to aid ships in the booming lumber trade. It wasn’t until 1871 that the lens was activated. Amble along the 1.7-mile loop trail through tunnels of greenery to reveal inspiring views of the ocean and the town. The short but chic tower is perched on a bluff, and it is open for tours the first Saturday of every month 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
To see a textbook reproduction of the lighthouse, make your way into town to the Trinidad Head Lighthouse Memorial which features the original Fresnel lens. Let the ocean breeze carry you to the Trinidad Pier to recharge. Dive into bay oysters or a generous helping of fish and chips at Seascape Restaurant. If you’re there early enough, the breakfast menu will not disappoint. Try the sourdough pancakes.
The next two lighthouses are deep within California’s Lost Coast area of Southern Humboldt County. Punta Gorda is a remote lighthouse in the King Range National Conservation Area near Petrolia, California. Hike along a 3.5 mile sandy beach at Punta Gorda before heading to Shelter Cove’s Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. Moved to Shelter Cove in 1998, this 43 foot tower lighthouse was originally built on a cliff, 422 feet above sea level, on Cape Mendocino, the westernmost point in California in 1868. Today, all that remains is the tower’s foundation which is still spectacular to see. Go beachcombing and see an abundance of marine life while tidepooling in Mal Coombs Park. Both lighthouses are free and open to the public. After a day of exploring the Lost Coast’s lighthouses, order a heaping platter of pulled pork smothered fries or the Lost Coast Baja fish tacos paired with a pint of craft Mexican lager from Gyppo Ale Mill — the westernmost brewery in the U.S. and possibly the most remote.
Continue north for about 90 minutes to Crescent City for two very different shoreline lifesavers. Plan to visit Battery Point Lighthouse during low tide. This iconic, red-roofed structure sits on a tiny island about 100 feet offshore and is only accessible by foot at low tide. Built in 1856, this grand dame of safety survived a crippling tsunami that hit Crescent City’s shores more than a century later. Connect with volunteer lighthouse keepers that reside nearby. Guided tours inside of the lighthouse, a museum, are available on select days and hours based on the tide. The schedule is posted in the parking lot.
The Point St. George Reef lighthouse sits seven miles offshore, constructed after the deadly shipwreck of the SS Brother Jonathan in 1865. Take in the views of St. George Reef Lighthouse from trails off Pebble Beach Drive in Crescent City, or upclose by boat with Stella’s Adventures. Built on top of a perilous rock, the lighthouse was quite dangerous to construct, taking almost a decade to finish and one of the most expensive to build in the 19th century. The St. George Reef lighthouse now casts its light across the ocean with a solar-powered lamp.
Wind down your day with chill patio vibes and views of Battery Point Lighthouse at Seaquake Brewing. Wander through a flight featuring some of their 15 beers on tap. The kitchen is always serving up comforting food. If you want more shore time, order Seaquake’s award-winning pizza to-go and sink your teeth into a slice with your toes in the sand.