California Coast Photos – Eureka to San Simeon

Susie and I spent the week after Thanksgiving driving the California coast from Eureka to San Simeon.   Since it’ll take me until at least mid-January to organize and post the best of almost 300 photos, I’m offering a preview of the magnificent scenery we saw.

We didn’t want to “backtrack” during the trip, so we flew into Sacramento and then headed to Redding, in the interior.  From there we crossed the Trinity Alps, which put us just north of Eureka.

We arrived in Eureka in the mid-afternoon and wandered its very nice historic downtown for a few hours.  I wish we’d had a whole day to spend there because Old Town Eureka, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is splendid.  Lots of stores, restaurants and Victorian structures within a very pedestrian friendly area, including a trail along the harbor.

One of Eureka’s notable features are the many murals painted on the walls of Old Town buildings.  This one’s on their performing arts center.

Old Town Eureka mural

Eureka’s other notable attraction is the many Victorian structures, some of which have become a bed and breakfast.  However, the Carson Mansion, built by a lumber baron and considered one of the finest Victorian buildings in the U.S., uses its 16,000 square feet as a private club.

Carson Mansion, Eureka

The next day, we headed to Fort Bragg via the 30 miles of old growth redwoods known as the Avenue of the Giants.  Since I couldn’t take a photo of a complete redwood vertically, this photo gives you an idea of of why they’re called “giants.”

We spent so much time in the redwoods area that by the time we got back onto the coast it was dusk and too late for photos.  Luckily we only missed about 30 miles of coast.

From Fort Bragg, we followed California 1 all the way down the coast to Bodega Bay before heading inland to Petaluma.  This portion of the drive was the longest and because I misjudged the stops we lost light in Gualala and drove a good 50 miles of the coast in darkness.

Just south of Fort Bragg is Jughandle State Park, where we enjoyed a short hike to wonderful views of the coast.

And just south of Jughandle is Mendocino, a very popular tourist town perched on some headlands.  You can easily mix shopping and dining on the main drag and then literally walk across the street for magnificent coastal scenery.

Mendocino from Mendocino Headlands

Not too far south of Mendocino is Point Arena, where more fine coastal scenery awaits.

Looking to Point Arena lighthouse

It was at least 7 PM by the time we arrived in Petaluma, about 30 miles inland from Bodega Bay.   It had been a 10-hour day and we slept soundly…

The next day,  it was on to Monterey.  We’ve been to San Francisco many times, so we weren’t disappointed that the city was completely hidden from view by fog as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

On a previous trip to Monterey from San Francisco, we’d driven south on I-280 and then driven on California 92 to Half Moon Bay, missing a chunk of coast.  This time, we got onto the Pacific Coast Highway just after we crossed into San Francisco and followed the coast to Half Moon Bay.

Just south of Moss Beach is Pillar Point, which also is the western side of Half Moon Bay.  Surf was up!

Pillar Point

Pigeon Point is another very scenic area on the drive to Monterey.

Pigeon Point

Monterey has become way too touristy for me.  Fortunately, next door is Pacific Grove, which in my opinion has the finest “flat land” coastal views in the country.

Pacific Grove coast


It was good that we were in Pacific Grove in the morning and Big Sur in the afternoon, because Big Sur has the finest “mountain” views of the coast in the country.  Because of all that scenery and the twists in the road that make it difficult to drive faster than about 35 MPH in most sections, it took us a bit over five hours to drive the 75 miles of Big Sur to San Simeone.

Big Sur - Looking north to Bixby Bridge

Big Sur coast

By the time we arrived in the vicinity of San Simeon, there was less than half an hour of light left. But that was all we needed to take in the dozens of elephant seals stretched out on a small beach just north of Hearst Castle. There’s a walkway over the beach where you can view the seals.

Elephant seals near San Simeon

From San Simeon we headed back towards Sacramento using the inland Highway 101.  The rest of the photos will be on my travel website no later than the end of January, so check them out then:

Until then, you can check photos from other trips, including southern Utah, New Mexico, Oregon, and Spain.


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