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Northern California Coast

I have lived my entire life in Southern California. I grew up near the ocean in Palos Verdes, which has some rather nice coastal views. So I expected the scenery to look very familiar when I visited Mendocino and Humboldt Counties on the far north coast of California. But I was happy to be proved wrong.

Northern California’s coastal landscapes are much wilder than those in Southern California. Three tectonic plates— sections of crust that float on the Earth’s molten mantle— collide offshore near Cape Mendocino. The resulting earthquakes and continual shifting, along with powerful surf, have sculpted the coastline into headlands, bays, coves, inlets, cliffs, and sea stacks. Southern California is just as seismically active, but the major faults are inland. That makes interesting desert rock formations in places like Joshua Tree National Park, but leaves the coastline smooth enough for the well-known long stretches of sandy beach. The other major difference is that the rugged north coast is sparsely populated, so the scenery isn’t “enhanced” by the sort of relentless development we enjoy in Southern California.

The Northern California coast is also the realm of coast redwoods, the world’s tallest trees. Redwood forests need a cool, moist climate. The north coast provides that with heavy rains in the winter and dense fog in the peak summer tourist season (spring and fall are thus the best times to visit). The logging industry began to exploit the redwoods in the middle of the nineteenth century. Only 10% of California’s original old-growth forests remain, mostly in state and national parks. The towns that grew up along the coast to support sawmills and lumber shipping still maintain an abundance of Victorian homes and buildings from the early days.

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Mendocino Coast: A panorama of rugged seascapes.

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Fort Bragg: A fishing harbor, a famous train ride, and a former city dump.

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The Redwood Coast: It’s more than trees!

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North Coast Victoriana: Visit the nineteenth century in Ferndale and Eureka.

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