Drive to California, Part 3: Northern Highway 1 and Bodega Bay

Near Westport Union-Landing State Beach
Near Westport Union-Landing State Beach

  Made it through countless tree-lined switchbacks on an intermediate road that connected the 101 to the northernmost point of Highway 1.  The road was fairly harrowing, with steep cliffs and trees off to one side of the road, threatening to fall and destroy the road at any moment.  After about 45 minutes through the winding road, the road suddenly opened up and you could see the sky in front of you, and the majesty of the Pacific Ocean was laid out in front of you like a gift.  It left me breathless.  I stopped at the first available turnout to marvel at the view.  To the south, there appeared to be a series of beaches and campsites, and to the north, just impassable cliffs.

  Nearby there was Westport Union-Landing State Beach where they had gorgeous and plentiful campsites for $25 a day.  Amazing area and there were folks surfing, but they had the most god awful pit toilets I’ve ever experienced.  Seriously, the kind of place that you can still smell for hours after you’ve gone there. There were folks there that looked like they were there for a while, and some bikers.  The state park is in disrepair, and there is evidence of the old road that just disintegrated and fell into the beach.  However, the views were still fine, as the campsites are perched up on this bluff overlooking the Pacific.

  Just further down the road was the Caspar Westport Beaches Rv Park and campgrounds, which looked a lot nicer but perhaps not as great views.  They did offer beach camping though, so I assume you could get away from the RV’s and just camp out on the sand.  

  Continued for some stretches and the area really opened up here and there, passing from one small town to the next and disappearing into the forest.  Gualala was the nicest town seen yet, really still like a nice little beach/surf town that was perhaps starting to get some development.  It had the usual amenities: a pub, some restaurants, and a pleasant looking market.  Just to the south of Gualala are several beach access areas that are part of the Sea Ranch public access trail system.  It’s a day use only trail system (parking $7) maintained by Sonoma county, very nice and long, and adjacent to a lot of private property.  This region happened to be perfectly sunny when I drove through.  

  Gerstle Cove Campground in Salt Point State park looked very promising, but it was full for the night. Prices were $35 a night, and there were only 30 spaces (not including the group sites).  Several of the spots were high up overlooking the ocean – and all were taken by RV campers.  Gorgeous views if you can get it. Across the way was Woodside campground, and the small town of Ocean Cove had laundry and store stuff.  More commercial campgrounds were down the road but didn’t look nearly as nice.  Even further was a nice restaurant, Alexander’s that overlooked the ocean.

  About an hour later I reached Ft Ross State Historic Park.  It didn’t look like much from the side of the road initially, but after about a minute of driving past the park entrance, I could see the tops of what looked like a full-size wooden fort!  That would have been a cool stop, but instead I figured I could do some research later and press on to my destination.  The views opened up again after the park and the scenery got a little more…scenic.

Near the Ft Ross campground
Near the Ft Ross campground

  Ft Ross did have a campground nearby, but it didn’t take advantage of the amazing vistas.  The campground was instead tucked away into a little side valley, but I think it had beach access (no dogs).  The campground was almost entirely empty except for the campground host and one family taking up a group site.  Much, much nicer than what I saw at Westport Union-Landing.  Good job, Sonoma County!

  The final stretch towards Bodega Bay was the icing on the cake.  The towns became more and more developed, and there were signs of more and more people.  The views didn’t let up, either.  

The view south towards Bodega Bay from a random turnout
The view south towards Bodega Bay from a random turnout
The view north from the same turnout.  Sea stacks and an arch, amazing!
The view north from the same turnout.  Sea stacks and an arch, amazing!

    This section seemed to be in dire need of repair as well.  A lot of the turnouts had sections that were eroding and were cordoned off.  I looked back at my 3000-lb Tacoma and hoped that the ground didn’t suddenly decide to move.  I pondered staying on this turnout until sunset, but the clouds kept rolling in.  Weather wasn’t cooperating today – I bet the views would be even more spectacular in the winter.

   The last area of note was the town of Bodega Bay.  There were tons of cars parked near the beaches and plenty of surfers in the water.  I’m guessing some lucky Bay Area types were able to get out of work early and feed the stoke.  The town itself was definitely undergoing a transformation – weathered surf shacks stood defiantly next to brand new condos and developments, just off of the main road.  The restaurants ranged from older dive bars to trendy new cafe’s and fancy restaurants.  It will be interesting to come through this town in another 10 years and see what happens – the town has to decide if it wants to keep the Endless Summer vibe or become a summer colony for Bay Area residents.

  The rest of the trip was uneventful, as I turned away from Pt Reyes and headed inland to cross the bay and reach my parent’s house in San Jose.  I did make sure to destroy the first In-n-Out that I found, though!

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