218 Miles - LENGTH
Coastal highway, constant maintenance - PAVEMENT
Smooth, tight, endless, many hairpins - CURVES
San Francisco to Leggett at Hwy 101 - CONNECTS
Numerous - GAS
Highway 1 North
Quick Ride: Part Two of the Coastal Highway 1 ride, Picture endless curves, endless blue ocean, and less tourists. Numerous side roads, small towns and historic sites to explore. Plan at least a full day to ride the length of Hwy 1 North.
The Endless Blue...
First read Highway 1 Big Sur write-up. Cross that off your list.
Before we set off to ride Hwy 1 together, consider taking some time to add the Marin Headlands to Point Bonita Lighthouse to the your ride. The road is short, a quick ride there and back. The entrance to the Marin Headlands is immediately after riding north over the Golden Gate Bridge. If you miss the exit, it is a bit of a circuitous route to get back to the exit, so be watching for it. The eastern entrance from Sausalito entails riding on Alexander Ave under the 101 freeway. There are numerous ruins when gun emplacements were built as far back as 1890 to ward off any hostile invasion of San Francisco Bay, during WW II, batteries to guard against an impending Japanese invasion of the mainland United State were built into the hills. A radar station was later built atop Hawk Hill. During the Cold War in the 1950s, surface-to-air missiles were installed to defend against enemy aircraft. Flat concrete launching pads for a NIKE surface to air missile battery remain while underground storage rooms were built along with an elevator to raise missiles to the launching area. The invasion never came, but the gun emplacements and missile pads remain to this day. Have the time, visit to the Marin Headlands Visitor Center at the Rodeo Lagoon.
During the 1960s, a private developer bought up 2000 acres of hill top overlooking Sausalito & the Golden Gate Bridge then planned to build a city called Marincello. The planned city was never built and the developer eventually sold the land which was added to the present-day Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Currently the Golden Gate National Recreation Area spans 88,027 acres of open space and combines numerous locations such as Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and The Presidio. The GGNRA is the most visited National Park system in the United States. The park system is so large, it is 2-1/2 times larger than the county and city of San Francisco.
The ride out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is short, but the views of San Francisco are stunning. The Marin Headlands is a Bucket List Ride. The road winds high above the ocean, one-way single-lane, and barely wide enough for a normal sized automobile. After several sets of abandoned gun batteries, some tunnels through the mountain, then you’re at the lighthouse which is a short walk away.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
The Point Bonita Lighthouse is built on a precipitous rock that towers over the Pacific. Crashing waves claw at its sides and the lighthouse can only be reached by walking across a suspension bridge that will only allow several people at one time to not overload it. The path out to the lighthouse is only open to the public on Saturday, Sunday & Monday 12:30-3:00 pm. Check the Park Service website for the latest updates.
Riding the one-way Conzelman Rd out to Point Bonita Lighthouse will eventually return you past Fort Cronkhite to exactly where you started after riding through a ¼ mile long tunnel (watch road signs for continuing the journey north on 101).
Beginning a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway 1 leaves San Francisco behind and begins a 218-mile trek north along one the most scenic stretches of highway in the state. Most will say Hwy 1 Big Sur along the Central Coast has the scenery in spades, however, remove a great many tourists and you have the northern stretch of coastal Highway 1.
Highway 1 north has an endless list of small lodging establishments to stay at, ranging from Bed & Breakfasts, pricey hotels, even the lighthouses along this ride offer the light keepers quarters to stay in. There is are also private homes you can also rent as Vacation Rentals that overlook the ocean. In addition, numerous historic stops offer up a pause in the day’s ride. And lastly, there are several suggested detours that either ride up into the hills paralleling Highway 1 or flow due east up and over the Coast Range. While you could blast north, don’t be in a hurry. Rather, plan an all-day ride to cover the 200+ mile stretch to Leggett. Plan a 300-mile day if the goal is to reach Fortuna, which is located at the western terminus of Highway 36 for Day 2.
Reaching Coastal Highway 1 North
Option 1: Skip Hwy 1 at Mill Valley completely. Rather, skip north on 101 and use Lucas Valley Rd to reach Hwy 1. Traverse though Marin County and pop out on the ocean at Marshall. This option bypasses all the congestion around Mill Valley.
Option 2: Begin from Greenbrae via Sir Francis Drake Blvd and ride into Fairfax, continuing west to Olema. This ride heads into the Samuel P Taylor State Park redwood forest and may entail a bit of holiday travelers headed out to the ocean. Sir Francis Drake meets Hwy 1 at Olema a short distance from Point Reyes Station. (Nicasio Valley Rd parallels to the west and is less congested.) Ride Point Reyes–Petaluma Road west to Wilson Hill Rd. This short connector rides on over to Marshall Petaluma Rd and back out to the ocean at Marshall skipping the Tomales Bay portion.
Option 3: Highway 1 begins on the south end in Tamalpais Valley Junction a few miles north of Sausalito. Fuel up here and then begin the climb out of the city. Homes are carved into the hillsides and there is always traffic. The ride is five miles to the top of the range. Take note of the Panoramic Highway junction at the top of the range four miles from the 101 freeway and continue to Muir Beach. Note Hwy 1 closest to San Francisco is always congested and even tedious.
Option 4: There is a second option via the Hwy 1 route. Halfway to the ocean there will be a right turn (north) onto Panoramic Highway 3.2 miles from the 101 Freeway. Take this turn north up the Panoramic Highway and ride up to Bolinas Ridge towards Mount Tamalpais to ride Ridgecrest Blvd. This is the choice your Tour Guide recommends.
On Panoramic Hwy, halfway up the ridgeline is the turnoff for Muir Woods National Monument. If you take this route, the road drops off the ridgeline in a sudden plunge westward. It’s super-fun-twisty, but traffic will typically keep the pace to a painful crawl. Muir Woods is a beautiful redwood forest set in a hidden valley. There are several trails built into the valley, you can even hike out to the ocean and back.
In the olden days, say 10 plus years ago, you could easily ride to Muir Woods, but lately it’s gotten so congested, the state park requires a reservation just to park there in addition to a $15 entrance fee. Muir Woods is the closest giant redwood grove nearest to San Francisco, which makes it touristy. You will see plenty of Redwoods along this ride, skip Muir Woods and head north to Bolinas Ridge, leave Muir Woods to the mini-vans.
Panoramic Highway makes a beeline to the top of the ridge where the road splits into a Y a second time. Stay to the right and follow the signs for Mount Tamalpais State Park, this stretch is signed as Pantoll Rd and twists up to a T-intersection at an expansive parking lot for the Rock Spring Trailhead and Cushing Memorial Amphitheater. West Ridgecrest Blvd isn’t opened till 9am so if you arrive before 9, hang out in the parking lot for a few minutes, the ranger will arrive at 9 to unlock the gate.
Or, head up to the summit of Mt Tamalpais 3 miles away to take in picture perfect views of the Bay Area below. If it is a foggy morning, you won’t be able to see much. But if the day is clear, the peak to the southeast is Mt. Diablo near Concord. On the clearest of days typically in winter, locals claim you can see all the way to Mt. Lassen in Northern California from the summit on Mt Tamalpais. On the east end of the parking area is a paved walking path that circles the summit back to the parking area. The unobstructed views of San Francisco from this path are delightful. At the summit is the Gardner Fire Lookout built in 1934 and completed with electricity and running water in 1936.
The Crookedest Railway in the World
Walk from the parking lot in a north easterly direction and you’ll come upon what appears to be a passenger rail car. In August of 1896 a 7-mile railway was completed from Mill Valley after six months of work to reach the summit of Mt Tamalpais. Locals in 1896 took a steam train to the summit and then boarded a passenger car much like the replica you see today.
The Scenic Railway was called the “The Crookedest Railway in the World”, twisting down 281 turns (in 7 miles) through numerous switchbacks and paralleling itself five times. The tracks had an average 5% downgrade and the gravity cars held 30 people. A ‘Gravity Man’ operated a set of strong double brakes to maintain a steady 10-15 mph speed downhill. Steam powered trains then pushed several cars back up to the summit.
The railway was the Disneyland of its time attracting many famous people such as Sir Author Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and other nobility and visiting dignitaries. Thomas Edison shot the first motion picture in Marin County of the railway. By 1929, interest has waned and the tracks were pulled up.
The railway bed is now the 6.7-mile Old Railroad Grade hiking trail to the summit with an elevation gain of 2129 feet. Overall, Mount Tamalpais has over 100 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Mountain biking was invented on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.
Bolinas Ridge & Ridgecrest Blvd
Ridgecrest Blvd atop Bolinas Ridge rides along the spine of a grassy ridge through the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and is a treasure for Bay Area motorcyclists. The ride is a short distance, although you can compensate for the distance by stopping and enjoying the views from the ridgeline of Stinson Beach below- truly spectacular. Hiking trails spider off in every direction from the ridge including a trail on the east side of the ridge that will connect with Cataract Falls Trail mentioned below.
Ridgecrest Blvd has been featured in many a book cover and TV commercials. During spring, these grassy meadows are covered in brilliant green grasses. We’ve seen the ridge turn from glowing green to golden brown by Memorial Day during dry seasons.
Ridgecrest Blvd enters a redwood grove and hits a T-intersection. Left/west drops down to Hwy 1 at Bolinas, and right/east connects with Lake Alpine and Fairfax. Either is a twisty bumpy narrow mountain descent with several switchbacks.
Cataract Falls Trail
Nearing Lake Alpine, when the water comes into view, in the last hairpin will be numerous autos parked on both sides of the hairpin. This is the start of the Cataract Falls Trail, a heavily-trafficked 3.3-mile walking path. Cataract Falls Trail flows up a lush redwood valley alongside Cataract Creek known for numerous waterfalls during the spring rainy season.
Cataract Creek parallels Ridgecrest Blvd and the southern origin of the creek can be reached from several walking trails on the crest of the ridgeline. Fairfax Bolinas Road north of Lake Alpine is a fun twisty ride over to the town of Fairfax, the gateway into Marin County. If you decide to ride this, take it at a relaxed pace as there are an endless string of sharp corners, several great views, some more switchbacks, and overall motorcycling glee.
Back on Hwy 1, as the road pops over the range after the Panoramic Hwy turnoff heading for Stinson Beach, there’s a small pullout for the Miwok Trail on both sides of the road, another of many walking trails along the ridgelines overlooking the Pacific Ocean that lead down to the ocean through the treeless meadows of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area overlooking the blueness of the ocean.
As you head north through Muir Beach into Marin County, Frank Valley Rd appears in a 90 degree turn on Hwy 1, this takes you back northeast into Muir Woods and connects back up with the Panoramic Highway up to Bolinas Ridge.
Muir Beach Overlook is a small paved parking lot on the north end of Muir Beach. This is only the first in a long series of overlooks all the way to Westport 200 miles to the north. Choose any overlook to capture the perfect photo of the ocean, each one is perfection.
Hwy 1 hugs the ocean for a few miles through several joyous rolls of emotion- the road writhing to and fro then passing though Point Reyes National Seashore to Stinson Beach finally hitting Panoramic Highway once more, again the path up to Bolinas Ridge. Then yet again on the north end of Bolinas Lagoon is the northern access to Bolinas Ridge with Fairfax Bolinas Rd. Some of the roads in the coming miles headed inland in this part of Marin County portray a pastoral lifestyle. There are many dairy farms and cheese factories. Explore if you have the time.
Marin County is an anomaly within the entire state of California. The county is small by comparison to most other counties in California, a mere 828 square miles. For comparison, San Bernardino County is 20,105 square miles. Yet incomes in Marin County are high, with an average income of $90,000 per year. Property is expensive; property taxes (calculated as a percentage of the purchase price in California) generate $40 billion per year. This pastoral land of rolling green hills and quiet ranches may feel a bit out of place considering millions of people live moments away.
Nearby is home to Star Wars creator George Lucas along Lucas Valley Road. Much of the land has been saved from development by a network of ranches that haven’t changed hands in a century. In 2010, Marin County’s ocean beaches were listed as the cleanest in the state.
While I promise to never make my riders do a 7-mile hike in full leathers, found in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Alamere Falls is worth mentioning north of Stinson Beach. If you have read the page for Highway 1 Big Sur, you would know that McWay Falls is a required stop along that stretch of Pacific Coast. Aside from McWay Falls, Alamere Falls is the second of only two waterfalls that plunge onto the beach along the California Coastline.
Picture a 40 foot waterfall spilling onto Alamere Creek Beach. Upstream are the Upper Alamere Falls, consisting of three more separate falls. There are no roads to magically reach the falls. Rather, the waterfall is a 13-mile hike round trip, allow at least half a day to complete the hike. The Palomarin Trailhead is on the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore near the coastal town of Bolinas at the end of Mesa Road. Do your homework before planning this hike. The turnoff is unsigned; visit informational sites about this waterfall hike.
Best time to visit is in winter and spring when rains swell the waterfall. Commonsense says you should download a tidal app on your phone and gauge when high and low tide may affect access to the beach. During high tide, the waves will be crashing right up to the base of the waterfall and walking on the beach could be potentially dangerous, this hike should only be planned at low tide.
In additional, the National Park Service sternly cautions Search & Rescue is called out several times a year to rescue hikers that have fallen off the cliff or need help. There is no cell service, and there is no well graded trail onto the beach.
Point Reyes National Seashore
At Olema, Hwy 1 meets up with Sir Frances Drake providing a way back to Fairfax. At Point Reyes Station, Sir Francis Drake continues the westward trek out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, known as the foggiest & windiest point on the West Coast. Winds at 75 to 100 mph are commonplace and the highest wind speed recorded thus far at Point Reyes is 133 mph.
The main downside to visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse is the distance from any main road. Sir Francis Drake Blvd is a bumpy two-lane ranch road and the 20 miles will take twice that in time. A time commitment is in order. Plan for a 40-mile round trip, however the beach is well worth the trek if you decide to head out to Drakes Bay. Sir Francis Drake Blvd traverses wide open rolling meadows. During spring when it’s green, the journey is quite scenic. Small dairy farms still eke out a living with their dairy cows along the way.
Along Sir Francis Drake Blvd outside Seahaven, the road Y’s, and the northern leg heads out to Pierce Point Ranch, established in 1858. Pierce Point Ranch is one of the oldest ranches in the Point Reyes Peninsula. When early American settlers arrived in the 1850s, the treeless grassy meadows of Marin County known as the Pastoral Zone was perfect for dairy cattle. The cool, moist coast climate offered abundant grass, snowless winter and the coast range provided water that was stored in stock ponds. The irony lost on early settlers is the treeless meadows are likely the result of native Americans burning and pruning regions of the Coast Range all the way north to the Oregon border. There you’ll see the same practices created the same style of rolling grassy hills such as Bald Hills Rd 300 miles to the north.
Cattle herds of Devon, Jersey, Guernsey, and later on Holstein, numbering from 100 to 250 cows per ranch began to populate the Point Reyes Peninsula and ranches were named A-Z with A being closest to the main road and Z Ranch being the furthest point from town. Nearly 1,000,000 pounds of butter were produced in Marin County for the rapidly growing city of San Francisco. With an eager market, profits grew and many immigrants arriving in California worked first on dairy farms. As the dairy industry evolved through prohibition, two world wars and even the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, the lifestyle evolved.
Lands were eventually acquired by the National Park Service as efforts were made to save open spaces from sprawl and development. A few farms are still active as you ride out to Point Reyes so it’s prudent to be on the lookout for any movement be that cattle in the road or the local farmer on his four-wheeler.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
The Point Reyes Lighthouse has a small parking lot offering easy access for motorcycles adjacent to a walking path along the crest of the ridgeline. The view north is magazine cover perfection along the Point Reyes National Seashore. The beach is bone straight for miles with improbable uniform geometry. Take the picture and head out to the Visitor Center perched on a rock high above the lighthouse. It’s then you realize the actual lighthouse is located 308 steps, each numbered, down below the Visitor Center. Steps were built in 1939 behooving the question, what was here in 1870?
The best time to visit, if there is a choice, is actually March or early spring. Plan your visit early in the day due to limited parking. Elephant seal pupping is at its height as is the migration of California gray whales. The fog can be a challenge and your visit may need a touch of luck. Summer heat in the valley produces ample fog along the coast and winter storms produce rains. Sandwiched in the middle of all that are 100 mph winds. However, we’ve brought Pashnit Tour Groups here through the years and been lucky enough to have perfect clear blue skies and calm days numerous times.
The lighthouse is one of the most scenic on the Pacific Coast and is surrounded on three sides by endless blue ocean. Lit in 1870, the lighthouse is located on a 37-foot tower placed at a level where it is often under the fog layer above, however, the lens itself becomes level with your viewpoint as you walk down to the lighthouse.
There is no fresh water at Point Arena. Water was needed to create the steam to power the fog horn. Coal fired generators that made steam for the fog signals consumed large amounts of water. An elaborate catchment system was created to store rainwater in the same way a gutter catches all the water off the roof of your house. Rainwater flowed into a 52,000 gallon cistern from a catchment area of 20,000 square feet. During periods of drought, the lighthouse had to have horse drawn wagons pull water tanks full of water obtained from local ranchers. Today, the dome of the cistern is still visible.
Consistent with other designs of the time, the light tower is sixteen sides of forged iron plate bolted to solid rock high above the ocean, 294 feet above sea level. Several buildings are squeezed onto this tiny promontory where the family quarters are situated, it took four men to run the first order light, fog signal and radio beacon. The present-day living quarters were built in 1960.
In the summer of 2018, the lighthouse went under a $5 million 14-month restoration project (not unlike the Point Arena restoration a few years ago) and was reopened in November of 2019.
During the restoration, an unexpected time capsule dated August 1929 was discovered in the foundation. The capsule contained 1929 newspapers of the time highlighting Prohibition, Babe Ruth, and Zeppelin air travel, a phrase printed above the logo for the San Francisco Examiner in the April 22, 1929 edition read, “America First.” A can of beer was advertised for 10 cents and “All Quiet on the Western Front” was published as a book. Ernest Borgnine was 12 years old and would go on to the star in the 1979 film remake of the book with Richard Thomas. The newspapers can be viewed on the National Park Service website. View the 1929 newspapers. A new Time Capsule was created with October 2018 newspapers and reset into the foundation.
Doubling back to Hwy 1, our ride flows along the edge of Tomales Bay. Not quite the ocean, but calm inlet waters with boats decaying into the water. A Marshall, you'll ride past the Hog Island Oyster Company. Forget store shelves, swing by and pick up a few oysters harvested a few feet away in sustainable oyster beds.
Marshall-Petaluma Road comes up on the north end of town, and at the top of a short hill is St Helens Catholic Church dating to 1872.
A quick tip: As you ride north out of Marshall, be in front of the traffic. You’ll quickly see why. As Hwy 1 pulls away from Tomales Bay and heads inland along the banks of Key Creek, Hwy 1 explodes into a joyful twisting left right left. It’s euphoric. No hairpins or tight corners, moreso non-stop wiggles that’ll make you fall in love with your motorcycle (below). It’s a quick shot through this short corridor before popping out at Tomales.
Tomales is the perfect stopping point for the rider. Every motorcyclist and bicyclist for a 20-mile radius will stop here to get pie at the Tomales Bakery where the deserts are handmade daily before your very eyes. Grab a cup of coffee or hot apple cider on a cold day, next door is the Tomales Deli + Café. Across the street is Diekmann’s General Store for a quick snack next to the Post Office. Tomales Petaluma Rd on the south end of town heads towards (you guessed it) Petaluma.
Note Chileno Valley Rd is a super fun ride through a low valley along a creek bed back to Wilson Hill Rd (which doubles back to the ocean via Marshall Petaluma Rd and a turn northeast will keep you on task to reach Petaluma (& the 101 Freeway).
Dillion Beach Loop
Hwy 1 continues north from Tomales, but... instead ride due west past Diekmann’s General Store towards the ocean 3 miles away. This short loop towards Dillion Beach is a worthy addition to your trek north if you have time to add a few extra miles. Dillion Beach is a small ocean community of 300 dating back to 1858. However, it’s also a dead-end road, unless you continue the loop on Valley Ford Franklin School Rd past the summit at Elephant Rock. Descend through the trees past several abandoned homes to Valley Ford to rejoin Highway 1.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Bodegas
Movie Buffs can check out Bodega 14 miles north of Tomales. Another film location for Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of The Birds along with the town of Bodega Bay. East of Bodega is the Potter School which provided the school scene of screaming kids running for their lives. The Potter School where classes began in 1873 is said to look much like it was in the movie, however, today it’s a private residence. The St. Theresa’s church in town predates the Civil War built in 1862 and is also part of the scene in the classic film. The movie had the children running out of the Potter School and then a jump cut to having the children run down Taylor St in Bodega Bay downhill towards to the harbor.
Coleman Valley Rd
East of Bodega is Joy Rd, a fun narrow backroad leading up the ridgeline and then circling back to Occidental. However, at the top of the hill is Coleman Valley Rd leading back out to the ocean down a narrow one lane 8-mile descent to Hwy 1. If you love backroads, it’s a romp. As Coleman Valley Rd nears the ocean, the road pops out of the tree cover offering expansive views of the ocean blue splayed out before you on the north end of the Bodega Bay beaches. Note the Joy Rd - Coleman Valley Rd loop allows you to skip around Bodega Bay.
Bay Hill Rd
Nearing Bodega Bay, Bay Hill Rd is a quick ride you’d never know exists. This narrow single lane 4-mile paved road is found in a broad curve on Hwy 1, it's bumpy, patched, and long forgotten. But, it connects back to Hwy 1 on the north end of Bodega Bay. Bay Hill Rd bypasses the town of Bodega Bay (much like the Joy Rd - Coleman Valley Rd combo). Bodega Bay is a bottleneck of traffic on summer weekends. Don’t even go there during peak travel times, Sunday afternoon’s for example. However, there is fuel in Bodega Bay and on any normal day, the traffic is light.
Bodega Bay is a great place to watch 21,000 Gray Whales out in the ocean on their annual migration. The whales pass by twice a year during their 10,000-mile journey. Doran Beach Rd provides access onto a narrow spit that leads out to the Harbor entrance, you'll find people set up in lawn chairs and binoculars relaxing through the day, and often braving the winds. While based from Doran Campground, spaces are mere feet from the ocean. You may also see dolphins, orcas (better know as killer whales), humpback and blue whales- the largest creature on the planet. For a closer look, try one of the boat tours based from Bodega Harbor.
Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plant
There were plans to build a nuclear power plant in Bodega Bay in the 1960s. It was intended by PG&E to be the first commercially viable nuclear power plant in the United States. However, Bodega Head is located on one tectonic plate, and the mainland is located on a different tectonic plate. Tectonic Plates are those islands of land that float on the liquid magma below. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Bodega Head promontory shifted displacing the harbor approximately 15 ft to the north relative to the mainland. This triangular land mass is still traveling at a distance of 2-3 inches per year in relation to mainland California. That would also mean the harbor has moved another 24 feet to the north since 1906. The Nuclear Power Plant was intended to be located right by the entrance to the present-day harbor. While PG&E was digging the foundation for the first reactor, the hole filled with water and plans were abandoned in 1964 after an extended legal fight to prevent the construction of the plant. The legal controversy to block the Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plant is said to have given birth to the anti-nuclear movement in America. Turn west onto Bay Flat Rd / Westshore Rd and ride out to Bodega Head to nearly the very end of the road. At Campbell Cove Beach, the hole for the foundation, now a small pond, is still there.
The Tides Restaurant is a popular touristy stop. While the Tides has been rebuilt since it was used as a backdrop in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, it’s a stop you can take the kids to and go home happy with a tin of Clam Chowder. A large tank offers fresh lobster. If you feel like spending some money, Vacation Rentals (on the south side of town) will hook you up with one of the houses around town. You can even rent one of the homes on the bluffs north of town for about $500 a weekend. Lodging can be a bit pricey and spending $2-300 a night for a bed is easy. Note vacation rental of homes extends all the way up the coast as an enjoyable alternative to the chain motel. On the Delta Bodega Pashnit Tour, we stay at the Bodega Harbor Inn. There are more expensive options such as the Bodega Bay Lodge nearby.
Immediately north of Bodega Bay is the mouth of the Russian River offering several public beaches: North Salmon Creek, Miwok, Coleman, Arched Rock Beaches all have small parking areas up above the ocean. On late Sundays, this short stretch north of Bodega Bay is often choked with traffic of beach goers headed home. Take note the aforementioned Bay Hill Rd and Coleman Valley Rd is the only shortcut around this. This sequence of public beaches extends north all the way to Goat Rock Beach.
Coleman Valley Rd
Headed north out of Bodega Bay, the road twists past Coleman Valley Road connecting back up to Joy Rd. This backroad connects to Occidental or Bodega and is a single lane paved road through the coast range forests. Coleman Valley Rd is the first in a long series of detours and connections back up and over the Coast Range. Ever been zipping down the highway, see a road zip by and say I wonder where that goes. Well, in this text, we're going to try to cover all of them so you can plan out your journey appropriately. This stretch of road up to Fort Bragg has a long list of these backroads. Some are worth exploring, some are paved, others are not. Most are single lane backroads, but they often pop out on the other side of the range and provide a fun and enjoyable alternative
A few years ago, I designed a tour along the Sonoma and Mendocino coastline called the Goat Trail Tour. This was a motorcycle tour designed to ride as many of these remote backroads as we could fit in the day. The unexpected issue we ran into is local riders had no idea what a Goat Trail was or what the term 'Goat Trail' even meant (a road fit only for goats), then showed up on a Goldwing or HD Fat Boy. The creator of Butler Maps called them Paved Mountain Trails. Take your pick of the proper terms, my tour alumni have grown to call them 'Tim roads'. They're not for everybody. If you like your roads always perfectly smooth and maintained, stick to Hwy 1. But if you love riding backroads, the Coast Range is full of them.
Hwy 1 intersects Hwy 116 at the mouth of the Russian River. The Russian River floods every few years, the last major flood was in 2019 during winter rains that left several feet of water inundating nearby towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville.
The Russian River empties into the Pacific 7 miles north of Bodega Bay near Jenner. Jenner has less than 200 people, but there is gas here and the Rivers End Restaurant & Inn provides a good lunch stop.
Hidden back in the forest along the coast is the Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, a Buddhist Temple along Russian Gulch. Aranya Bodhi means Awakening Forest and there is a small community of Buddhist monastic women that live there. A hermitage is said to be a place of religious seclusion.
Jenner to Fort Ross is another stretch of the Pacific Coast where you want to be in front of traffic. This is one of the few stretches of highway that resembles Highway 1 Big Sur with the road high above the ocean hundreds of feet carved through numerous twists and turns, an endless cadre of curvy goodness. There are several broad viewpoints high above the ocean that provide the perfect photo. During early spring, brilliant green grasses carpet the hillsides often absent of trees. Note north of Jenner is open range land, and we have ridden up on cows (photo slider below) standing in the middle of Hwy 1, lying on the side of the road and generally oblivious to the tourists gawking at them.
Russian Gulch is three miles north of Jenner and worth mentioning as it produces some of the best photo sequences of the coast as the highway descends into the gulch, crosses over the Russian Gulch Creek and then back out again through a fun set of switchbacks. At the top of the hill is Meyers Grade Rd. Across the highway from Meyers Grade Rd on the west side is the Sonoma Coast Overlook along with a short loop walking trail overlooking the ocean. The Sonoma Coast Overlook is signed as Sonoma Coast State Beach Vista Trail and leads up a short rise to a paved parking area overlooking the ocean below.
Again, the reminder, be in front of traffic as you continue north from Russian Gulch and the Sonoma Coast Overlook. Plan on stopping somewhere along this next stretch if you want that perfect photograph like the photo slider below of the Sonoma Coast.
Meyers Grade Rd
On the north side of Russian Gulch, Meyers Grade Road runs up the spine of the Coast Range and parallels Highway 1 atop the ridgeline at first overlooking the ocean across treeless meadows. This detour runs parallel to the coast and is paved all the way to Stewarts Point Skaggs Springs Rd (by combining several roads).
Several backroads splinter off Meyers Grade, and cut back to Hwy 1 with Fort Ross Rd & King Ridge Rd acting as the only two roads that connect eastward, both leading to Cazadero and back to Hwy 116. Fort Ross Rd & Timber Cove Rd connect back to Hwy 1. Both are narrow single lane paved backroads. Kruse Ranch Rd is not paved.
Fort Ross State Historic Park
Fort Ross State Historic Park (20 miles north of Bodega Bay) is a worthy stop for riders seeking a dose of local history. Fort Ross is a reconstructed fort, active from 1812 – 1842. Predating the 1849 Gold Rush, it was built by Russian fur traders making their way down the West Coast of North America while the Spanish worked their way northward along the inland California Coastline establishing the Mission System. The Russian expansion down the coast of North America also mirrored European expansion down the coast of Africa and to the Far East during the same time period.
By 1812, Ivan Kuskov arrived in the present-day Sonoma County region with 25 Russians, many skilled craftsmen and 80 Native Alaskans known as Aleuts. The Aleuts brought with them forty baidarkas, a fast-maneuverable ocean kayak made with animal skins for use in hunting. The tradesmen began building a fort to serve as a base for collecting sea otter pelts. The Russians also attempted farming and ship building but were overall unsuccessful at either activity.
By the early 1800s, Russian fur trading companies were exporting an average of 62,000 fur pelts from North America back to Russia, 80% of which were seal. The Aleuts paddled in their sea kayaks as far south as the Farallon Islands 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco and lived in crude settlements on the Farallon Island from 1812 to 1840 while they hunted. By 1817, the sea otter populations were depleted by international over hunting.
Farming & ranching began to replace hunting. Orchards containing fruit-bearing trees still remain today about a mile from the fort. Animal stock was obtained from the Spanish and ranching proved to be more successful than farming which was primary wheat. During the later years of the colony, animal stock expanded to 1700 head of cattle, nearly 1000 horses and 1000 sheep were in possession of the Russians.
By the 1840s, the fort was no longer needed to supply food to the Alaskan colonies, and the Russians were looking to sell. They sold the fort to John Sutter on credit for $30,000 in 1841. John Sutter built what today is known as Sutters Fort in 1840 in present-day downtown Sacramento. John Sutter is also credited along with James Marshall for discovering gold in Coloma in the tail race of the saw mill he and Marshall were building north of Placerville which set off the 1849 Gold Rush.
The present-day Fort Ross is mostly a reconstruction, the walls, buildings, and two defensive blockhouses overlooking the ocean were built with period techniques from drawings and plans of the fort. The Russian Church inside the fort was re-built several times, the current version was built after a 1970 fire burned down the building which was then re-constructed as authentically as possible over the existing foundation.
Russian windmills were described in early accounts of the fort and in 2012, a new windmill 31 feet high and 25 feet wide was dedicated during the Fort Ross Bicentennial Festival.
The new windmill greets visitors as you pull into the parking lot and is located on the west end of the lot. We have visited the fort with motorcycle tour groups when ocean winds were so strong, we thought the bikes might be blown over.
The strangest thing about the fort is the original Highway 1 we’re riding today was paved right through the fort and then hung a right to head north along the ocean. The road bed is still clearly visible to this day along the south wall. Funding bills for Hwy 1 were passed in 1912 and 1923 laying out the route of Highway 1 before the decision to rebuild Fort Ross on the original location took place. The road flowed through the fort all way into the 1970s.
Fort Ross Rd
Fort Ross Road is located directly across from the entrance into Fort Ross SHP. Fort Ross Rd is waiting for those adventurers who (again) love to explore the one-lane backroads. This single lane coast road ascends through several meadows and bursts of forests. Fort Ross Rd then emerges atop the ridgeline at Seaview Rd headed north, then splits into Timber Cove Rd or continues north on Seaview. Timber Cove Rd is paved back down the range to Highway 1 at Timber Cove. Seaview evolves to Hauser Bridge then to Tin Barn Rd and connects to Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Rd. King Ridge in a single lane paved ranch road back down the east side of the range and emerging at Cazadero to Hwy 116. If you like back roads, you’ll love exploring this region.
Timber Cove is located a mere three miles north of Fort Ross and makes for a good lunch stop. Timber Cove Resort is straight out of the 1960s, built in 1963 with Frank Lloyd Wright overtones, and overlooked by a 93-foot obelisk painted with Native American iconography. The hotel was renovated in 2016.
A few years back, my wife and I along with the 3 kids were offered a room here, overlooking the ocean. A pleasant and peaceful stay precludes this iconic hotel which also offers a broad patio outside for groups like ours to have lunch overlooking the ocean.
You’ll never tire of the view.
Rhododendron State Reserve
Beside the road, you’ll also see some tall bushes bursting out in colors of white, pink or purple flowers. These are rhododendron and the nearby Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve is a 317-acre park located near Salt Point State Park that focuses around this massive bush that thrives in the damp climate of Coastal California. The land was donated in 1933 by Edward Kruse from a ranch dating back to 1880 where sheep were raised and the forests logged.
You’ll find the entrance to the park at Kruse Ranch Road 10 miles north of Fort Ross. There are more than two miles of hiking trails through second-growth redwoods along with clusters of Rhododendrons. The canopy above creates a carpet of ferns and during spring, seasonal rains create numerous creeks and streams. Kruse Ranch Road is paved at first, but turns to gravel 100 yards in, mid-April through mid-June the Rhododendrons are at the peak of their blooming season.
Stewarts Point is a fast clip 12 miles to the north of Timber Cove. The ocean is forever blue to the west of the road and for the photographers in the bunch, one of the best photo backdrops lies immediately south of Stewarts Point in the long straights along the water at Rocky Point. The well-known Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Road is found directly across from the Stewarts Point store. There is gas here but you don’t want it unless you have to have it. It’s expensive and there is less expensive gas in Gualala 12 miles to the north. The Stewarts Point Store makes to-order sandwiches and offers sticky buns for a quick snack. Due to the proximity of Skaggs across the highway, it’s often a rally point for motorcyclists and bicyclists.
Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Road is a well-loved road by motorcyclists in this region. If you do decide to ride it (as mentioned above), the western half is a goaty backroad, one lane at times. But it is paved throughout. The temperature may easily rise 20 degrees as you make your way inland from the ocean. Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Rd meets Annapolis Rd after 6.5 miles at a one-lane steel girder bridge. Annapolis Rd can be ridden to pop back out at Hwy 1 on the south side of Sea Ranch for a paved loop.
At the half way point of Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Rd, is a concrete bridge over Warm Springs Creek 24 miles from the coast. The forest dissolves into grassy hillsides as Skaggs Springs Road cuts its way east across several ridgelines and changes character completely. Temps in the region can easily be 100 degrees on the eastern half during the height of summer. The eastern half is incredibly smooth; the road is wide, and the pavement is delicious. This 40-mile-long thrill ride can only be truly experienced on a motorcycle. The catch is the speed limit is 35-40 mph and there are Botz Dots lining the middle of the road. Law enforcement is intermittent and unpredictable. A decade ago, enforcement went to extremes with helicopters said to patrol it on the weekends. On the far west side is Lake Sonoma.
If headed to Geyserville (no services), note the turn-off for Canyon Road- easily missed and poorly marked, it’s the second road. If you continue unknowingly on Dry Creek Road, it will eventually take you to the 101 Freeway and Healdsburg. One winery in particular is especially impressive and found at the east end of Skaggs Spring Road near Lake Sonoma. The Ferrari Carano Vineyards and Winery at Lake Sonoma is a spectacular winery. There are over 5 acres of gardens with 10,000 tulips in early Spring, and some underground wine cellars to explore. Take a tour of the winery and learn how wine is made. Then connect with Highway 128 through the Anderson Valley.
Note if you want to stay on backroads, continue southbound on West Dry Creek Rd which evolves to Westside Rd all the way to Hwy 116 at Guerneville.
Back on Hwy 1, Annapolis Rd is found 4 miles north of Stewarts Point. This ride circles around to Skaggs Spring Rd through the tiny mountain community of Annapolis. The Annapolis Post Office was part of the 2010s sweeping action of closing small post offices across America. The tiny building is still there with the false front, but the post office sign has been removed.
Another historic building on the eastern edge of the community is a one room restored schoolhouse, the Horicon School, which serves at the community meeting point. Continuing past the Annapolis Winery, Annapolis Rd runs for 14 miles strangely as a wide two-lane with center line, albeit bumpy pavement to then rejoin back up with Stewarts Point Rd.
The community of Sea Ranch lies 4 miles south of Gualala, and 4 miles north of Stewarts Point beginning at Annapolis Rd.
What was originally a 5200-acre 16 square-mile sheep ranch was developed starting in 1964 as a community along the ocean. Over 100,000 trees were planted, and many homes back up against wind breaks. Fences are not allowed as the homes were intended to blend into their surroundings.
There are grassy meadows everywhere. There is no sprawl here. Home are spread out, streets are spread out, there is space and the oldest building dates to 1870, the Black Point Barn which was restored in the 1980s.
The 5200 acres included 10 miles of ocean front land and was conceived by the architectural faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. Sea Ranch came to embody 1960s architecture, the first building entitled Condominium One is currently in the National Register of Historic Places. The original 1963 Sea Ranch sales brochure read, “The terrain is rugged, the surf treacherous, the ocean cold.”
The Sea Ranch Home became a design style unto itself. Raw wood, large windows and open floor plans came to define living a life along the ocean. Many of the original homes are small, some a mere 1000 square feet. Today the 5200 acres contains 1769 homes, yet only 1305 people actually live here and only 300 are said to reside full time. Sea Ranch is considered 80% built out, and half that acreage is communal. There is no town, no main street, no sidewalks, no streetlights.
Half the homes are Vacation Rentals so if you’d like to base here instead of riding past, do some homework and base your journey here.
Sea Ranch Chapel
The Sea Ranch Chapel is north of the Shell Beach Access Trail parking and adjacent to the Sea Ranch Volunteer Fire Department. The chapel was completed in 1985 and is open 365 days a year sunup to sunset. You must stop to check out this unique stop along Highway 1.
The chapel made of copper, redwood and from stone was built by local artisans. A gift of Sea Ranch residents Robert and Betty Buffum, the building is tiny (a mere 360 square feet), and has few straight lines. The curvilinear shape resembles a hat from the Harry Potter movies. The inside simply has two small hand carved benches facing stain glass windows.
You need to be watching out for the Chapel and it’s harder to see if you are riding northbound. The address is 40033 Highway 1, You’ll pop out of the tree line and the Chapel is on the east side of Highway 1. The first time I saw it on a ride was a double take: What is that!? I rode past it several times before doing some careful research of when it would arrive along the ride through Sea Ranch.
At Gualala, you’ll gain access to the Old State Highway 1, the inland version of the original Hwy 1 before the ocean front version was built in the 1930s. Old State Hwy is worth mentioning for those that like detours and alternatives to Hwy 1. No crazed corners or steep hairpin climbs, rather this is a broad two lane with center line (vs. the narrow single lane roads that are common to the coast region), It runs parallel to the shoreline atop a ridgeline through thick forest cover. Ocean Ridge Airport is located on the south end. Iverson Rd provides a shortcut back to Hwy 1, but the ride can be continued via Ten Mile Cutoff. If you add in the Ten Mile Cutoff northern leg, Old State Hwy connects back up with Hwy 1 at Point Arena adding only a few minutes to your journey. At Point Arena, it’s signed as Riverside Rd. The south end is signed as Old State Hwy and is found at the southern edge of Gualala adjacent to the Gualala Country Inn.
Bowling Ball Beach
Bowing Ball Beach is found at Schooner Gulch Rd. There’s small parking area on the west side of Highway 1 to walk out to the beach. The beach rocks look like oversized bowling balls two to three feet in diameter. Eons of erosion have ground down the stones into hard spheres as the cliffs behind are eaten away by the crashing waves. The rocks are located on the north end of the beach and best viewed at low tide. Download an Ocean Tides app on your phone and plan your visit.
Point Arena has a small gas station with two old timey 1980s pumps at the Point Arena Garage. Next door to the gas station is a motorcycle repair shop, The Zen House, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, often with older bikes parked out front.
There are signs as you enter the south end of Point Arena that point to Arena Cove & the Point Arena Fishing Pier via Iverson Rd / Port Rd. There may also be a sign for the Chowder House Restaurant. Arena Cove has a 330-feet long pier that’s worth checking out even if it’s a quick pause in your journey. While the first pier at Point Arena Harbor dates to 1866, this one was completed in 1987. Its predecessor was destroyed in a storm with waves so high, they crested over the top of the pier destroying it and damaging the historic boat house in January 1983. This small fishing village of 500 banded together raising $250,000 to build another pier of steel and concrete that sits 25 feet over the water with a total price tag of $2.2 million.
The Point Arena Harbor is built around a natural cove that still has boats that go out each day into the ocean for the days catch. The next oceanfront pier to check out is 200 miles north in Trinidad near Bald Hills Rd, north of Eureka. The Point Arena Pier is known locally as a great place to fish and it’s not uncommon to see anglers hauling up quite large species of ocean fish.
Point Arena once was one of the most active lumber ports during the 1870s for logging activities. A shoot was built from the bluff above and logs were slid down to waiting ships. With an ideal mid-point location of 110 miles northwest of San Francisco and 40 miles south of Fort Bragg, Point Arena grew to have several wharves and two piers. On the south bluff, a lookout tower remains on private land overlooking the ocean presumably still on the lookout for Japanese submarines.
A stunning view of the Point Arena Harbor can be reached by walking paths on the north end of town. Park at Point Arena City Hall and there are walking trails that start from behind the building out to the cliffs overlooking the harbor.
Point Arena Lighthouse
Two miles north of Point Arena and now 130 miles north of San Francisco, one the best examples of a California coastal lighthouse that’s open to the public should not be missed. The 2.5-mile road along a narrow flat peninsula only 200-300 feet wide leads out to the lighthouse.
We’ve been taking tours of the lighthouse for 20 years and some things have evolved through the seasons. Back in the olden days (i.e. fifteen years ago), the lens was still in the top of the lighthouse. You could walk up 145 steps via the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse, which is original to the 1870 lighthouse, 115 feet to a room below the lens. The lens was then reached via a narrow steel ladder to have your nose mere inches away from the prisms while a docent explained the history and construction of the lighthouse. The Point Arena lighthouse is also unique in that it has a walkway around the top that you can walk out onto and look straight down. Quite fun on windy days.
The lighthouse was refurbished and restored in 2008 with a $1.2 million grant from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment. The lens was removed and placed into the visitor center but the lens room is now an open space big enough for a small group with a magnificent view.
The original lighthouse was built in 1870 and made from brick and mortar. Damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the lighthouse was rebuilt and completed by 1908. Point Arena Lighthouse has that classic lighthouse shape and was designed by the Concrete Chimney Corporation of San Francisco known for constructing factory smokestacks. The lens placed atop the tower weighed six tons and floated on 5 gallons of liquid mercury in a circular vat. The lens was comprised of 666 hand-ground glass prisms. Like most lens’ of that time, the prisms were manufactured in France and shipped around the horn of South America, often in a barrel of molasses to protect the delicate glass prisms. Once completed, the light could be seen out to sea for 16 miles.
While today we take electricity for granted, in 1908, the mechanism to turn the lens was purely mechanical. The lighthouse keepers, known as wickies, turned a hand crank to lift a 160-pound weight up the center of the lighthouse every 75 minutes to keep the lens turning. The “Funck” hydraulic oil lamp need to be refueled every four hours and the wicks trimmed regularly. It took four men to man the station 24 hours a day. Life as a lighthouse keeper could be a lonely job on this remote stretch of coastline in 1908. Lighthouse keepers commonly lived on site with their entire family. A garden was planted, a milk cow was kept and supplies for the family often brought in by boat. In 1870, there were no roads up and down the coast.
The Point Arena Lighthouse was acquired by a nonprofit organization in 1984 which set about to preserve and restore the buildings and maintain the lighthouse for public enjoyment. You can stay in the restored Lighthouse Keepers home as a vacation rental.
The most interesting movie reference to the lighthouse is the 2014 movie Need for Speed starring Aaron Paul (of Breaking Bad) and Rami Malek (of Bohemian Rhapsody). You can watch the climatic super car race to the finish line at the Point Arena lighthouse on YouTube. The filming of the race was done locally on Hwy 253 to Hwy 128 and Hwy 1.
Mountain View Rd
A quick thought on Mountain View Rd, this ride diagonally triangulates back to Hwy 128 at Boonville. For the most part it’s two lanes, but still a bumpy coastal backroad up and over the range. Some love it, some want to stick to smoother rides. Nothing in the middle and zero paved side roads make it fun road and a quick ride over to Boonville. Connect with Hwy 253 on over to Ukiah or make for Hwy 101 further inland.
Manchester is located immediately north of Point Arena and known for a meticulously well-manicured tree carved out in the shape of an oval next door to the volunteer fire department.
Philo Greenwood Rd
At Elk is an alternative to Highway 128, Philo Greenwood Rd. If riding northbound, I’ve missed the turn-off several times. It’s found on the south end of this tiny town and from Hwy 1, Philo Greenwood Rd points southeasterly and parallels Hwy 128 to Philo. While Hwy 128 will get you there faster, if you’d like something with more twists and turns, zero other traffic, and are not in any sort of hurry, try Philo Greenwood as an alternative to Hwy 128. Some portions are older pavement, but it is double lane width for the majority. Take it slow at a mosey pace and enjoy the ride headed over to Boonville.
Highway 1 reaches Highway 128 at the Navarro River 23 miles north of Point Arena. Highway 128 during the redwood section is pure joyous fun. The pavement is excellent, the curves are smooth affairs with good sightlines and occasional pull outs for slow moving vehicles. Hwy 128 though is a busy artery flowing traffic through the Anderson Valley at Boonville and then up and over the range to the 101 freeway at a steep diagonal. Note the twisty Hwy 253 will take you up and over a low range to Ukiah.
As you ride along Hwy 128, take special note of the trees (pictured below). You can see a water line on the redwoods up to six feet above the surface of the highway. The Navarro River floods from time to time along Hwy 128, rising 10 feet above flood stage. The flooding of the Navarro is often caused by the formation of a sandbar at the mouth of the river allowing the river to rise up over the surface of Highway 128 during heavy spring rains. The alternative would be Hwy 20 to the north at Fort Bragg over to Willits.
Flynn Creek Rd
Twelve miles inland from the ocean along Hwy 128 is Flynn Creek Rd. Flynn Creek Rd is nothing to write home about, it’s a steady two lane with a center line, it’s twisty, bumpy and patched with several sleeper corners in the mid-section as it pops up and over a low ridgeline.
This road is worth mentioning as it leads to Comptche and the enjoyable Comptche-Ukiah Rd. Make your loop inland on Hwy 128, then north on Flynn Creek, and back out to the ocean on Comptche-Ukiah Rd at the Comptche General Store.
At Albion, (albion is the ancient name for Britain) you’ll ride over the last wooden trestle bridge still in existence along Hwy 1. The current bridge was built in 1944 during the war years when shortages of steel inspired innovative bridge building techniques. Concrete and even redwood were not readily available. The bridge was constructed with salvaged Douglas fir timbers pressure treated and infused with a copper azole preservative to treat them for the elements and salt air. Concrete, also in short supply, was only used for the base abutments while thirteen vertical towers of Douglas fir were erected. The concrete towers at each side of the river and the footings of the timber towers are reinforced with salvaged railroad rails. A large steel railroad span was salvaged from a bridge in Oregon and reconditioned for use in the center of the bridge over the river.
Cal Trans announced plans in 2009 to replace it as functionally obsolete as they’ve done with numerous other bridges along Highway 1 over the last 20 years. The townspeople naturally pushed back to save their iconic bridge that’s come to define this tiny alcove south of Mendocino. Functionally obsolete describes many bridges along Hwy 1 and across the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge likely is the most recognizable bridge that also has this designation. The Bixby Bridge along the Big Sur section of Highway 1 also has this title. In the 1990s, Caltrans spent $20 million to retrofit the Bixby Bridge but were careful to not alter its iconic look. The Bixby Bridge is said to be one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast.
During 2016, CalTrans completed a seismic retrofit to enhance the steel portion of the Albion Bridge. The opposition to replacing the bridge succeeded in listing the Albion Bridge on the National Register of Historic Places and in the California Register of Historic Places in July 2017 delaying any construction. Construction is currently scheduled to begin in Spring of 2023 and be completed by 2026.
As you look down from the bridge, there is a campground on a wide flat area along the banks of the Albion River. This flat area was created for the sawmill that once operated where the RVs sit today. The Albion River is one of the few coastal rivers with no major dams or reservoirs. Starting off at an elevation of 1570 feet, the Albion River drains 43 square miles of Coast Range. The saw mill built on the small flat plain at the mouth of the river dates to 1853.
A company town was built to house the workforce and railways were constructed to reach the lumber inland up Railway Gulch and over Keen’s Summit. The rail line reached within a mile of Comptche. Trains brought lumber from the surrounding Coast Range forests to the mouth of the Albion River where it was processed and the loaded onto ships and used to build San Francisco. Demand for coast redwood exploded after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake set off a building boom to rebuild San Francisco.
Logging lasted at the Albion Sawmill until 1928 and the railway was dismantled in 1937. Much of the watershed is still owned by logging companies and large tracts of forest are now 3rd and 4th growth forest with over half of the watershed still owned by the Mendocino Redwood Company. The Albion River Campground now sits over the top of the former sawmill site and is open to the public.
Albion Little River Rd
Albion Little River Rd is found on the north side of the Albion River. It forms the southern leg of the Y that connects up to Comptche. Comptche is nothing more than a T-intersection with a general store as the town anchor. Albion Little River Rd should not be missed for a northbound rider not bound by any time constraints. A classic Coast Range two-lane stretch of twisty pavement. It can be bumpy and dirty, that should be expected. It connects to the Little River Airport intersecting Little River Airport Rd at the top of the hill. A turn right/east continues the ride up to Comptche-Ukiah Rd then flows right back to the ocean only a few miles from you started.
Van Damme State Park
The Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail is located at the intersection with Little River-Airport Rd and Albion Little River Rd. Known for its Pygmy Forest, this redwood forest spans 2069 acres. There’s an odd array of trees, fully mature, but as small as 6 inches tall. Some may reach just a few feet in height at their tallest. This unusual sight is due to shallow root penetration, a lack of nutrients, and some of the world’s most acidic soil. There is also the option to hike through the Pygmy Forest into Fern Canyon. A fern canyon is exactly what it sounds like, a lush intensely green under story beneath the forest canopy above. The next Fern Canyon is located further north in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park between Trinidad & Klamath nearing the Oregon border which is the canyon they used to film the movie Jurassic Park.
Comptche Ukiah Rd
When you put motorcyclists together, one of their favorite topics will always be the best motorcycle roads in the state. Name your top five. Years ago, I was asked to write a magazine article for one the motorcycle magazines entitled, the Top Five Motorcycle Roads in California. I didn’t list Comptche Ukiah Rd. However.
Comptche Ukiah Rd was re-paved a few years back and I added it to my newly designed Coast Range Motorcycle Tour. The route based from Point Arena, started with Highway 128 and then rode north on Flynn Creek to Comptche then hung a left and continued down the hill to rejoin Hwy 1 via Comptche Ukiah Rd.
Comptche is a tiny redwood forest community of less than 200 people anchored by a small general store that’s always worth a stop. What the riders didn’t expect on the tour was a brand-new 15-mile downhill stretch of pavement on Comptche Ukiah Rd laid down like a ribbon of mouth-watering taffy tossing and turning steadily dropping in elevation out to the ocean.
Comptche is set at an elevation of 187 feet above the ocean precluding a steady descent meaning no extreme elevation change and no switchbacks along the edge of Big River in the canyon below. The distance is just right, not too long, not too short. Traffic is minimal, But the road… a continual deluge of left right lefts, banked corners, an endless orgy of curves.
Riding a road like Comptche Ukiah isn’t about going fast, that’s a misnomer. Rather, it’s about setting a steady safe pace. Placing the bikes at a safe interval and indulging in a cohesive group experience unlike any other. While the group behaves as a single unit, overwhelmingly individual sensations flow from the road into the motorcycle beneath you. You’re not inside this machine, like an automobile, you’re on top of it, you ride it, you embrace it, you become part of it, you are an extension of the machine.
You feel the pressure of the wind, the change in temperature nearing the ocean, the increase in the moisture content in the air. There is a change in the taste of the air. The smell of the lush redwood forest is crisp and sharp. The views of the road before you are ever changing, always the next curve, then setting up for the next curve. The sweet sound of the exhaust compounds the experience, downshift, brake, accelerate, lean, set the line. Pressure, sound, taste, smell, feel, sight. Combine these stimuli together with a line of 10 bikes spread out in a harmony of motion, a synchronic stimulation.
By the time we reached the ocean at Hwy 1, the pleasure chemicals in my riders’ brains were oozing from their ears. They were ecstatic. You can’t get that kind of euphoria any other way; the motorcyclist experiences a level of pleasure that many authors before me have attempted to put into words. We seek this out, we crave it, this pleasure-generating causation. We compare notes with other riders, sharing our Top 5 List, all in the pursuit of experiencing those sensations once more. After we rode it, Comptche Ukiah got moved into the Top 5. A lofty designation, I know, ride it and you decide.
Orr Springs Rd
Eastbound from the Comptche Store, there’s a name change to Orr Spring Rd and the mid-section is a bumpy patched narrow (albeit paved) single lane back road. Orr Springs provides access to Montgomery Woods State Park and the hot springs there. After several tight switchbacks, Orr Springs Rd emerges north of Ukiah at Hwy 101.
The small town of Mendocino was built on a square peninsula jutting out into the ocean, surrounded on three sides by water. There is gas, food, and lodging here. Originally founded in 1852 by New Englanders who migrated here to log the nearby redwood forests. The New Englanders built homes that resembled native New England dwellings spurring numerous TV and movies being filmed in the town such as James Dean’s East of Eden, Karate Kid Part III and most notably, the television series Murder, She Wrote although only 9 of the 264 episodes were actually filmed here.
Chinese Americans also settled here working in the logging industry. By the 1860s, Mendocino was home to 500 to 700 Chinese. They built the Temple of Kwan Tai and tours are offered by appointment. The temple is located at 45160 Albion St in the southwest corner of town.
The Temple of Kwan Tai is actually a tiny New England style home on a residential street, but the small home dates to estimates of 1852. The building was restored in the late 1990s and rededicated in 2001. The site is recognized as a California Registered Historic Landmark. The altar has a similar feel to the Joss House Temple in Weaverville.
Pashnit Tour groups have stayed at the Mendocino Hotel, est. 1878, a large yellow building overlooking the ocean.
The yellow is clearly visible as you ride north on Hwy 1 and gain a distant view of Mendocino. The Mendocino Hotel is one of the few lodging establishments along the coast that’s not a chain and can accommodate larger groups. Across the street from the hotel is the Ford House Visitor Center & Museum at 45035 Main Street. The Museum is a small Victorian home with eager docents to tell the story of the town.
The town of Mendocino is not only surrounded on three sides by the ocean, but also has very large state parks nearby. On the northeast corner of the square shaped peninsula, Mendocino Headlands State Park is 347 acres of undeveloped seaside bluffs and inlets while the Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park is 7334 acres along the edges of Big River on the south end of Mendocino.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
North of Mendocino 1.5 miles and south of Fort Bragg at Casper is the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Watch for signs to the lighthouse and turn west on Point Cabrillo Dr for 1.3 miles. There is a parking area for vehicles that requires a ½ mile walk for a leisure stroll out to the ocean to get near the lighthouse. Vehicles are allowed on the narrow walking path with handicapped placards. There are vacation rentals near the lighthouse that are the original lighthouse keeper quarters available to rent (unlike Point Arena where the lighthouse quarters were razed and non-descript ranch style homes from the 1970s were built in place of the original Victorian-style home. The historic Inn, known as The Cottages, features period-furnished rooms.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was completed in 1909. The third-order Fresnel lens has four panels containing 90 lead glass prisms weighing 6800 pounds was placed atop a house, rather than a tall traditional tower like Point Arena Lighthouse to the south, the present-day lighthouse is still in daily operation and said to be one of the most complete light stations in the United States.
Kerosene Lamps in the lens have long-since been retired, and the present-day light uses a single 1000-watt electric filament that shines a beam of light to the horizon and beyond. The house underneath the lens is a small museum / gift shop. My buddy Phil bought socks during our stop there. The displays of local history are well-worth the visit.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Take note of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. This 47-acre coastal preserve was started as a private enterprise in 1961 and takes advantage of the coastal climate to grow heathers, succulents, rhododendrons, and perennials. There are 3 miles of trails through the park to walk which culminates with a trail that leads to coastal bluffs with views that extend up and down the coast. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is regarded as one the Top 10 botanical gardens in the United States.
At the south end of Fort Bragg is Highway 20, the main connection eastward over the Coast Range and connecting to Hwy 101 and Willits. There will be a new page for Hwy 20 someday, but it’s worth mentioning Hwy 20 is one of the most unexpectedly exciting motorcycle roads in the north state.
Its uniqueness lies in the turnouts. The pavement is perfect, the curves are non-stop mountain wiggles and while there are no shortage of tourists and campers, the polite ones will pull over for you to zip on by. Numerous signs along the way remind vehicles to pull over for faster traffic (that’s you) and the considerate ones will.
Fort Bragg was originally the site of an Indian Reservation, and then as the name implies, a military outpost in 1857. In the 1880’s logging arrived in Fort Bragg and loggers pushed into the surrounding mountains.
Noyo Harbor is worth mentioning as a great place to stop for lunch. North Harbor Road is on the north side of the Noyo River bridge, which drops down to the level of the water and several different restaurants on the harbor. You’ll still see the fishing boats headed out to sea under the modern concrete bridge that replaced the steel girder bridge that used to define images of the town. The original 1987 Overboard was based here as the town that Kurt Russell’s character resided in. Shots of the Point Cabrillo Light Station, Noyo Harbor and the original steel girder bridge were prominent in the film.
One of Fort Bragg’s most well-known attractions is the Skunk Train (so named from the smell of the original gas engine) based at the original train depot that typically houses a 1924 Baldwin steam engine. The steam engine is normally used only on weekends or special occasions.
The train excursion will take you half way, or up and over the mountain through dense forests of redwoods to Willits parallel to Highway 20. For the bicyclists in the bunch, you can rent a pedal power rail cart to pedal up to the top of the Coast Range tracks. The train station is located in the middle of town along Main Street.
Glass Beach has a neat sounding name but turned out to be rather anti-climactic. There are signs for it on the north side of town pointing west towards the ocean along Hwy 1. Glass Beach was the location of the town dump from 1949 to 1967.
By modern standards, dumping your garbage onto any ocean beach is not the brightest of ideas but it was a different time. At some point in the mid-1960s someone figured out, yeah, that’s probably not a good idea.
By then, biodegradable items slowly broke down and any metal was eventually removed. The pounding waves also broke down any glass or pottery into small pieces then polished them smooth. A vast majority of the glass has been removed or used in art pieces or even local buildings. There are two other Glass Beach locations in Fort Bragg, all former dump sites, but the glass has slowly diminished as tourists pick up pieces and take them home. The beach today is really polished small stones, but still, it’s a cool sounding name, like Glass Mountain. The Sea Glass Museum is at located 303 N Main Street in a converted house.
Nearby is the Fort Bragg Mendocino Coast Historic Society in a rather attractive looking 1892 Victorian home. The home was a showpiece of the logging company and was built with 67,000 board feet of the choicest redwood lumber. It was donated to the City of Fort Bragg in 1985 for use as a museum.
The flat undeveloped areas along the west side of Hwy 1 in town are where the sawmill was originally located. The train tracks lead right to the former sawmill where countless loads of logs were brought in from the Coast Range forests. The Skunk Train now occupies the original train station.
Pudding Creek Trestle
On the north edge of Fort Bragg is the Pudding Creek Trestle, a wooden railroad bridge dating to 1915 that’s been converted to a walking path along the ocean. Last used in 1949, the bridge is 527 feet long and 44 feet above the sand below. There are walking paths down to the beach and it’s a unique feature to the lumber history lore of Fort Bragg. Several hotels are situated on the north end of the bridge and if you prefer a lodging site not in the middle of the town, there are several motels in row up against the ocean. The walking path atop the railroad bed leads to MacKerricher State Park.
Headed north out of Fort Bragg, there's only 45 miles left to reach Leggett in this crescendo building portion of the ride that only gets better. Tourist traffic has thinned out and sometimes the road is straight and relaxed. There are green pastures beside the road that hold grazing cattle pulling grass up on some very expensive real estate. The scene will mesmerize you.
Branscomb Road is the most northerly east-west road before you link up with Highway 101 on up to Eureka. All the graffiti artists in the county coalesce at the top of the range on Branscomb Rd. After you've ridden Hwy 1 enough times, you start exploring all these rides through the coastal mountains. Do check out the page for this road linked above. Right before Hwy 1 turns east and heads inland, take a quick breather at the last pullout before we head inland and let it all sink in while listening to the sound of the ocean below.
Somewhere during this ride up Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast- it has occurred to you... The smoothness of the road, the wind coming off the ocean chilling the air prompting you to zip up that jacket. There's an occasional car here and there and you've been running at a relaxed pace through the straights.
Is this why you finally bought that motorcycle after all those years of wondering if you'd ever ride again? Does it all make sense now? The sensation of the bike leaning smoothly back and forth, and the sound of the wind melding with the sweet hum emanating from the motor beneath you.
The Simple Life
Life is simpler when astride a motorcycle. You twist the throttle and your life fades into the background. There are no stoplights out here. No boulevards. No rows of nondescript tract homes. This is what riding a motorcycle is all about. This is a road where you feel everything. The throttle in your hand, the vibration of the bike beneath you, and the ever-present wind in your face.
The Pacific Coast Highway is a virtual oasis separate from the rest of California. It's lush and green with ever-present cool temperatures. Enjoy this stop to breathe for a moment and take in the amazing vista.
Prepare yourself, it’s time to ride the Leggett Section.
The Leggett Section
Remember earlier in our journey we talked about the Top Five motorcycle roads in California, well, dear reader, we’ve arrived at one of those roads. It does not have a fancy name like Tail of the Dragon, Triple Nickle, Serpent to the Sea or The Little Dragon. In fact, we’ve always called it quite simply, The Leggett Section. Not a very alluring name but The Leggett Section is a gift from the motorcycle gods and will quickly gain inclusion in your Top Five.
The Leggett Section has an endless cadre of hairpins, super-fast corners, tight corners, and especially, tight blind corners. We remind riders not only of the Slow in, Fast Out Rule, but also the importance of lane position. As mentioned below, This stretch of Hwy 1 requires the rider to set up on the outside and once you have see-through, accelerate out of the corner in the proper line. You go where you look. This Delayed Late-Apex technique will keep you safe, provide a margin of error, and help you set the correct speed for your ability- and the capability of the bike you’re riding.
The ride climbs up and over the first ridgeline gaining 1000 feet in elevation and then back down, this initial stretch is the baptism of fire to Rockport. But by now, after a day of riding on Hwy 1, you’ve figured out the correct pace, the line, the speed. On the flip side of the ridge, Hwy 1 embarks on a flat & fast 3-mile stretch along Cottaneva Creek. At the Cottaneva Creek bridge, there’s what looks like a road on the north side of the bridge this is a gravel logging road and runs up to the top of the ridgeline overlooking the ocean. This path immediately splits but stay to the right and climb ¼ mile to reach the top of low ridge overlooking the ocean.
A few feet to the north of the Cottaneva Creek bridge is Usal Rd. There’s no sign. Locals have used spray paint to paint the name Usal and a giant arrow on the highway. Two signs warn the road is not maintained and travel at your own risk. Usal Rd is quite famous in dual-sport ADV and Jeeper communities. It’s a gravel / dirt road that rides atop the Coast Range with stunning views of the ocean hundreds of feet below. If you only need to see the ocean, take Usal Road .4 miles to reach the top of the ridge overlooking the ocean. Usal Rd eventually connects all the way north to Briceland and to The Lost Coast / Mattole Rd. If you’re curious, there are numerous POV videos uploaded to YouTube of Jeep mounted GoPro video filmed along Usal Rd journeys.
Usal leads into one of the most remote places in Northern California, the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Better known as The Lost Coast, there are no paved roads, no towns, nothing. While logging cleared much of the old growth redwoods, by the 1890s, the logging companies determined there wasn’t enough sustainable forest left to cut down and the logging ended. Usal Rd finally reaches Four Corners, along with the off-the-grid mountain community of Whale Gulch, near Briceland. Briceland Thorn Rd connects back up with Shelter Cove Rd. Then use Wilder Ridge Rd to reach Mattole Rd - The Lost Coast. There are remote hiking trails in the Sinkyone Wilderness that run along the ocean bluffs for miles and are based from the Needle Rock Visitor Center in the park.
As you leave the azure beauty of the ocean behind you on Hwy 1, the redwood forest swallows you whole. Endless curves stretch out before you, one, then the next, then another. The bike sways from side to side, and you no longer need to think. It all just happens. A bit of trail brake, a shift, a touch of the throttle- and you flow through the corners as if it were just you, the road, the bike. The road is smooth. Intensely smooth, and an air of satisfaction wells up within you. It all comes together, on this spot, on this day, on a road made for motorcyclists. Nothing else like this exists. You simply have to ride it to truly understand why The Leggett Section would be in many motorcyclist’s Top Five.
Slow In, Fast Out.
One of the topics we love to talk about in any Safety Brief with riders on a Pashnit Motorcycle Tour are decreasing radius corners. These are corners that seems at first to have an easy entry, but as the rider enters a corner that appears to have a smooth arc, the radius begins to decrease once you’re committed to your line. We say these corners are ‘tightening up’. Hwy 1 has an endless list of decreasing radius corners, both lefts and rights. But what makes Hwy 1 North different than Hwy 1 South along Big Sur is there are bridges everywhere along Highway 1 Big Sur.
On the northern section, there are significantly less bridges, which means for every stream, creek, and river, Hwy 1 must curve inward, and then pop back out again. What makes Hwy 1 so crazy fun, can also make it equally dangerous.
A simple example, Hwy 1 crests a low rise, pops right and flows inland on a downhill. A sign appears indicating a 15-mph corner, if you miss that sign, you may be in for a surprise as Hwy 1 pushes hard left and begins to tighten up. We have watched riders on Hwy 1 drift across the lane until they are inches from going off the road not able to lean properly or hold their line.
During morning Safety Briefs, we’ve advised riders to set up the bike on the outside of the lane as you enter the turn, which may feel counter-intuitive and takes mental practice. Set your entry speed being aware of the signed mph and commit to the corner, watching for the exit. You go where you look is a universal adage with riders.
Once you have See-Through, gas it, bite the rear and power out of the corner. We’ve sternly cautioned new riders there is no braking past the 50% mark in a hairpin along Hwy 1. If you are still braking past the 50% mark attempting to scrub speed, you’re going too fast for your ability or the motorcycle’s ability. The 2nd half of the hairpin is only for throttle and not panic braking. Slow in, Fast out.
Leggett & the Drive-Thru Tree
Once you hit the steel girder bridge, it's all over. Take a moment here to pull over, then smile to yourself. Yes, California is a rider’s paradise. Nothing else quite like it exists in all the world.
A few feet before the Hwy 101 intersection is a turn to the south, and a short distance away is the Chandelier Drive-Through Tree. The tree is 276-feet tall, 16-feet in diameter and has a 6-foot wide by 6-foot-9-inch high hole cut through it which was carved out back in the 1930s. The larger limbs on this tree are 7-feet-thick, not the tree, the limbs. And the first limb is 100 feet up. Make a plan to visit the Avenue of the Giants (to the north), don’t miss out on the 32-mile stretch of road that parallels the 101 freeway.
There is gas near here for those with a small tank south from the 1/101 intersection ¼ mile south via Hwy 271 in Leggett. To the north, there is gas 14 miles away up 101 beyond Cooks Valley across from The One Log House. It’s what it sounds like, a house built into a single redwood tree.
Fortuna is 74 miles to the north, the start of Highway 36 and Far North California. South on the 101 Freeway will quickly take you up and over the range to Laytonville. San Francisco is 180 miles to the south.
When I first moved to California in 1993, the most alluring thing about the move for this Wisconsin Farm Boy was the ocean. While our farm was 10 miles from Lake Michigan, largely regarded as an inland sea, it couldn’t compare to the scale and impressive nature of gazing off to across the Pacific. One afternoon, I was assigned a book to read for one of my college courses. I could sit and read it at the library or why not the ocean. I strapped a lawn chair to the backseat of my ’83 Yamaha Venture and rode out to the ocean, pitched my chair near Stewarts Point and read my book while listening to the crashing waves below. Nearly 30 years later, I’m still talking about that day spent flipping through the pages and breathing the salt air. While Hwy 1 Big Sur is the touristy stretch of the California Coast, Hwy 1 North is where people live, work, and retire to enjoy a daily life along the ocean.
Highway 1 North - Photo Gallery
MORE INFO: Highway 1 Northern California
RIDE IT on a PASHNIT TOUR
210 miles - LENGTH
Excellent for the majority - PAVEMENT
Smooth, Many, Constant, Tight - CURVES
Mill Valley to Leggett - CONNECTS
Numerous - LODGING
LISTED CONNECTING SIDEROADS:
Fairfax Bolinas Rd
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Coleman Valley Rd / Joy Rd
Bay Hill Rd
Meyers Grade Rd
Fort Ross Rd
King Ridge Rd
Timber Cove Rd
Stewarts Point Skaggs Spring Rd
Mountain View Rd
Flynn Creek Rd
Comptche Ukiah Rd
Cabrillo Lighthouse Rd
Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plan
Fort Ross State Historic Park
Rhododendron State Reserve
Bowling Ball Beach
Point Arena Harbor
Point Arena Lighthouse
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree