The Scenic Drive To Pelican State Beach Is Almost As Beautiful As The Destination Itself
Take a trip to the northernmost beach in California, Pelican State Beach, on Highway 101. Along the way, you’ll see stunning ocean views, towering redwood forests, and quaint towns you’ve probably never heard of. This scenic drive in Northern California is a great bucket-list item, and perfect to kick off a Pacific Northwest road trip. For this route, we’re starting in
Eureka and going north on Highway 101 to the beach right near the border of Oregon. This route takes about two hours, not including stops, and goes along the coast almost the entire way.
Head out of Eureka, going north on Highway 101. Along this two-hour drive, you’ll see breathtaking ocean views with cliffs, as well as sandy and rocky beaches.
This area of Northern California also has several redwood forests that can be seen from the road. Plus, wildlife, quaint towns, and some farmland, too.
Just 20 minutes outside of Eureka you’ll start to come across some large beach parks. Clam Beach County Park in McKinleyville is accessible via the Clam Beach Park off-ramp. Day use is free.
This long beach is a great place to run or walk along the shoreline since it goes on for miles. Horseback riding is also popular on this beach, so don’t be surprised if you see groups of people on horseback.
Clam Beach, CA 95519, USA
Continue on your journey passing beaches and tiny towns. If the weather is pleasant, you might see kayaks, surfers, and stand-up paddle boarders near Trinity’s beaches.
The beaches in this area are definitely picture-worthy. Boulders of varying sizes are sprinkled throughout the ocean, not too far from the shore so you can see the waves crash on the rocks. Some of these boulders even have trees growing on them. This place feels like no other in California.
Old Home Beach, Edwards St, Trinidad, CA 95570, USA
Thirty minutes from Clam Beach County Park is Lookout Point. Located right off Highway 101, between redwood forests and the ocean, is this incredible vista.
If you want to stay awhile, you’re just south of the Redwood Creek Picnic Area. The beach-front area has sheltered picnic tables and is usually not crowded. Elk sightings are not uncommon on the beach, or in the nearby forest.
Lookout Point, California 95570, USA
Orick is the next town you’ll come to on Highway 101. However, it would be more accurately described as wilderness with a few businesses and houses than an actual town. This forested area has tons of Roosevelt elk!
Roosevelt elk are the largest of the Northern American elk. They are only found in Humboldt, Siskiyou, and Del Norte counties. One of the area’s seven herds lives in Orick.
Driving north on Highway 101, you’ll pass by Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If you want to explore the park, take a detour off Highway 101 to Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.
This parkway will take you past campgrounds, trailheads, and sites, like Big Tree Wayside– a massive 1,500-year-old redwood tree that’s over 300 feet tall. Follow this parkway to the end to reach Highway 101 again.
Big Tree Wayside, Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick, CA 95555, USA
From Big Tree Wayside to the next noteworthy destination, Wilson Creek Beach at False Klamath Cove, takes about 25 minutes. False Klamath Cove is part of the Yurok Tribal Territory and is a popular place to explore tidepools.
This is where the beaches start to look like the ones in Oregon and Washington, with the redwood forests extending all the way to the sandy beach. When the fog rolls in, this beach feels extra cozy.
False Klamath Cove, California 95548, USA
Only five minutes north of Wilson Cove Beach is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is one of four parks that make up the Redwood National and State Parks.
These parks contain 45 percent of the Earth’s last remaining old-growth redwood trees and have the tallest trees in the world.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Crescent City, CA 95531, USA
This 33,000-acre forest has eight miles of coast, with towering redwoods going all the way to the coastline.
Half of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is old-growth redwoods, while the other half is coast redwoods. There are several overlooks and places to stop along Highway 101 going through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
Del Norte County, CA, USA
It takes a little more than 20 minutes without stopping from Wilson Creek Beach to Crescent City. Highway 101 goes right through the city and then enters beautiful bucolic farmland.
About 15 minutes up the highway, you’ll definitely want to take this brief exit to shop at Alexandre Family Farm Store. The store carries farm fresh milk and eggs made on the neighboring family-operated farm. Pick up some organic chocolate milk or kefir for the road.
Alexandre Family Farm Store, 7955 Bailey Rd, Crescent City, CA 95531, USA
Not even a minute north of the dairy is this beautiful river. Smith River is both a town and a river in Northern California. The Smith River is one of the cleanest rivers in the United States. There are several campgrounds just off the highway where you can stop and explore the river.
The town starts just north of the river and extends all the way to Pelican Beach State Park.
Smith River, CA 95567, USA
Going straight from the dairy to Clifford Kamph Memorial Park takes less than 15 minutes. This beach park is right off of the highway. The sprawling beach is a great place to stretch your legs.
The park is three acres and has 14 tent campsites. The campsites are only $20 per night. Dogs are welcome if they're kept on-leash.
Clifford Kamph Memorial Park, 15100 US-101, Smith River, CA 95567, USA
Finally, you’ve made it to the serene Pelican State Beach. The northernmost beach in California is quiet and peaceful with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Watch the pelicans dive for fish and, depending on the time of year, watch for migrating whales.
This undeveloped beach is free to visit. It’s so relaxing, you might just want to stay for a while. There are several hotels and cottages in the area that are just steps away from this calming beach.
Pelican State Beach, 17200 US-101, Smith River, CA 95567, USA
This beach is great for surfing, fishing, beachcombing (there is often lots of driftwood), and taking long walks. Camping is not allowed on this beach. Also, keep your pup at home– dogs are also not allowed on the beach.
This five-acre beach doesn’t get many crowds due to its out-of-the-way location. In fact, it’s been dubbed, "the loneliest beach in California." Sounds like a great place to unwind!
Pelican State Beach, 17200 US-101, Smith River, CA 95567, USA
You can drive for hours on Highway 101. If you’re in San Francisco and plan on going north on Highway 101 all the way to Pelican State Beach it’ll take about seven hours. From Santa Rosa, the drive takes five and a half hours. From Sacramento, the drive takes 7 and a half hours. To turn this scenic Northern California drive into a vacation, consider
staying in Trinidad or camping year-round at this beach in Orick.
Have you taken Highway 101 all the way to the Oregon border? If yes, what was the best thing about the drive?
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