Heading down the coast, we encountered the usual scenic places to explore: lighthouses, cliff-top overlooks, wave-scoured shorelines, and more. No matter how many times we’ve seen them, they always seem to deliver seductive views and amazing photo ops. What does seem to change from trip to trip is the wildlife along the way. Migrating gray whales, sea otters, pelicans, elk, and elephant seals can all pop up unexpectedly along the route. It’s always a treat to spot whales and sea otters, but that’s usually from a distance. Elephant seals, on the other hand—after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century—are increasing in number and can now be found right up on the beaches, staking out territorial areas for breeding. There are signs warning folks to stay away from them, which is probably a good idea; the big bulls can reach a length of 16 feet in length and weigh upwards of 5,000 pounds.
Leaving Oregon and crossing into Northern California, you swing through large stands of redwood trees, with protected groves found in Redwood National Park and a few other California State Parks. It’s hard to describe the scale of these giants, which often tower more than 300 feet tall, and the density of the forests are a change from the open vistas that comprise most of the run down Oregon’s coast. If you are taking this route down through the redwoods, watch for the short loop roads off the Coast Highway that detour you through the more scenic groves; paths such as the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway are a scenic alternative to Highway 101. It’s just 10 miles out of your way, but it snakes through a magical, old-growth redwood forest and is well worth the time. Along the way you’ll pass numerous trailheads such as Big Tree and Ah Pah, if you’re inclined to take a short walk; also be sure to keep an eye out for the wild elk herds that roam the park.