Touring California's Route 1 From San Francisco to the Redwoods

Just coasting

California Route 1 from San Francisco to Redwoods
The northern section of California's Route 1 could be just as much of an amazing ride as the southern section.Illustration by Mark Wagner

Many people will tell you that California's Coast Highway is at its best in the southern section between Morro Bay and Santa Cruz, but my favorite stretch is the northern leg, from where it leaves U.S. 101 at Mill Valley to where it rejoins 101 some 220 miles later at Leggett. Maybe I prefer it because I've never ridden it in summer, only during off months when the coastal range is at it's greenest and traffic is minimal.

If you leave Mill Valley early on a Sunday, you may find yourself embroiled in the famous Sunday Morning Ride, an informal dash to breakfast at Inverness an hour or so up the road. This section, where the road is called Shoreline Highway, twists, often tightly, through the coastal range where eucalyptus trees shade the road. By the time you reach the coast, most of what you are traveling through is parkland and much of the rest looks like it is. The road cuts away from the coast occasionally until you reach Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, The Birds, was set.

After that, the road settles in for a good 130-mile run along the beach, taking you into scenic fishing/tourist towns, past sweeping shoreline vistas and through the little-spoiled beauty of the coastal range. Few towns intrude on your cruise through nature, which means that you also have to pay attention to your fuel and food stops. You will find plenty to distract from riding, so you may find that an overnight stay is order. Picturesque Mendocino and Fort Bragg, about three-quarters of the way along, are the biggest towns along the way.

If you don’t get distracted, either by the splendor you are riding through or some of the side roads that run back inland, Route 1 reaches a crescendo half an hour north of Fort Bragg. Some of my fondest motorcycling memories were hatched in the northernmost section, where Route 1 turns back inland and wriggles through redwood forest as it climbs back over to 101.