Crescent City California & The Pacific Coast Highway

Heading south into California, our first stop was at the visitor center for Redwood National Park, which was surprisingly located downtown in Crescent City. What we hadn’t realized before is that, rather than being a national park with clearly defined boundaries, controlled entrances and all that we’ve come to expect from national parks, Redwood is actually a national park and several state parks spanning the area where the coastal redwoods grow. There are many entrances and exits, several major highways run through the area (rather than just one or two park roads), and we were very confused.

But the ranger at the visitor center was extremely helpful, and was able to help us decide what would be best for us to see and do, and which routes to take. He also gave us some great tips about some other things we shouldn’t miss as we passed through Crescent City. The redwoods deserve, and will get, their own post after this one. But this post is about experiences in northern California that have nothing to do with giant trees.

Crescent City is a coastal town, so our first stop after the visitor center was the Pacific Ocean. None of us had ever seen it, and when we got out of the car and smelled the sea air, we were longing for that first glimpse of the Pacific. And once we’d seen it, we couldn’t resist the urge to pull over, run down on the beach and touch it. It is a landmark in its own right – the world’s largest body of water. But it also had special significance to us on this trip. We had crossed the country, and as we stood with our feet in the Pacific, we had the sense of having reached an important milestone. To look out at the horizon and realize that I was standing on a beach in California was a surreal and happy moment.

One of my favorite pictures so far. This one’s going on the wall when we get home!

This girl loves the sand. Loves, loves, loves it. 

Covered in sand (some of us more than others, I’ll let you guess who), we climbed back in the car and drove to a cliff area overlooking the ocean where the ranger said there was a good chance of seeing whales. Well, we didn’t see any traces of whale activity, but it was still a beautiful view. From there we headed to a small marina where the ranger promised there were good views of seals and sea lions. This one did not disappoint! The docks at the marina were literally covered with them, and when we opened the car doors we were greeted by a chorus of sea lions barking. On one dock in particular we were able to walk out to a gate, and on the other side of the gate were all the sea lions. We could literally have reached out our hands and pet them if we dared (and it was all we could do to keep Emelie from trying). It was closer than a front row seat at any zoo or aquarium I’ve ever been to, and so fun to experience them in the wild like that. And it was free, which is always a bonus.

So many sea lions! They were so funny, too. I just laughed and laughed.

Zzzzzz. Sleepy sea lions. But a few were really barking at us! We shot some great video!

We also, while in northern California, were able to get on Rt. 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) at it’s northern endpoint and follow it down the coast. It was amazing and every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined it being. The coastline is so dramatic and varying, from pristine sand beaches to rugged cliffs. It seemed that around every turn was an image of white, foamy waves breaking against rocks, sending their spray up over a deserted sand beach. It was slower driving on narrow winding roads, and all the up and down didn’t exactly help our gas mileage, but the views were worth it. It would have taken us far too long to drive the entire PCH as we made our way down the coast, and sometimes we chose the interstate, but we were able to be on Rt 1 in parts of northern, central and southern California and experience the changing nature of the Pacific coast. Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway was something I’d always wanted to do, and it was an exciting and memorable drive.

Just a couple images along the Pacific Coast Highway

Hard to take pictures from the moving car. This one got a little bit of window reflection, but you get the idea.

Here it went in from the coast for a little while, but under this amazing canopy of trees.

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