Alta California Guide: North Coast

The remote northern coastline is a foggy, funky place, filled with art and oddities and enchanting open land.

alta california guides
Michael Schwab

Foggy seaside roads, mossy port towns, and giant redwoods make the North Coast an otherworldly place to go astray for a couple of days. The region’s rocky shoreline beckons boaters, hikers, and dreamers, while the dense and little-traveled inland hills hide countless nooks and crannies for discovery. Just don’t be surprised if things get a little weird.

1 Sea Ranch
sea ranch
Getty Images

Famed for its integration of sparse architecture and ecological principles, Sea Ranch is a far cry from the beachy and balcony-bloated surf cities to the south. Here, the close-knit community (rightfully) treats buildings like art and upholds the land as sacred, blending modernist structures with natural berms, cliffs, and tree lines. The result is an isolated yet inviting land of design that’s open to the public by way of vacation rentals and downloadable self-guided audio tours.

2 Romano Gabriel Wooden Sculpture Garden
romano gabriel wooden sculpture garden
HUMBOLDT ARTS COUNCIL

The town of Eureka has its share of quirks, but none are as pronounced as this labor of love. The “garden” is actually an extensive display of mostly hand-carved wooden folk art made over three decades by Gabriel, an Italian furniture maker. Faded white dandelions made from scrap lumber mix with wooden renderings of human faces and multistory trestles and towers, creating an overall effect that is equal parts perplexing and delightful.

3 Skunk Train
skunk train
Getty Images

The famous Skunk Train, which travels a 40-mile length of track between Fort Bragg and Willits, is a mobile history lesson set on steel that winds through the redwoods and rocky mountains of Northern California. Originally used as a transport line for the timber industry in the late 1800s, the Skunk Train is now a popular local attraction (expect small waits on weekends) with vintage touches that makes for a gorgeous half-day trip through lush forest and along muddy riverbanks.

4 Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
chandelier tree
Getty Images

This impossibly large redwood in Leggett was hollowed out at its center to let cars—at least those that fall under the six-foot-five-inch height limit—pass directly through en route to the tiny gift shop. Thankfully, no new tourist attractions like this are allowed (there used to be quite a few pass-through trees, which were destabilized by the cuts). But the Chandelier has survived, and at $10 per car (or $5 for motorcycles and pedestrians), it offers a cheap thrill—and a great photo op.

5 Radar Station B-71
radar station b71
TripAdvisor

What looks to passersby like a simple farmhouse is much more. At the height of World War II, with American military leaders increasingly concerned about Japanese attacks along the West Coast, hidden facilities like Radar Station B-71 were constructed as early-detection sites. Several dozen were built; B-71 is one of the few that remain. Wander through this feature of Redwood National Park for a sense of the station’s dedication to disguise, from the shingles to the working farm equipment and camouflaged artillery. •

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