Road Trip Coast Highway 1: Perfect for Your Bucket List
Making a road trip up or down California’s Coast Highway 1 should be on everyone’s bucket list. Have you taken it yet?
Something for Everyone
This curvaceous All-American Road follows along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the USA starting in the north in the Redwood forests, winding through historic towns, and ending at the sandy beaches in the south. This world-class road trip has something for everyone!
Many simply call this road the Coast Highway. However, as you go north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, its official name is Shoreline Highway. The Shoreline Highway weaves its way through scenic Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties as it passes along some of the most dramatic coastlines vaulting high in the air in many spots.
It is the pathway that leads to our favorite rest stop, Abalone Bay in The Sea Ranch.
The road eventually disappears north of Rockport as it turns inland towards Leggett.
A Love-Hate Relationship
As much as it is loved for its beauty, it is also a roadway filled with dread. In the south, there’s the problem of traffic that never seems to let up. To the north, its winding hairpin turns, steep drop-offs on one side, and in-your-face grassy hills rising up on the other may make you think twice about this trip. And let us not forget to add the inevitable landslides when there is rain occasionally rendering it impassable.
Speed limits along the Shoreline Highway are often 15-25 mph. It may even be slower when driving behind an 18-wheeler or recreational vehicle. But there are also sections where it’s perfectly safe to go 60.
If you as a driver or passenger are unaccustomed to mountainous driving and much prefer the wide lane freeways or secure suburban roadways, you may consider this a ‘scary’ or dangerous trek. And for those prone to car sickness or have a fear of heights you may wish to take your Dramamine before you set off.
Know Before You Go
Currently (March 3, 2021), there is one-way traffic control that may cause a ten-minute (+) delay located north of Jenner; specifically just after the Meyers Grade turn off to the east and Sonoma Coast State Park turn off to the left. You will be traveling along a single lane closest to the hillside while crews repair the fire-damaged guard railings.
This is the highest point of the drive between Jenner and Fort Ross. The section continues for 4 miles and ends near the Reef Campground exit.
Reef Campground is just below our famous “S-Curves” stretch of the road.
Be aware that if it rains there is a strong possibility for further mudslides, rockslides, and fallen trees, especially any fire-damaged trees closest to the road.
CalTrans is generally on top of issues like these and will have road scrapers and crews available.
Be sure you check road conditions and any road work plans that may cause delays or detours:
- District 4 CalTrans projects in the Bay Area Counties,
- Jenner Traffic and Road Conditions
- Sonoma County Road Closures).
Pack Your Road Trip Tunes You Wait
As you travel north near The Sea Ranch, you may encounter a few road obstacles as well. One of the more unique ones you could run into is the random cow or two trying channeling its inner chicken as it tries to find that perfect patch of grass on the other side of the road.
During the summer months, you may also encounter CalTrans repairing damage caused by the earlier winter storms. For those cases just make sure you pack your favorite tunes, especially as radio and mobile phone reception in your car is often sketchy.
During the rainy winter season, especially with El Niño rains, you’ll want to be sure your car is in tip-top shape. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any falling rocks. This road hazard frequently happens along the coastal mountains road between Jenner and Fort Ross.
You’ll also need to be vigilant of tree branches that may have snapped off. This frequently happens farther north in the area between Stillwater Cove and Stewart’s Point.
To learn more about how to prepare your car for travel in El Niño’s rainy conditions click here.
Take a Picture as You Take a Breather
But there are no worries with all the turnouts along the way on the coast highway. Just pull over to the side to recapture your breath, steady your nerves, and take incredible photos to record this drive of a lifetime.
For many car aficionados and motorcyclists alike it is the thrill-ride of a lifetime carrying them to paradise!
It is certainly a drive that requires your attention. Be ever mindful of your speed and willing to pull over to allow the more experienced to pass. It is definitely not the road to be taken when tired or after enjoying a sampling of the region’s wine or craft brews along the way!
Share the Coast Road!
Not only do drivers and motorcyclists enjoy this thrill of traveling the Coast Highway, so do many bicyclists, many who have taken the road from Canada to Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, our famous highway is also well known for being the most challenging course for pelotons of Levi’s GranFondo!
Because of the sense of adventure our curly ribbon of road offers riders, it’s imperative you remain alert to the potential bikers on the road with you. More often than not, you will encounter at the next curve a group of riders with whom you must “share the road.” Hopefully, bicyclists are wearing bright, reflective clothing when making their Shoreline Highway adventure.
Know the Rules of the Road
Because of all the bike riders sharing the road with you, it’s very important both bikers and drivers know the California Vehicle Code. For the most part, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. (CVC 21200). The California law revised in 2014 requires 3 feet between cars and bicycles.
Law #1: Give cyclists 3 feet When Passing.
Of importance to note, if the biker is moving slower than traffic on a narrow road, they can “take the lane” if it’s not wide enough for them to safely share side-by-side with the vehicle. However, the law doesn’t require motorists to stay behind cyclists until a narrow road ends or widens. Rather it now allows a driver to pass within 3 feet if he or she slows to a safe speed.
Law #2: Don’t Cross the Double Yellow Centerline.
Giving the bicyclist his 3-feet of space between you and him has been heralded as a fabulous life-saving rule. But what do you do when there’s just not enough extra space between the double line and him and the edge of the coastal California bluffs dropping more hundreds of feet to the rocky shore below?
Welp, bucko, sometimes you just can’t obey one law without breaking the other. For legal advice I strongly recommend you contact a lawyer. But from a safety perspective, the best option is to wait until there’s good visibility, no oncoming cars and then to pass the cyclist with enough space even if it means crossing the double yellow line a little bit.
Allow me to repeat: wait until there’s good visibility, no oncoming cars.. then cautiously pass keeping 3-feet between him and you.
Be Aware of Blind Curves Filled with Cars, Bikes, Tourists, and Trucks
Remember that slowing down until it is safe to pass is the best option. With so many curves in this iconic ribbon of asphalt filled with photographic vistas, motorists driving motor homes, and the occasional logging truck, patience is a life-saving virtue. Take your time to be certain it is safe for everyone before you drive around bicyclists.
What Are Your Coastal Highway Road Trip Tips and Memories?
Have you taken this drive before? What are your memories or favorite tips for the first-timer about to set out? We’d love to have you share them in the comments below.
And the next time you travel the Shoreline Highway consider booking your rest stop at at Sea Ranch Abalone Bay!BOOK NOW