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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Uncovering the Best of San Francisco and the Redwood Coast

We spent two weeks exploring one of our favorite European-style cities, San Francisco, and hiked through my favorite national park, California's Redwood National Park! Our base camps were San Francisco, Crescent City, and Mendocino, with day trips to Brookings (Oregon), Fort Bragg, and Santa Rosa.


In San Francisco, my husband was anxious to visit the famous winding Lombard Street adorned in flowers. We hiked uphill from sea level to 325 feet (100 m) in just 0.4 miles (0.64 km) to get there. San Francisco is a city full of steep hills, so be prepared! We also went to scenic Alamo Square Park to see the Painted Ladies, a row of photographic Victorian homes.

Painted ladies San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 were two touristy yet fun places on the waterfront. Along with shops and restaurants, Pier 39 is known for it's native California sea lions. It's easy to see, or rather hear, where they get the "lion" nickname. Territorial males battle for the best spots in the sun.

sea lions pier 39

Ghirardelli Square is also near the waterfront. In 1893, Italian-born chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli purchased the entire city block now known as Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco, in order to turn it into the headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Today, shops adorn the square, including, of course, a chocolate shop!

ghirardelli chocolate

Golden Gate Bridge, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a must see icon of San Francisco. When it opened in 1937 it was considered the longest (1.7 miles/2.7 km) and tallest (746 ft/227 m) suspension bridge in the world. And although we didn't actually make the trek ourselves, you can get excellent sunset views of the bridge by hiking to Bakers Beach.

Golden Gate Bridge

One of my favorites in San Francisco is the over 1,000 acre Golden Gate Park. Some recommended places there include the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Japanese Tea Garden. We love the aquarium and rainforest at the Academy! And the small but beautiful Japanese Tea Garden has a wonderful gift shop and tea house where you can enjoy lunch.

Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden food

A city within a city, San Francisco's Chinatown, established in 1848, is the oldest Chinatown in North America. It contains many great shops and restaurants. Some we recommend include San Francisco Eastern Bakery Inc., where we purchased some delicious moon cakes and almond cookies and Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House for some great Chinese food. Did you know fortune cookies did not come from China? They actually originated in San Francisco! Since 1962, San Francisco's Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown has been making handmade fortune cookies. They have many flavors to choose from, like sesame seed, green tea, and chocolate!

fortune cookies

I've been to San Francisco dozens of times (I once lived in Silicon Valley), but I've never been to the Palace of Fine Arts before this trip. Wow! It looks like a replica of a grand Roman rotunda, and the park and lake are open to the public. It's the most picturesque place in San Francisco I've ever seen!

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Another place we enjoy in San Francisco is the Ferry Building Marketplace with lots of food options and some shops as well. And if you can, we highly recommend riding the historic San Francisco cable cars! Designed in 1873 to pull passengers up and down San Francisco's steep streets, these cable-powered rail cars are now a "mobile" national historic landmark.


Operational since 1856, Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, California, is situated on a tidal island. At low tide, you can access the island and the museum and picnic areas around the lighthouse. Definitely one of the most beautiful lighthouses in California!

Battery Point lighthouse

Our favorite place to eat in Crescent City was at Good Harvest Cafe, with Native American decor, a large variety, huge portions, and good food. You can also find sandollars washed up along the shore at Crescent Beach to the South.

sandollars sand dollars

In the redwoods we hiked the Boy Scout Trail to Fern Falls, and the Stout Grove loop in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (see Hiking Trails details below). Both were gorgeous! My husband loved the ground blanketed in ferns. I loved the variety of lush green plant life carpeting the forest floor.

redwoods national park

We also hiked the Trillium Falls Trail and Fern Canyon, where we both enjoyed the tall redwood trees and lush green forest floor. My husband was amazed as we hiked through Fern Canyon in the redwoods! Walls lined with ferns is definitely something you don't see every day.

redwood national park

fern canyon

We spent a morning at the Trees of Mystery park near Klamath, California. Our favorites there were the Redwood Canopy Trail (a suspension bridge network), the view from Ted's Ridge at the top of the Skyrail Gondola, and the Native American Museum. We spent that afternoon in Brookings, Oregon, where we enjoyed the magnificent views and flowers at Chetco Point! We also visited the shops and restaurants in the harbor, and can recommend Zola's on the Water for some great pizza, and Whale's Tail Candy & Gifts for dessert.

redwood canopy trail

The next day we hiked the Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Our primary objective was to see wild rhododendrons in bloom. We found some! And our final hike in Redwood National Park, California, was Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Redwood trees are so resilient. We saw some hollow in the middle from a fire, but still alive and growing!


hollow burnt redwood tree

The amount of green in temperate rainforests, like Redwood National Park, is amazing! The moss and ground cover are some things never found in their more tropical rainforest counterparts. Not to mention the sensation of hiking in cool air conditioning. The Pacific Northwest of America is an amazing place! We're so thankful Northern California is a part of it.


150 miles (250 km) North of San Francisco, and with a population of just over 800, Mendocino was founded in 1852 as a logging community. Many of the town's early settlers were New Englanders. Portuguese fishermen from the Azores also settled in the area, as did immigrants from Canton Province in China.

The Blair House in Mendocino, California, served as the exterior for the 1984-1996 television series "Murder, She Wrote", which was set in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine.

blair house murder she wrote

Today, Mendocino primarily caters to tourists, with lodging, shops, and restaurants throughout town. Some we can recommend include Mendocino Jams & Preserves, and Frankie's, where we enjoyed their soups, smoothies, and pizzas at their vegan and gluten-free options restaurant.

We also enjoyed the historic 1885 California Western Railroad, also known as the "Skunk Train," in nearby Fort Bragg, California. The Pudding Creek Express was a short ride into a nearby redwood grove, but very nostalgic. It was nicknamed "skunk" because of individual self-propelled, gasoline rail cars introduced to the rail line in 1925. The fumes from these rail cars created a very pungent odor, and the old timers living along the line said these motorcars were like skunks, “You could smell them before you could see them.”

skunk train


We spent a day in the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, California, on our way back to the airport. Known for it's vineyards, we loved walking through the gardens at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens. We also visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum while we were there. Charles M. Schulz is the creator of the Peanuts gang comic strip, which includes the cartoon characters Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Woodstock. Be sure the visit the enormous gift shop across the street as well!

charles m schulz museum

The Old Courthouse Square area of downtown Santa Rosa was also nice. We recommend Falafel Hut for some great Middle Eastern cuisine. And even though we didn't eat there, La Rosa grille had a gorgeous interior and exterior!

Places we didn't make it to but thought would have been nice to visit included the St Francis Winery & Vineyards, and the Jack London State Historic Site ranch.

California is a huge and diverse state. From dry deserts to lush rainforests, tall mountains to a roaring ocean, there's something for everyone to enjoy. The Northern California portion of our state is exceptional. If you haven't been, we encourage you to come and explore this beautiful region.


Near Crescent City

Boy Scout Tree Trail (Fern Falls)

(length: 5.3 mi, elevation gain: 750 ft, route type: out & back)

Ferns, ferns, everywhere! This reminded me of the Forest Moon of Endor from the Star Wars series, which was filmed in this region.

Stout Grove Trail

(length: 0.7 mi, elevation gain: 32 ft, route type: loop)

Huge redwood trees in this very accessible and popular loop trail. My husband was very impressed by the size of the trees in this grove.

Last Chance California Coastal Trail

(length: 1.4 mi, elevation gain: 196 ft, route type: out & back)

Beautiful coastal views, wildflowers, and scenic sunsets. Tidepools are exposed during low tide.

Damnation Creek Trail

(length: 3.4 mi, elevation gain: 1,190 ft, route type: out & back)

Another beautiful redwood forest hike which takes you down to a creek and beach. This one is also full of rhododendrons!

Klamath River Overlook

(length: 1.0 mi, elevation gain: 360 ft, route type: out & back)

Ocean views as the river empties into the Pacific Ocean, and birdwatching opportunities as well. There's a wildlife viewing platform below the parking lot.

Near Orick

Prairie Creek - Foothill Trail Loop (Nature Trail)

(length: 2.6 mi, elevation gain: 95 ft, route type: loop)

At the Prairie Creek Visitors Center, this flat 2.5 mile (4 km) long trail meanders along a babbling creek, under some of the tallest redwood trees in the world. Head north on this trail and follow any signs for the "Big Tree" as you follow and cross Prairie Creek.

Fern Canyon

(length: 1.1 mi, elevation gain: 118 ft, route type: loop)

A highly trafficked and popular trail, Fern Canyon is adjacent to Gold Bluffs Beach where you can enjoy a picnic and perhaps even spot some elk! You can also cut this hike short by doing an out and back once the fern walls disappear.

Trillium Falls Trail

(length: 2.6 mi, elevation gain: 433 ft, route type: loop)

The trailhead is adjacent to Elk Meadow Picnic Area. Trillium Falls is early in the trail. Small, but scenic, with the best lighting around noon as this waterfall is deep in a ravine.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail

(length: 1.3 mi, elevation gain: 75 ft, route type: loop)

Another popular and accessible trail, this one takes you through another giant redwood grove of trees.


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