U.S. Highway 101 in California
This is the year to explore the West Coast's U.S. Highway 101. U.S. 101 runs along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The highway starts in Olympia, Washington, runs north and around the Olympic Peninsula, then heads down along the Pacific Coast. Its terminus is in Los Angeles, where it merges with Interstate 5 to continue down the coast of California. For a somewhat less demanding road-trip than the drive along all of U.S. 101, instead focus on spending some time along the beautiful coast of California.
Traveling south on 101, about 20 miles from the Oregon boarder, drivers will come into the little town of Crescent City (at this point the Highway is called Redwood Highway). This little town is a great jumping off point to visit some of California's beautiful state and national forests and parks. Nearby, visitors will find Pelican Bay, Lake Earl, Tolawa Dunes State Park, Jedediah Smith State Park, Six Rivers National Forest, Klamath National Forest, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
A little farther south along the Highway, travelers will come across the town of Klamath. Klamath is a great place to stop to enjoy some of northern California's recreational opportunities as well as some interesting sights. Redwood National Forest has truly amazing drives and hiking opportunities. The Klamath River Overlook is a spectacular spot to look for grey whales and seabirds, not to mention the awe-inspiring Redwoods. The visitor centers provide information about the area.
The city of Klamath has a few interesting tourist activities. For those who are in smaller vehicles, there is the Tour-Thru Tree. This is a giant Redwood which has a car-sized hole carved through the middle, so people can drive right through the tree. The Tour-Thru Tree is an interesting stop even for those whose vehicles are too large to go through the tree. There are picnic tables where visitors can watch others drive through the tree. Visitors can also take some time to see the Trees of Mystery, which are easily recognizable by the giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox. The Trees of Mystery tour highlights some of the amazing and oddly shaped trees that can be found in the area.
Eureka is another fabulous jumping off point to enjoy the coast of California. The city is bordered by Humboldt Bay and the Redwood Forests. As visitors drive through Eureka, they may be lucky enough to see Gabriel's Garden, a delightful exhibit of folk art. In addition, in nearby McKinleyvile visitors can stop to see the World's Largest Totem Pole.
Calistoga, just a bit off U.S. 101 near Santa Rosa, has many attractions for its visitors. Many people stop to see California's Old Faithful Geyser. This geyser is called an "old faithful" because it is one of a very few geysers that erupts with regularity. Calistoga is also home to the Petrified Forest. This forest is an amazing example of a pliocene forest and is open to visitors daily. Since Santa Rosa and Calistoga are in the Napa Valley, the middle of California's wine country, there are many nearby wineries. Visitors should plan on finding a few great local wineries and schedule a few wine tastings as they pass through Napa Valley on U.S. 101.
Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco
As U.S. 101 passes across the Golden Gate Bridge and through San Francisco, it becomes the Bayshore Freeway rather than the Redwood Highway. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic images of California and the west. Visitors should stop to enjoy the view of the Bridge, hopefully without too much of the San Francisco fog. San Francisco has much to offer its visitors beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. Over a few days in San Francisco, visitors can enjoy the Aquarium, take a cruise to Alcatraz, and explore the vast International District in San Francisco. Near Coyote/Fontanelle the Bayshore Freeway becomes the S. Valley Freeway, even though it remains U.S. Highway 101.
Salinas and Pinnacles National Monument
Around Gilroy, U.S. Highway 101 changes from S. Valley Freeway to El Camino Real. Salinas hosts a few interesting events each year, including the California Rodeo, the California International Airshow, and the Steinbeck Festival. Also, nearby to Salinas is Pinnacles National Monument. Pinnacles is a great spot to spend some time camping and recreating. The National Monument is best visited during the spring and fall when the weather isn't too hot. At Pinnacles National Monument, you can enjoy hiking and special guided programs. In addition, Pinnacles has some good rock climbing and -- for those who aren't afraid of bats -- a walk through the Talus Caves is a great experience.
San Luis Obispo
Visitors will find plenty of recreational opportunities in San Luis Obispo. One of the most interesting nearby attractions is Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle is located on top of Hearst's La Cuesta Encantada, which is now a museum open to the public. Tours of this luxurious, monstrous castle are very interesting and feature art from around the world.
Santa Barbara is another one of California's famous cities. Visitors can stroll the boardwalk, play on the beach, or enjoy the fine dining and culture of the city. Santa Barbara is especially fantastic in the summer when the beaches are at their best. On the California Coast in Santa Barbara, there are miles of beautiful beaches. A little ways along U.S. 101, its name changes once again from El Camino Real to the Ventura Freeway.
Hollywood and Los Angeles
Near the end of the road-trip along the California Coast, U.S. 101 passes through Hollywood and becomes the Hollywood Freeway. Visitors to Hollywood have to stop and see a few of its most famous sights. Among these are the Hollywood sign, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hollywood and Los Angeles are separate cities, but they are part of one continuous urban area at the terminus of U.S. 101. Los Angeles is large enough to spend weeks exploring. In LA, visitors can get tickets to the LA Philharmonic or catch a showing of Cirque du Soleil. Families can make plans to visit Universal Studios or spend some time at the LA Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Although US Highway 101 ends in Los Angeles, the road-trip does not have to end there. Those road-trippers who hunger for more miles of exploration can continue south along Interstate-5. Also, U.S. 101 winds along the Pacific Coast from Washington to Los Angeles. For a longer trip start in Washington or Oregon and enjoy even more of the Pacific Coast.