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Learn about The Gold Coast of California by reading The Golden Miles by Jayne Condon. It features all you'll need to know to plan your trip including objective info on places to stay, eat and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact info for your easy reference. Enjoy!

The Golden Miles

by Jayne Condon - Leisure Traveler and WTA Member


Gold was discovered here in 1848, the Gold Rush took place the following year, and in 1850 the Golden State became the 31st member of the Union. California’s state flower is the golden poppy, and its motto is Eureka, for “I have found it.” The “it,” of course, is gold.

But even if those first nuggets had never been spotted, the nickname, the flower and the motto would still apply. From the break of daylight over the mountains to the cobbled paving of the sea at sunset, from the northern grasslands to the southern deserts, based on its rank as America’s richest state or simply on the color of its air, California is truly El Dorado.

For travelers on its awesome coastline, the northern third, from the Oregon border to San Francisco Bay, may be the mother lode.

Last year, my husband Bill and I spent ten days in November, exploring, lazing and luxuriating along this gorgeous stretch of the country’s waterfront.

Within an hour of our landing at SFO, we stood on the overlook at the northern end of the Golden Gate for another (nearly) airborne view of the magical city across the Bay. Some of the most dramatic views of the bridge itself show it rising above frequent fog. We were luckier than that; the day was crystal clear, and the vista awesome.

By the end of the second hour, we were in Muir Woods National Monument,, walking the mossy trails and drinking in the beauty of old growth sequoias that date back to the time of the Crusades.

Leaving the redwoods, we viewed the rugged coast from Muir Beach Overlook, and then that evening dined on wonderful local rock cod and barbecued Hog Island oysters at the Olema Inn, 800-532-4252, in Olema. We spent our first night at the lovely Ten Inverness Way Inn, 415-669-1648,, just a few miles up the coast in Inverness. Rates are $145-180, and includes a full breakfast.

Our first morning was a Sunday. We awoke to brilliant sunlight, and took our time with the Inn’s famous breakfast. That afternoon, leaning into 50-mile winds, we walked out to a point high above the ocean for another breathtaking view of the coast from the Point Reyes lighthouse.

We looked at South Beach, from ground level, where the wind-buoyed noisy birds above the billowing surf and the glittering, streaked,

November sea was anything but pacific. But just around the corner, the scene changed dramatically at Drake Beach, where we found the sanctuary discovered by its namesake, the English explorer who had sheltered in the embrace of this pristine cove some 400 years before us.

Looking inland and northward from Point Reyes, this part of the California coast is verdant, rolling, sometimes-precipitous farmland, and the pasturage to great dairy farms. In more than one Hollywood epic, it has doubled for an idealized 19th century New England, and sometimes even old England. The resemblance isn’t so much in the topography as in its wild openness and weather-mellowed richness.

After breakfast on day three, we headed north again by car, this time for Mendocino.

Along the way, we stopped at Goat Rock State Beach (1 mile south of Jenner),, to admire the great herds of seals. Wonderfully graceful and energetic in the water, they become ungainly inchworms on the shore, ­ which is probably why they spend their land time just lolling lethargically at the water’s edge, grunting, barking, and basking in the sun.

Next, we visited the rustic beach at 60,000-acre Salt Point State Park, 707-847-3221,, and from the overlook at Fisk Hill Cove we had a dramatic view of Sentinel Rock.

This is all thirsty work, and late that afternoon we pulled in at the quaint Husch Winery, 800-55-HUSCH , Their tasting room is in a rustic, rose-covered wooden cottage, which in turn is at the edge of the vineyard, where row after row of colorful and impeccably neat grapevines stretch on forever. The hostess welcomed us with warmth and a pleasant, easy humor, and we tasted a number of award-winning offerings.

She recommended a dinner stop at the Albion River Inn Restaurant, 707-937-1919, even helping us with reservations. From peppered oyster appetizers, entrees of broiled prawns in a lime sauce and fresh swordfish, through to the multi-berry syllabub topped with poppy ice cream, it was one of the best meals ever.

We stayed that night at Surf ‘n Sand Lodge, 800-964-0184 , in Ft. Bragg. Rates are $59-175, depending on the season and room size. The next morning, after a 2.5 mile walk, we headed into town for a delicious breakfast at the Mendocino Hotel, 800-548-0513, served in a garden setting.

Other fun takes in this small but vital town include the many New England style homes, which line its streets (one of them famous locally as the setting for Murder She Wrote), and the quaint and interesting shops at its small center.

We enjoyed Mendocino Headlands State Park, 707-937-5804,, and its visitors’ center in the restored 1854 Ford House, as well as the winding floral trails through nearby Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 707-964-4352,, admission $1-6, with lookouts for whale watching and spectacular ocean views.

A long, twisty ride to Garberville ended happily that evening at the pleasant, Tudor-style, nautically named Benbow Inn, 800-355-3301, just south of town. Rates for 2000 season range from $115-305, double occupancy. Breakfast at Woodrose Cafe, 707-923-3191, on Redwood Drive got us off to a good start the following morning for a day trip to Shelter Cove, a quiet, seasonal community that reminded us of Cape Cod. ­Further along, we walked a short distance on the black sand of 25-mile Lost Beach before returning to the Benbow.

We started Thanksgiving Day at church in Garberville, where we met a lovely local couple who invited us to their home that evening for a holiday dinner. It turned out the Orazems owned the Eel River Cafe, 707-923-3783, where we’d had a pleasant breakfast a few mornings before, so we knew we were in safe hands, but we were even more grateful for the warm and spontaneous hospitality.

We filled the middle of that day with a trip to Avenue of the Giants in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Words are inadequate to describe the majesty of this winding drive among some of the tallest trees on earth, many as high as 30-story buildings. The Dyerville Giant, toppled in a lightning storm, measures 340 feet, with a root mass 35 feet across.

We spent the next day among gingerbread houses and interesting shops in nearby Ferndale, then moved on up the coast on the last leg to Eureka.

Our accommodations in Eureka were at the Hotel Carter, 800-404-1390,, connected with the popular Carter House Country Inn. Room rates range from $94-187, suites from $195-297. We enjoyed a dip, ­more like total immersion ­ in our immense hot tub, right beside a window with a lovely view of the harbor.

On Saturday night we went to the Sonoma Cook House, 707-442-1659, just a few miles up the coast and the real northern terminus of our journey. One of the last of the famous lumber camp eateries, it’s now a family restaurant with good food ­and lots of it - at a reasonable price.

Other good dining during our stay in Eureka was at Cafe Waterfront, 707-443-9190, and the Restaurant 301 at the Hotel Carter was outstanding.

On the final day of our stay, it rained buckets. Fortunately, we had planned a visit to the Pacific Lumber Mill and managed to stay reasonably sheltered. The tour was a real eye-opener, at times even exciting. NOTE: as of 2008, the Pacific Lumber Mill is closed.

The trip north, with all its side trips and back roads, totaled over 600 miles. Our return, straight down 101 to San Francisco, was only 240 miles and took less than half a day.

All in all, a terrific trip and highly recommended for any time of the year from early spring to late fall.

Places to Stay, Eat, and Other Contact Information



  • Mendocino Hotel, 800-548-0513
  • Woodrose Cafe, 707-923-3191
  • Eel River Cafe, 707-923-3783
  • Sonoma Cook House, 707-442-1659
  • Cafe Waterfront, 707-443-9190

Points of Interest

Notice: This information is current as of November 2000. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.