Top 24 Sights on California’s Lost Coast

The trees are taller. The beaches are wider. And there’s no one here but you. Here’s how to get lost on California’s last stretch of untamed coast

Daniel Duane and Andrea Minarcek
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Moonstone Beach

Gorgeous views of rocky coves and headlands grace this beach, located south of the town of Trinidad.

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Moonstone Beach at sunset

Sunset casts an orange glow on the outcroppings at Moonstone Beach.

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Fishing and recreational boats dock in the shallow waters just offshore, near the town of Trinidad.

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Coastal cliffs

Walking paths and overlooks provide vantage points of the Pacific on the coastal cliffs near Trinidad.

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Trinidad State Beach

A scenic stretch of sand just north of Trinidad, this beach offers tidepools to explore and coves for gentle swimming.

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Black Sands Beach

You’ll see more wildlife than people on Black Sands Beach. The 4-mile hike from the parking lot up to Horse Mountain Creek and back is a good way to take in the views.

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Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park boasts some of the largest coastal redwoods in the West. Free; nps.gov/redw.

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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Redwood National Park is great, but nearby Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park might just trump it in grandeur. The moderate 2.2-mile Foothill Trail gives you an eyeful of the giants, including the aptly named Big Tree, a 286-foot-tall, 23.5-foot-wide behemoth estimated to be 1,500 years old. Free; parksca.gov.

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Mal Coombs Park

The short Cape Mendocino Lighthouse stands above Mal Coombs Park, home to tidepools, and a great place for spotting seals and the occasional gray whale.

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Shelter Cove Road

Highway 1 was meant to hug the whole California coast, but an 80-mile stretch above Fort Bragg was too rugged to tame. The Lost Coast is Big Sur on steroids: Jagged peaks loom at the Pacific’s edge, with old-growth forests and beaches in between. Just 22 miles, Shelter Cove Road cuts through the thick of it. But budget at least an hour for the slow, winding drive.

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Benbow Historic Inn

Work your way to Garberville and the Benbow Historic Inn, a 1926 Tudor-style mansion shaded by redwoods, with guest rooms overlooking the Eel River and a fireplace-warmed bar with a fat wine list. From $99; benbowinn.com.

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Ferndale's Main Street

The town of Ferndale (pictured: its charming Main Street) is populated with Victorian homes, including the Gingerbread Mansion, an 1894 residence turned B&B. From $165; gingerbread-mansion.com.

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Ferndale architecture

The town of Ferndale is famous for its Victorian-era architecture, including these two homes on Berding Street, alongside the Assumption Catholic Church in the background.

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Artisan Alley

Ferndale resident Bruce Keller throws a tea bowl on a vintage kick wheel in the sculpture and kiln yard of Artisan Alley, a quiet lane of artist studios and shops.

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Hotel Ivanhoe saloon

The saloon at Hotel Ivanhoe has been a mainstay on Ferndale’s Main Street since the 1870s. Today, the bar hosts live music every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m.

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Larrupin’ Café

In the small town of Trinidad, The Larrupin’ Café is where you eat when you want to wear your best flannel shirt. There’s live jazz some nights, deep scarlet painted walls, and a meat-first menu that makes space for the house special beef brisket, which is mesquite-smoked for 36 hours, then seared with house spices. $$$; 1658 Patrick’s Point Dr., Trinidad; larrupin.com.

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Fern Canyon

Entering Fern Canyon is like stepping inside a giant terrarium. The half-mile-long trail is perfectly green and symmetric: five-finger, sword, and chain ferns carpet every inch of the 50-foot-high canyon walls, with yellow monkey flower poking through. Says Jan Wortman, owner of the nearby Historic Requa Inn, “It feels like Jurassic Park. $8; redwoods.info.

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Oyster Beach cabin interior

Oyster Beach has three stylish cabins; the newest has an outdoor aluminum soaking tub. Right on the water, boat-in-only campsites in Humboldt Lagoons State Park. Rent your ride at Kayak Zak’s for the one-hour paddle in. Oyster: From $250; redwoodcoastvacationrentals.com. Humboldt Lagoons: Camping $20, parks.ca.gov; kayak rental from $25, kayakzak.com.

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Oyster Beach cabin exterior

The Mid-Century Waterfront cabin at Oyster Beach has a private firepit just 30 feet from the bay.

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Gold Bluffs Beach

Gold Bluffs Beach is one of the best spots on the coast to see herds of wild Roosevelt elk. In September, you can hear the 1,100-pound males bugling and clashing antlers to attract female partners. Keep your distance (200 feet, at least). In autumn, elk are looking to get up close and personal. Just not with you. $8 day-use fee; redwoods.info.

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Shelter Cove

The forested King Range collides with the Pacific at Shelter Cove, a tiny coastal community (pop. 693) in Humboldt County.

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Shelter Cove fishermen

Anglers can reel in Pacific halibut, albacore, salmon, and rockfish on the rocky headlands near Shelter Cove.

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Humboldt Bay Oyster Tour

Aqua Rodeo Farms and Humboldt Bay Oyster Tour owner Sebastian Elrite captains a motorboat on tour in Humboldt Bay, between Arcata and Eureka.

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Humboldt Bay Tourism Center

Fresh Pacific Bucksport oysters are served broiled or raw, on rock salt, along with local cheese, wine, and bread, at the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center, in Eureka.