The California North Coast (Bay Area) Travel Guide is a resource for Bay Area visitors who wish to sample the beautiful California coastline without extensive driving. The North Coast features exciting scenic drives, great hiking, beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs overlooking the ocean, redwood forests, quaint towns, bed and breakfasts, mountains, and historic attractions - all within a two hour drive of San Francisco.
(Right: Stinson Beach)
Using the Interactive Map
Place your mouse pointer on any place name on the map.
A brief description will appear. Click on the box for a link to detailed information. For easiest use, scroll map to top.
Detailed North Coast Map in separate window.
California North Coast Towns
Most of the north coast towns are quite small with limited services. Look for the occasional restaurant or store and small-scale lodging such as inns or bread and breakfasts. Camping, too, is relatively limited. More extensive services can be found in the larger towns and cities along US-101.
Mill Valley. Larger town near intersection of US-101 and California Highway 1. All services, good selection of mainstream motels and restaurants. Convenient to Marin Headlands, Muir Woods, and Mt. Tamalpais. Bus shuttle to Muir Woods on summer weekends.
Muir Beach. Tiny village adjacent to the beach. Very limited services. Turnoff from Highway 1 where road reaches coastline.
Stinson Beach. Pleasant beach town adjacent to the beach. Limited services, small-scale lodging, a few restaurants and stores. On Highway 1.
Bolinas. Tiny village is an off the beaten path artist colony. Very limited services. On west side of Bolinas Lagoon. Turnoff from Highway 1 north of the lagoon.
Olema. Closest village to Bear Valley Visitor Center, headquarters for Point Reyes National Seashore. Pretty wooded environment in Olema Valley. The town offers a few stores, a private RV campground, and several upscale lodges and bed and breakfasts.
Point Reyes Station. The main commercial area closest to Point Reyes National Seashore. The small town features a lively main street with numerous shops and restaurants. Nice slection of small-scale lodging. On Highway 1 near park entrance.
Inverness/Inverness Park. Located on the Point Reyes Peninusla west of Tomales Bay, the developed area is along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. A couple of shops including a bakery and sandwich store, and a nice selection of small-scale lodging. Several motels are right on the edge of the bay. There is also a kayaking concession.
Marshall. Located on the east side of Tomales Bay, roadside stands and restaurants feature locally harvested clams and oysters. Small selection of inns and cottages. On Highway 1.
Tomales. Small town at north end of Tomales Bay on Highway 1. General store, no lodging.
California North Coast Roads
The Detailed North Coast Map (link above) will be helpful in following the roads described here.
US-101 Freeway. The main route accessing northern California. Extensive travel services in San Rafael, Novato, and Petaluma along US-101. All routes to the coast leave from this freeway.
California Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway). The main route accessing the north coast. Leaves US-101 at Mill Valley, starts to climb into the hills, then switchbacks sharply down Green Gulch to the coastline at Muir Overlook, then heads north for many miles. The route hugs the edge of the cliffs until reaching Stinson Beach. The terrain is heavily wooded through Olema Valley and then more open along the edge of Tomales Bay. The very scenic road winds almost constantly over the entire route, so the going is always slow. If you want to head directly to Point Reyes, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (below) is a better alternative.
Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. This is a more direct route to Point Reyes if coming from the south. It leaves US-101 south of San Rafael, passes through rolling hills before reaching Bolinas Ridge going through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and finally heads to the town of Olema in the valley below. It is less than 20 miles from US-101 to Olema, but there are still some twists and turns and slow going around Bolinas Ridge. West of San Rafael there are several open space preserves offering hiking and exploring: Roy's Redwoods, Loma Alta, White Hill, and Cascade Canyon. Information on each can be found in the Bay Area Hiker Directory.
Point Reyes - Petaluma Road. The route offers access to Point Reyes Station from Petaluma on US-101. The driving is quick and easy, taking about a half hour. There are also direct routes from Petaluma to Marshall and Tomales. From Novato on US-101, Novato Boulevard runs into the Point Reyes - Petaluma Road offering a fairly easy drive to the coast.
Panoramic Highway. This scenic, mountainous route accesses the Mt. Tamalpais area from California Highway 1. South to north, it leaves Highway 1 just west of Mill Valley, goes past the turnoff to Muir Woods National Monument, passes Mountain Home Inn, then curves more west before reaching Pantoll Ranger Station and the turnoff to the peaks of Mt. Tamalpais. The route then follows Steep Ravine towards the coast before turning north and reaching Highway 1 at Stinson Beach. The route features diverse and beautiful scenery and is slow and winding the entire way.
Pantoll Road and East Ridgecrest Boulevard. This route accesses the Mountain Theater and the three peaks of Mt. Tamalpais. Pantoll Road leaves the Panoramic Highway near the ranger station. It ends in about a mile at the Rock Spring picnic area. Turn right on East Ridgecrest to reach Mt. Tam. It's about a five-mile drive but the going is slow on the winding roads.
Muir Woods Road offers access to Muir Woods National Monument from the north or south. The north end leaves the Panoramic highway less than a mile north of Highway 1 and winds sharply for a couple miles (vehicles over 35 feet are prohibited) before reaching the park entrance. The road continues south following Redwood Creek before returning to Highway 1 about a quarter mile from the Muir Beach turnoff.
Note: Some of the links in this guide are to publications in PDF format. The PDF's can only be viewed or printed using
Adobe Acrobat Reader (available free, online).
California North Coast (Bay Area) Travel Guide Index
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