The North Coast region of California runs from the Oregon border south to the San Francisco Bay Area, and from the Pacific Ocean on the west to points east at Orleans, Island Mountain and Lake Beryessa. Also called the Redwood Empire or the Redwood Coast, this region is a land of rugged shoreline, pounding surf, charming coastal towns, and Victorian villages, as well as towering redwood forests, rushing rivers, lush hills, and bountiful vineyards.
The North Coast’s National Parks, National Forests, and a multitude of state parks and historic sites provide outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities. Hiking, bird watching, boating, kayaking, fishing, surfing, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding and simple sightseeing abound. Harbors at Fort Bragg and Eureka offer opportunities for whale-watching, crabbing tours, ocean fishing and the chance to buy fresh salmon right from the boat. The coast is home to several lighthouses including the Point Reyes Lighthouse located at the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.
The Redwood Forests of the region boast giant Coast Redwood. These trees can live to 1800 years or more and can reach up to 379 feet in height and up to 26 feet in diameter. Humboldt County contains over forty percent of all remaining old growth Coast Redwood forests. Near Klamath, Trees of Mystery is home to the End of the Trail Native American Museum which houses the largest privately owned collections in the world.
For those with more urban tastes, art galleries, wine tasting, music festivals and upscale restaurants are plentiful. Napa Valley is the most famous wine region in the United States with a history dating back to the early nineteenth century. Made up of a collection of 14 subappellations, or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), each area has its own distinctive personality.
Much of the area is rural, and the only city within the region with a population of over 100,000 is Santa Rosa. Despite their size, many of the region’s cities and towns have historical importance to the State and/or regional importance. Popular destinations include The Lost Coast, Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg, Clear Lake, the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree, Ocean World in Crescent City, Sonoma County Farm Trails and Safari West in Santa Rosa.
California’s Redwood North Coast has been and is home to many Native Americans including Coast Miwok, Pomo, Wappo, Hupa, Wiyot, Chilula, Karuk, Whilkut and many more. The Del Norte area is still inhabited by the Yurok (Klamath River Indians) and Tolowa Nations of indigenous peoples. Spanish traders made unintended visits to California beginning in 1565 and the first settlers of European dissent came from the late 16th to mid 19th centuries. The first recorded entry in Humboldt County by people of European origin was a landing by the Spanish in 1775. Russians were the first newcomers to establish a foothold in Sonoma County. Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast was established in 1812 by the Russian-American Company, however it was abandoned and sold to John Sutter in 1841. Jedediah Smith is the first European credited with exploration of the area. In 1827-1828 Smith and his party hunted in Sacramento Valley for several months, before heading north along the Pacific Coast. Jedediah became the first explorer to reach the Oregon Country overland by traveling up the California coast. In June of 1846, with news that a war between Mexico and the U.S. was imminent, some 30 non-Mexican settlers, mostly Americans, staged a revolt and seized the small Mexican garrison in Sonoma. Mexican general Mariano Vallejo was captured and the “Bear Flag” of the California Republic was raised over Sonoma. The so-called California Republic only lasted one week but the state flag today is based on this original Bear Flag, and continues to contain the words “California Republic.” With the end of the Mexican American War (1846-1848) and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, California was ceded to the United States and was admitted to the Union in 1850. The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad and the population and settlements of the area grew significantly. Today much of the rich history is still preserved in Old West Towns and Museums in the area.
The southern portion of the North Coast is largely urbanized and it includes Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties. Most of the area is made up of valleys, hills and moderate mountain ranges. In Sonoma County lies the Mayacamas and the Sonoma Mountains of the North Coast Ranges. The Sonoma Valley, Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plains, and the Russian River are also located in Sonoma County. Mount Saint Helena lies in Napa County in the Mayacamas Mountains. Made up of uplifted 2.4-million-year-old volcanic rocks and with an elevation of 4,344 ft., it is one of the few mountains around the San Francisco Bay Area to receive any snowfall during the winter. Lake Berryessa at 20,000 acres when full, is the largest lake in Napa County. Clear Lake in Lake County is believed to be the oldest lake in North America and is the largest natural lake in California. Mount Konocti is a volcano on the south shore of Clear Lake. At 4,305 feet (1,312 m), it is the second highest peak in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which consists of numerous volcanic domes and cones ranging from 10,000 to 2.1 million years old. Blue Lakes, Lake Pillsbury, and Indian Valley Reservoir are Lake County’s other major bodies of water.
The northern counties of the region are Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte. The more rural part of the North Coast has a coastline that is often inaccessible, and includes rocky cliffs and hills, streams and tide pools. Territory further inland is characterized by rugged, often steep mountains, dissected by rivers. The Klamath, Mad and Eel rivers run through the region. The more remote northern areas are often referred to as the being located “behind the Redwood Curtain.” The Smith River in Del Norte County is one of the last free-flowing streams in California. The North Coast Ranges meet the sea at the inaccessible coastal wilderness of The Lost Coast in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. Entirely in Humboldt County the King Range’s western slopes fall steeply to the Pacific Ocean.
On the western side of the Coast Range the climate is dominated by the Pacific Ocean and fog is often encountered. Spring and fall are typically fog-free and are excellent times to visit this region. Generally summers are mild and winters are cool with considerable precipitation. Small daily and seasonal temperature ranges, and high relative humidity are characteristic of this area. With increasing distance inland maritime influences decrease, and sunny, warmer weather is more common. Higher elevations can receive snow in the winter. Several microclimates exist in the area due to various weather and geographical influences.