Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – San Francisco to Mendocino

I kicked off this year on the blog with highlighting the Pacific Coast Highway in California, a breathtaking drive along the coast. I’ve covered tips and tricks for planning the drive as well as the trip from San Diego to San Francisco here. But I felt I need to spend a little more time along the coast before I could share with you one of my favorite stretches of the coast, from San Francisco to Mendocino.

In my opinion, this stretch of the drive is only second to that of Big Sur in awe-inspiring views as you drive along the coast. Along with that, you have a chance to visit a few national seashores which are some of the most beautiful preserved places in the country, delicious spots to try local delicacies whether it’s oysters, cheeses or wine. From San Francisco, this trip makes a perfect weekend getaway or add it along to your road trip along the coast.

Check out some of the unique stops you can make along the way on this part of the journey from San Francisco to Mendocino. Plus, it starts with a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, which doesn’t hurt.What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino.

Note: Some stays, tours, passes, and meals were provided at no cost to the author. As always, all opinions remain my own. 

Marin Headlands Area

As you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll make your way into Marin County. Here you will find Sausalito to the east, where you can grab a nice bite while looking over the bay to San Francisco and Berkeley. Or you can stop at Stinson Beach at take in the view back at the Golden Gate and the City.

This area offers a great respite from the city where you can get out into nature whether it’s wandering through the redwoods in Muir Forest or the untouched seaside of the Marin Headlands.

Point Reyes National Seashore

This next stretch will take you along staggering cliffsides that rival Big Sur. It’s a perfect drive to take out of San Francisco for a day trip as well. You’ll wind your way up to Point Reyes National Seashore. Make sure to get out and fit in a hike whether you head to the Point Reyes Lighthouse or what are considered some of the best tide pools in California.

On your way north you’ll head through Point Reyes Station. It’s a perfect place to stop and grab a bite. This region is known for its dairies and one of the best creameries you can find is Cowgirl Creamery, stop by for a sandwich or just stop by for a block of the Mt. Tam cheese which practically melts in your mouth. The area just east is also home to many of California’s ranches and at Marin Sun Farms restaurant you can get a taste of the amazing meats they are producing.

Bodega Bay

Escape from busy streets, crowded beaches and cell reception on the Sonoma County Coast at Bodega Bay. There are countless beaches to relax at, take a beautiful walk and watch the waves crash. You can also enjoy a variety of activities all year round from whale watching to kayaking on the Bay and even horseback riding on the beach.

Stop at Doran Regional Park, which connects the Bay to the Ocean, giving you a unique perspective and often a place to see some of the region’s wildlife.

The area is known for its seafood, especially it’s crab. Stop by one of the local spots like Spud Point Crab Company for some of their clam chowder and crab cakes. Watch the sun go down at Gourmet au Bay, while enjoying one of their surfboard wine flights. 

For more beautiful beaches you’ll come across the town of Jenner just north of Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast State Park. At the right time of year, you can even whale watch right from the cliffs.

Bodega Bay also makes a great stopping point if you don’t want to head all the way to Mendocino in one day. The Bodega Bay Inn is a cute and affordable choice to stay right in the area.

Point Arena

About 45 minutes south of Mendocino you’ll find the town of Point Arena. Make sure to stop in at the Point Arena Lighthouse, the tallest on the West Coast you can walk up. The views are breathtaking and the history of the lighthouse and area is unique.

Step into nature with Our Unbeaten Path Tours in this area. Take a walking tour of some of the Stornetta Public lands that you can’t access without a guide or an architectural. This area also offers the B. Bryan Preserve where you can stay the night or take a tour through open spaces filled with giraffes, zebras and antelopes.What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino.v

Mendocino & Fort Bragg

My favorite thing to do in the Mendocino area is checking out, meaning turn off your cell phone, relax and enjoy the views. Stay at the Little River Inn where each room has a deck with a view of the ocean. Making it the perfect spot.

Whether you go up to visit the unique glass beach in Fort Bragg, take a hike along Fern Canyon Trail in Van Damme State Park or enjoy driving along the coast and visiting the different beaches there is always enough to do in areas.What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino.

Don’t miss a few of my favorite spots to grab a bite as well. Stop in at Patterson’s Pub for delicious oysters and fish and chips in a casual environment or make a reservation at Wild Fish, where you can enjoy fine dining while looking over the ocean. Don’t miss some of my other favorite things to do in Mendocino County.

Don’t Skip The Side Trips From San Francisco to Mendocino – Wine Country 

As you take the drive from San Francisco to Mendocino, just to your East you’ll find some of the world’s best wine country. Just North of San Fransisco you’ll find Sonoma and Napa, the two most popular wine destinations in California and well worth a visit. Although to be honest as you drive north you’ll find a few of my favorites including the Russian River area if you cut over towards Guerneville where you can enjoy this cute town and a bit further inland Healdsburg, often considered a best-kept secret of California wine country. East of Mendocino after you take a beautiful drive through the redwoods you’ll find Anderson Valley. While you don’t necessarily need to fit all of these on your trip it’s worth popping into at least one. Or direct your drive back to San Francisco through wine country, another beautiful part of California’s landscape.What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino.

Did I miss any of your favorite spots on this stretch of the drive from San Francisco to Mendocino? If so, let me know in the comments below. If you’re looking for more tips on driving the Pacific Coast Highway head over to the series homepage. And sign up for the Traveling Nine to Fiver newsletter to follow the series as it comes out! Next week we’ll cover tips on how you can plan your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

What’s your favorite part of taking a road trip? Or where is your favorite road trip? Leave a comment below. 

What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino. What to do, where to eat and stay on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the political world in California, but on evening and weekends spends time exploring the West Coast and more. All while encouraging others to join in on the adventures.

  • Kim-Ling Richardson (Travel-Li

    Sounds like a great itinerary! The views from Point Arena are pretty special and I’d love to visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg – it looks so unique!

  • Looks amazing! I’d be happy to cruise along the coast – just need to find myself a co-driver!

    • Yes! You could do it solo but more fun with a buddy.

  • I love the west coast drive along the Pacific. It’s so iconic. I actually drove a lot of it starting from Seattle years ago and it’s still such a memorable trip. I’d love to do some whale watching in Bodega Bay or take a guided tour to explore off-the-beaten path.

    • I still need to do the Pacific Northwest piece of the drive!

  • This one of my favorite drives! I can’t count the number to times I’ve made this trip when I lived in California. It just made me realize how much I miss my home state! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I can’t wait to go back 🙂

    • Well you’ll just have to plan a trip home soon. I’ve only done small stints out of state and would really miss it if I’ve left longer than 6 months.

  • It really does deserve it’s place as one of the worlds best known road trips. Would love to drive it ourselves one day.

    • Sure you’ll get the chance. Well worth making it work.

  • Ive done this road trip before and absolutely loved it. I went camping and enjoyed all the hidden spots and beaches that we stayed on. That pebble beach is stunning isn’t it? Thanks for sharing this- can’t wait to go back again!

    • It’s so unique. Was glad I finally made it there.

  • I especially like your tip on not skipping any side trips, that is one of my favourite things about a road trip. Especially if it includes great wine!

    • Some of the best parts of California are a little further off the coast.

  • I agree that the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the US. We hopefully will be driving it ourselves in November, as we make our way down the California coast. The Point Reyes area has always been a favorite spot for me!

    • That’s a great time to enjoy the coast. Still good weather and much less crowded.

  • This is perfect! We will be heading out to California in the spring and this is an amazing breakdown of what to do as we make our way from San Francisco to Mendocino! Thank you!!

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey

    I’ve always wanted to visit the glass beach in Fort Bragg. It doesn’t seem real! I only recently found out it was in California, so it’s just another reason to visit!

  • reddel

    California has so many great road trips. Thanks for providing one we haven’t done before. Can’t wait to try it.