Redwood trees are the tallest on the planet, and can only be found in a few locations -- mainly California and Oregon. They can grow as tall as 300 to 350 feet high, which is about the same size as a 30-story building. Or, to put it another way, that’s higher than the Statue of Liberty. But, experiencing the magic these sky-high trees up close and personal doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here’s how to explore the California Coastal Redwoods on a budget.
Avenue of the Giants, Miranda
If you’re driving north from San Francisco, stop in sleepy Garberville to visit Woodrose Café, for a much-needed pick-me-up. This unassuming diner serves up classic breakfast dishes such as huevos rancheros, pancakes, bagels, and more. Toast your trip with a blood orange mimosa or a carrot-beet juice.
The Avenue of the Giants is a free, scenic tree lined highway that runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, with plenty of places to stop, hike and gaze up at these towering trees. Pop by the Humboldt State Park Visitor Center to pick up hiking maps and to see the “Travel Log,” a vintage wooden version of an Airstream. In 1917, Charles Kellogg built a mobile home out of a fallen redwood trunk and towed it around the US to help convince people to preserve the redwoods. And while you can’t go wrong with any of the hikes here, Founders Grove offers an easy loop and is home to the 346-foot Founders Tree. Nearby, you'll find the Dyerville Giant, which was the tallest tree in the park before it fell in 1991.
The Shrine Drive Thru Tree is hokey but fun (and costs just $8 per vehicle). However, due to recent erosion, cars cannot fully drive through the 21-foot diameter tree (you will need to reverse out). The grounds also feature a pair of whimsical carved treehouses.
Miranda Gardens Resort has a prime location right on the Avenue of the Giants. The simple, spacious cabins are surrounded by flowering trees and you can hike to a redwoods trail right from the resort (rates start at $130 per night, depending on the season). When you get hungry, head across the street to Avenue Café for pizzas and local brews.
Work your way down the winding coastal Route 1 to reach Fort Bragg, the home of the Skunk Train. The Pudding Creek Express is a one-hour train journey through old growth redwoods on a vintage train ($28.95 for an adult ticket). Stop for lunch at the rustic Sea Pal Cove Restaurant, which overlooks the water. Sit outside on a picnic table and tuck into a crispy fish sandwich ($9.50) or go for the gigantic hand-battered prawns ($18). If you want to see more redwoods, drive an hour east to Montgomery Woods State Preserve, one of California’s more remote redwood parks.
Swap redwoods for rhododendrons at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Admission is $15 and well worth it: you can spend hours here meandering on the ocean-view trails past plants, trees, and flowers including dahlias, roses, and succulents. Hike out to the coastal bluff trail and take in the serene views. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a migrating whale.
Drop your bags at the Maccullum House, a picture-perfect Victorian home that’s now a boutique hotel, right in the heart of Mendocino Village.Here, the vibe is elegant but relaxed. Before dinner, head to the hotel’s Grey Whale Bar for a cocktail or two. Rates from $169 per night, depending on the season; includes breakfast.
Spend the afternoon browsing the tiny boutiques that make up the Village. Nibble on toffee at the Mendocino Chocolate Company, and sample the unique jam flavors such as cherry amaretto at the Mendocino Country Store. Blink and you’ll miss the tiny wine bar, Mendo Vino, which is tucked away in the back of the store. Gallery Bookshop has a huge selection of books as well as killer ocean views and cozy window seats. For dinner, try the causal Mendocino Café which serves eclectic, organic cuisine inspired by cultures across the world. Dishes range from dim sum to a Brazilian fish stew (entrées from $16).
Head south to the coastal community of Point Arena, where you can get up close with African hoof stock at B. Bryan Preserve, which is privately owned and dedicated to breeding and preserving giraffes, zebra, and antelope. Small group tours of the 100-acre property take place on vintage Land Rovers ($35 per adult). For lunch, pick up a sandwich at Arena Market and Café and head south to Fort Ross Historic State Park ($8 per car). Located right on the Pacific coast, this recreation of a 19th-century Russian outpost offers hours of exploration. The reconstructed fort is home to a Russian Orthodox chapel, barracks, and a private home.
Base yourself at the The Astro, a motel that’s been given a fresh mid-century modern makeover (rates start at $175 per night, depending on the season). Take in the beauty of the ancient redwood trail at Jack London State Historic Park ($10 per car). Learn more about the famed author and journalist at the House of Happy Walls Museum, which is located within the park.
Additionally, you can see more redwoods up close and personal at Armstrong Redwoods ($10 per car). This 805-acre state park also features an array of short trails, but don’t miss the tallest tree in the park, Parson Jones, which is over 310 feet tall.
Back in Santa Rosa, enjoy a well-deserved dinner at the Spinster Sisters, where you can share family-style platters of grilled meat along with smaller plates of cured Spanish mackerel and grilled Monterey Bay squid.