Now is the perfect time of year to head up north to Crescent City. It makes a great refueling stop while exploring expansive Redwood National Park, and is just a hop, skip, and jump from the Oregon border and the dramatic Oregon coast.
Because Crescent City is so far north—about a six- to seven-hour drive—it is often overlooked as a Bay Area getaway destination. That’s a shame, because it has some sites that are worth the extra time it takes to get here.
Not the least of them is the Crescent Beach Motel, an ordinary but nicely maintained lodging in which all the rooms have a large window facing the ocean.
The sandy beach is just beyond a protective low row of boulders. As my husband and I stared out at the grey ocean, it came alive with diving pelicans and bobbing surfers. We wound up keeping our windows open to the soothing sounds of the rolling waves and bleating fog horn.
Amenities are modest, but I appreciated my complimentary afternoon cup of hot chocolate and my breakfast of coffee and instant oatmeal.
On our drive in, we passed through the immense redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants just below Eureka. You might want to allow time for a stop at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is just off Highway 101 about six miles north of Orick. Steven Spielberg filmed part of The Lost World: Jurassic Park II here. This 14,000-acre park is a refuge for one of the few remaining herds of native Roosevelt elk, which are the largest mammals in California and the largest subspecies of North American elk. Viewing is prime from mid-September to mid-October at the Elk Prairie section on Newton Drury Scenic Parkway.
After sitting outside our motel room for a spell on provided beach chairs, releasing the tensions of the journey, we drove the few miles into town for dinner at Ambrosia. Though located unpromisingly in a strip mall, it’s popular with locals for good reason. My well-priced entrée—horseradish-crusted wild salmon with mashed potatoes and asparagus—included a delicious Caesar salad and left little room for one of the housemade desserts, though I managed a few tastes of my husband’s chocolate cake.
After breakfast in the morning, we took an invigorating walk along the driftwood-strewn beach using improvised driftwood walking sticks that my husband playfully converted into a baseball bat.
Then it was off to the town’s charming, now automated Battery Point Lighthouse for a tour. The tide has to be out in order to walk over to the island that holds this charming little gem of a Cape Cod-style lighthouse, which is separated from the shore when the tide is in.
I’d planned ahead to be here when the tide was right. And getting there is half the fun, requiring as it does a walk over a gravel bed leading past tidepools and past the occasional iris or magenta ice plant.
I found several stranded, still-alive sea stars and returned them to a tidepool.
While we sat on a bluff waiting for our tour to start, we took in the stunning sea view alive with flocks of sea birds, including pelicans, and wished we’d brought a lunch so that we could soak up the view even longer at one of the picnic tables.
On the tour, led by the friendly keeper Randy Ansley and shared with a group of very excited local third graders, we learned that the first lightkeeper came out with James Marshall, who famously discovered gold elsewhere; that it is called “the Christmas light” because it opened on Christmas in 1856; and that the current lightkeeper has cable and internet and got the job by luckily being on a tour on the last day of the previous keeper’s stay.
We climbed a spiral staircase, viewed the original 4th order Fresnel lens (now displayed in the gift shop), saw and heard an intriguing demonstration of an antique Victrola, and viewed the living quarters of the current keepers that is decorated with lace curtains, rag rugs, and antiques galore (it is one of the longest continually lived in lighthouses on the West Coast). When he saw the light, one kid screamed, “Wow!”
After, we stopped a short ways away at Brother Jonathan Park, an open expanse that holds several graves and provides a viewpoint of the largest shipwreck--in terms of life and money--ever to occur off the coast of California. We then made a quick stop at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center located adjacent to Front Street Park to view some noisily recovering baby sea lions, and then headed for lunch.
The cozy Beachcomber Restaurant, located next door to our motel, has a nice nautical decor of rough-cut planks and fishnets, as well as comfortable booths, but the ocean view is the big event. Also, the fresh fish—often locally caught and usually grilled over madrone-wood barbecue pits—is very good, and the fish & chips-coleslaw-curly fries basket is primo.
Before leaving town, we made one more stop—at the Del Norte County Historical Society Museum. Housed in a warren of rooms in a building that once served as the town’s Hall of Records and jail, this museum devotes two rooms to local Tolowa and Yurok Native American artifacts. Other displays include musical instruments, photographs, and needlework, and an annex houses the magnificent 5,000-pound, 18-foot-high, 1st order Fresnel lens from the Point Saint George Reef Lighthouse, located 6 miles off shore.
From here, we hit Highway 101 and headed north to the Oregon border, which is just 20 miles away.
IF YOU GO
Crescent City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce
(800) 343-8300; www.exploredelnorte.com
Central Oregon Coast Association
(800) 767-2064; www.coastvisitor.com
Crescent Beach Motel
(707) 464-5436; www.crescentbeachmotel.com. Rates drop on Sept. 3.
Redwood National Park
(707) 464-6101; www.nps.gov/redw
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (707) 464-6101 x5301; www.parks.ca.gov
Avenue of the Giants
Ambrosia (707) 464-2400
Battery Point Lighthouse
(707) 464-3089; www.delnortehistory.org.
Brother Jonathan Park
9th St./Pebble Beach
Northcoast Marine Mammal Center (707) 465-MAML; www.northcoastmmc.org
Del Norte County Historical Society Museum (707) 464-3922; www.delnortehistory.org
Carole Terwilliger Meyers is the author of Weekend Adventures in San Francisco & Northern California (www.carousel-press.com) and Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities.
Photograph by Carole Terwilliger Meyers.
The Battery Point Lighthouse opened on Chrsimas day in 1856.