The Lost Coast is proof that if you don’t build it, they won’t come. What wasn’t built along 90 miles of pristine California coastline north of Mendocino was a road: The topography of this rugged region — steep mountain ranges abutting rocky shore — wouldn’t allow it, forcing the builders of Highway 1 to make a detour far inland. The result of this absence of asphalt is the last untamed and undeveloped stretch of coastline in California, a place so devoid of urbanization that more cows repose on its beaches than people (seriously). In fact, you can spend days roaming the coastal range and without seeing a soul, making the Lost Coast the sine qua non of “get-away-from-it-all” experiences.
Featured Photo: Bob Wick, BLM
The Scenic Road to Nowhere
Despite the absence of a coastal road (aside from a brief stretch along the northern region), the Lost Coast makes for a fantastic road trip. Of the three entrance points into the region — Garberville, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Ferndale — the most scenic route is through the State Park. Take the Humboldt Redwoods State Park turnoff on Highway 101 and follow the Mattole Road all the way to Ferndale and back onto Highway 101. The three to four-hour, 70-plus mile drive is incredible, transporting you through lush redwood forests, across golden meadows, and past miles of deserted beaches. Be sure to start with a full tank, keep a map, binoculars and camera handy, pack a lunch, and bring a jacket if you plan to venture anywhere on foot — the ubiquitous afternoon fog is a real bone-chiller.
The Lost Coast Hiking Trail
Along with fishing, the most popular Lost Coast activity is hiking, and the mother of all hiking trails here is the Lost Coast Trail, which passes through the King Range National Conservation Area. For people who love to hike, it’s the ultimate weekend excursion. The nearly 25-mile one-way trek meanders along oceanside bluffs, tide pools, and miles of pristine beaches. It’s usually done via a two-car shuttle system, with one car left at Mattole River Beach and another at Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove. If you would rather stick to short, easy day hikes, the best is Chemise Mountain Trail, located a few miles east of Shelter Cove. The three-mile round-trip trek only takes a few hours, and offers incredible views of lush canyons and the shimmering Pacific.
If you’re not into camping or backpacking you’ll want to head straight for Shelter Cove, the Lost Coast’s only coastal community. Situated on a small plateau overlooking the ocean, this bastion of seaside serenity consists of a hundred or so homes perched along the cliff’s edge or recessed into the hillside, as well as a few inns, a public nine-hole golf course, a few restaurants, a deli, a small campground, and a tackle shop. Smack dab in the center of town is a small runway that is well-known among recreational pilots, who can park their planes and walk to the nearby inns and restaurants. Though many visitors come simply to relax and de-stress on the litter-free black-sand beaches, Shelter Cove also is an ideal launching point for day hikes, deep sea fishing, and wildlife viewing (a seal and sea lion rookery is located at the southern end of town).
Seaside Golfing for $10
The Shelter Cove Golf Links is a fairly challenging nine-hole course (par 33 for men and 34 for women) that encircles the landing strip. The fairways are quite narrow, and forget about finding errant balls — the thick rough eats them for lunch. It’s popular with pilots who like to fly in for a round of golf and a steak dinner, and it’s within walking distance to all the inns and restaurants, so you don’t need to drive to get there. Okay, so it’s not Pebble Beach, but what to you expect for $15 green fees. This is a walking course; golf carts are not available.
Dining on the Lost Cove
Dining options on the Lost Cove are limited, but don’t worry, you won’t starve. Delgada Pizza is open Thursday-Tuesday, 4pm to 9pm; Mi Mochima serves up Venezuelan dishes including empanadas and garlic shrimp, Friday through Sunday from 5pm to 9pm and brunch on Sundays from noon to 3pm. For less fancy fare, I highly recommend the Shelter Cove RV Campground & Deli, which doubles as the headquarters for the Shelter Cove community. The fish & chips are wonderful. Otherwise the menu options include fried shrimp, clam strips, clam chowder and assorted burgers. It’s open daily, and there’s a large deck with covered picnic benches for alfresco dining.
Snoozing seals, grazing deer, and migrating whales are just some of the sights you might see from your balcony at the Oceanfront Inn at Shelter Cove, a handsome beach house-style building built smack-dab on the shoreline. All rooms and suites have a deck or balcony overlooking the Pacific, microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker.
If you splurge for the Oceanfront Suite, you get a full-kitchen. A BBQ is available upon request for all guests. Serious R&R is the theme at this seaside inn: soak up sun on the deck, play a round of golf across the street, or walk to the nearby black sand beach via a direct-access staircase from the inn, ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to do around here except turn off your cell phone and relax.