Road Trip 101- A Drive Back In Time

HWY 101 Road Trip – Part 1 – Crescent City to Eureka

By David Kelly::

While Route 66 is the most well known, America has many other classic road trip routes that can still transport you back in time. One of the best is HWY 101, which runs from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast. All 3 West Coast states have their share of ocean views, giant trees, hairpin curves, and historic roadside attractions. My personal favorite is the center section that runs from Crescent City, at the top of California, South to San Francisco, with a detour onto HWY 29 through Wine Country.

Google Maps shows that it is 354 miles and says that it takes 6.5 hours to drive. I have driven this route many times and my fastest time logged was 2.5 DAYS. There is so much to see that making this a 3-4 day adventure is highly recommended. This is my typical itinerary:

Mmm.... Mid Century Modern....
Mmm…. Mid Century Modern….

Spend the night at The Curly Redwood Lodge in Crescent City. This 1950s Mid-Century Modern Motel looks so clean and perfect, you would think it just opened. Stunning, figured redwood paneling and woodwork are everywhere you look, along with original vintage furniture and lighting to complete the time machine you will be using to launch your trip back in time.

Sure, it’s always cloudy in Crescent City, but it is still worth a look around. There’s more Mid-Mod splendor to take in, from the other vintage motels to the rare Googie style Denny’s on the main drag. The ocean views are rocky and vast, while the underwater views at the aquarium are a must. You can pet actual sharks, as well as take in a seal and sea lion show like most aquariums had in the 1950s-1970s.

Trees of Mystery is the 1st major roadside attraction on this stretch. It’s actually bigger and more interesting than it may seem from the parking lot. However, the parking lot is my favorite part, with the 49′ tall Paul Bunyan and his 35′ tall Ox, Babe. In the summers, Paul is inhabited by a really funny employee with a microphone who makes wisecracks to visitors about their sweaters & warnings about touching Babe’s junk. He can turn his giant head & wave his hand. The main attractions here are many amazing giant redwood tree formations, a gondola ride through the tree canopy to a mountain top, and a trail lined with classic story carvings, The Trail Of Tall Tales. The gift shop houses an impressive Native American museum worthy of a stop, even if it was all you had time for. Make sure and get the big bumper sticker/sign that won’t work on your new car.

Drive Thru Trees!

Next stop, the 1st of 3 Drive Thru Trees that you will need to, well, drive through. The ones you have seen in old postcards that have a tunnel cut in them that most cars will fit through. I got stuck in one, but this 1st one has the largest hole. Here in Klamath, you will find the Tour Thru Tree. You can’t miss the signs, so don’t miss this photo op.

Immediately after successfully piloting your vehicle through the tree, you will cross a long bridge with golden bears on each end. On our last trip, a mother Grey Whale and her calf were stuck in the Klamath River just below the bridge. It was fascinating to watch them swim around in the river. When the tide came back in, the calf found its way back out to sea, but sadly, the mother was too tired and confused to make it back out.

Set the time machine as far back as it goes for the next stop – Fern Canyon. This was used as a movie location for Jurasic Park. It’s just what it sounds like, only better. There is an easy hike involved and you won’t want to leave.

Spend the 2nd night at Elk Prairie Campground. It’s appropriately named, as you will find a herd of elk wandering through most mornings. Do not approach them, but they won’t come looking for trouble. There are many great hikes here, including a long, but rewarding trail to the beach.

Spend some time checking out 1000-2000 year old Redwoods and side roads. There is are so many massive trees & short drives to large stands, such as the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

Lunch is in order at the Palm Cafe in Orick. Martha, the owner and main cook, is 89 years old and still home-making most dishes. She is famous for her many hand crafted pies. Some days, you will find 10 varieties in the pie case. Visiting with Martha while eating her pies is a real treat.

You won’t be able to miss the Lagoons State Park, they look amazing from the car, but if you have time, stop and hike around. Each lagoon is larger and more interesting than the ones before it.

Patrick’s Point State Park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in all of California. It’s on the ocean and has breathtaking views. It’s a must see and there is camping here.

When was the last time you went to Trinidad? It happens to be your next stop for Gas and food.

Vintage Neon!

Eureka! The largest city on this stretch of the 101 has a lot to offer. There’s some great vintage neon in town and quite a few historic buildings. The entire city is a state historic landmark, which has hundreds of significant Victorian homes, including the nationally-recognized Carson Mansion, and the city has retained its original 19th century commercial core as a nationally-recognized Old Town Historic District. Eureka is home to California’s oldest zoo, the Sequoia Park Zoo.

Tune in next time for Part 2.

Photos by David Kelly

For more photos of Vintage Roadside Attractions and Signage, go to

Top Song: “My California” – Lightnin’ Hopkins

Bottom Song: “California” – John Mayall