The Lost Coast: Northern California’s Untamed Waterfront

Adventure Travel, California, Fitness & Workouts — By on October 19, 2009 at 6:00 am

by Jessica Goldstein
LG Adventure Editor

Before I went to the Lost Coast in Northern California, I’d been to the beach- at least, I’d been down the shore (pronounced “sho-wuh”). The waterfront as I knew it tasted like funnel cake washed down with beer and sounded like Bon Jovi. It was a sticky, sweaty, tanned and tattooed pulsing throng of people. Naturally the masses were the main attraction. You went down the shore to see and be seen. The ocean, arguably why you braved the Turnpike traffic in the first place, was something of an afterthought.

In defense of the great Garden State, I don’t think we’re unique in our perception of what a beach getaway entails. We get away from one crowd to disappear into another, and I doubt that many people know what the shoreline looked like before we got there.

The Lost Coast, located along a section of Northern California waterfront, is to every beach you’ve ever seen what a live acoustic performance is to the auto-tuned songs you hear on the radio. It’s rough and it’s raw, and there’s nothing to distract you from what’s right in front of your face. When you’re there, you forget about being seen because there’s no one there to watch you. It’s you, sand, sea, sky, and absolutely nothing else.

Just getting to the Lost Coast is a Kerouac kind of adventure. Start in San Francisco, drive north on the 101 for 230 miles until all you see are redwoods. From the end of the highway you can choose one of four winding, near-vertical roads, only two of which are paved. What you’ll reach is a stretch of California coastline 80 miles long, rising and falling 2000 feet as it goes. Over twenty small rivers run through it, cutting through canyons all year round. It’s not the California of the movies – flashy, electric, perpetually teenage – it’s an older California, rugged and untamed. Everything about the scene fits the name: a mysterious, romantic elsewhere that looks like the edge of the world.

For hiking information, check out Sinkyone Wilderness and the King Range National Conservation Area. King Range is longer (25 miles) and takes you along the water to Black Sands Beach. For a shorter hike peppered with free campsites, Sinkyone is a better fit.

If you want a surfing guide, there isn’t one. Searches will produce names like “Ghost Point”, aptly monikered for the religious reverence those who found it have for the unmappable sweet surf spot. Pinning down the coordinates of the legendary breaks is like trying to nail a cube of Jell-o to the wall. Click here to read about one man’s search for the perfect wave.

When visiting on the Lost Coast, don’t forget to…

Pack several extra pairs of socks as yours will inevitably get soaking wet and then, somehow, never dry.

Study a tide chart and plan accordingly, unless you want to swim huge lengths of the trail during high tide.

Look out for snakes of both the rattle and garter variety, and leave both of them alone (true story: I know a girl who got bitten by a garter snake on the Lost Coast. Famous last words: “Look! It’s a garter snake! It’s cool, they don’t bite.”

Stay out of the water during the fall, which is great white shark season (true story: I don’t actually know anyone who got bitten by a great white shark on the Lost Coast, but I wouldn’t chance it if I were you.)

Bring bear canisters if you’re camping on the beach.

Camp on the beach. Sand, sea, sky, you. The best night’s sleep you’ll ever have.

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    1 Comment

  • Jane is a gypsy says:

    Ahhh, the East shore so vividly depicted. There are some things that you can only experience in Nor Cal. I loved it!!!