Our final day of traveling in California was to drive from Fort Bragg back to San Francisco. It would have only been a few hours if we had driven straight down the highway, but of course, we took advantage of the time to continue our exploring.
The coastal road down Highway 1 is spectacular. There is not quite the ruggedness of the Oregon coast but the road hugs the shoreline – sometimes right at sea level and at other times it is a few hundred metres high up on the hillside or cliff top. It’s very scenic and would more than rival the Great Ocean Road that we have at home in Victoria.
We stopped at the remainder of the town of Elk for a coffee. I say, remainder, as the town now has a population of only 208 people where it once was one of the largest coastal towns in California. Elk was originally called “Greenwood” after some early homesteaders, but when the post office was opened in 1887, there was already another town called Greenwood in California so it was called Elk after the abundant local wildlife. A large steam sawmill and timber railroad operated here and the town even had its own hospital. The local redwood lumber industry economy collapsed when the uninsured sawmill burned down in 1936. Another sawmill was built in about 1953 and one more in 1963. These operated until the late 1960s when the Redwood and Douglas fir was mostly logged out. The most remarkable thing about this little town now is the fine seascape of rock formations in the bay.
A woman on another table in the cafe made the mistake of asking an old guy at another table a question. Well, that was his invitation to tell her his life story and the history of the town in his old quavering voice with a long drawl. She was trapped for about 20 minutes and couldn’t find a polite way of stopping him even though she had paid her bill and had packed top her bag. Eventually, he stopped long enough to drink a mouthful of coffee and she made a hurried exit while the going was good.
A little further south, we found the Point Arena lighthouse – the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of the USA. It had a very grand presence on the shoreline and we could see a group of Californian Harbour Seals that had hauled out on the rocks below. Apparently, these animals can dive to over 450 metres! They are shy animals and spend about half their time fishing and the other half resting on rocks or some other structure.
For most of the day, however, we just enjoyed the coastal views. At a town named Jenner, we saw the mouth of the Russian River. It seems that Russians had occupied parts of this coast in the early 1800’s for fishing but left once American settlers began to arrive in the west by wagon train later in the 1800’s.
We continued on to Bodega Bay where the road turned inland. At Petaluma, we turned on to the main Highway 101 with its dense traffic and headed south down towards San Francisco. We were glad that we were not travelling north. The closer we came to San Francisco, the more dense the traffic became. Our south bound lanes were busy, but flowing relatively well. However the five lanes of traffic heading north were bumper to bumper for over 30 kilometres.
We decided to make our last night in the USA a little more luxurious than the standard hotels we have been staying in. We found a lovely B&B at Sausalito, just over the Golden Gate bridge from the city. It is very elegant with a lovely large room and a superb view across the Bay to San Francisco. We arrived just in time for dusk and a good view of the city lights from our window.