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Off the Beaten Path: The Lost Coast of California

Photo by Emma Westhoff

When most of us think of coastal California, a few things come to mind, from multi-million-dollar condos to Baywatch-esque lifeguards supervising throngs of urbanite beachgoers. Tranquil and pristine may not be the first words that occur to us, but those are exactly the words that describe an often-overlooked section of the northern California coastline known simply as the Lost Coast.

Bypassed by the famous Pacific Coast Highway and historic U.S. Route 101, this hidden gem is inaccessible from any major road. Instead, determined adventurers travel to and from the shore on narrow, winding backroads, passing family farms and Victorian-era towns. The detour can take several hours, and because of the lack of services, the trip may be difficult to manage for those without access to a camper vehicle.

For those willing to brave the journey, the rewards are breathtaking. Rugged cliffs, black-sand beaches, open fields, and forestland meld seamlessly with the crashing waves of the Pacific. Visitors can surf, explore tidepools, spot local wildlife, and just soak in the views. For a longer stay, the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail is a coveted destination for backpackers across the country.

In a state where undeveloped coastal habitat is in short supply, the Lost Coast is a rare glimpse into the natural splendor of the beaches of California. The views are awe-inspiring, and as a non-traditional approach to seeing the Pacific coast, a visit to the Lost Coast is more than worth the drive—at least for those not prone to motion sickness.