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Redwood National Park to San Francisco

Alternatives for Finishing Your Redwoods
& Mendocino Scenic Drive

Check out these choices for returning from Redwood National Park to the San Francisco Bay Area. This is Part 10 of a spectacular Redwoods and Mendocino Scenic Drive.

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OPTION ONE —
Returning directly to San Francisco

If you have just 3 days for your redwoods and Mendocino scenic drive, you’ll need to return to the Bay Area today.

Still, you’ll have time to spend the morning exploring the southern part of the Redwood National Park area, doing the Big Tree trail and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, if you haven’t done so. These were highlighted in Part 9 of this scenic drive.

Or, if you get a very early start, you could spend the morning in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park enjoying the Stout Grove loop trail and the Howland Hill Road scenic drive described in Part 9 of this scenic drive.

Highway 101

Because Highway 101 is mostly a freeway or a divided highway, you won’t need a full day to reach San Francisco. And, don’t be concerned about driving the last portion after dark. That you’ve already seen on the first day of this scenic drive.

For example, to the Golden Gate Bridge from

  • Northern intersection of Newton Drury Scenic Parkway and U.S. 101 – 6 hours
  • Arcata – under 5 hours
  • Eureka – under 4 hours and 40 minutes
  • Crescent City 101 – under 6 hours and 30 minutes

I nearly always break this trip with a short hike in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Just take one of the early exits marked “Avenue of the Giants” and return to 101 at the next interchange.

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OPTION TWO —
Returning via a Napa Valley scenic drive

If you have an extra day or more to reach the Bay Area, you’ll have time to explore Napa Valley in depth.

Drive south from Eureka on U.S. Highway 101 to Santa Rosa.

Then join the route of the Napa Valley scenic drive at Santa Rosa.

If you start out from Redwood National Park by early afternoon, you’ll have time to reach accommodation in the Sonoma Valley before dark.

For less expensive accommodation, you may start out even a little later in the day and stay overnight in Santa Rosa or adjacent Petaluma.

See Napa Valley Scenic Drive for detailed directions from Santa Rosa and for sightseeing information.

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OPTION THREE —
Returning to San Francisco via Napa Valley in 1 day

This option allows you to see some very scenic areas of the Wine Country.

For these Napa highlights, all you have to do is allow a full day to reach San Francisco from the Redwood National Park area by leaving by around 7:30 A.M.

Directions for Option 3

Take U.S. Highway 101 south to Geyserville, which is south of Ukiah.

Then drive southeast on Highway 128 toward Calistoga.

At the junction with Highway 29 in Calistoga, turn left to visit the picturesque downtown and spa area, which is just ahead.

Calistoga Hot Springs

Since just after the War Between the States, Calistoga has been the leading hot springs spa resort town in California. You’ll find spas that are quite moderate in price, including some motels with hot soaking pools. See the website for details.

The lack of fast food chains (they’re banned) and strong preservationist movement in Calistoga take you back to another time. Take some time to walk the main street.

Saint Helena

From Calistoga, go back to the junction with Highway 128.

Turn left onto 128 and Highway 29, and drive south toward St. Helena.

Saint Helena more than the city of Napa, puts you in the heart of the Wine Country.

The nearby hills on both sides of the valley here help make it particularly scenic.

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

When entering St. Helena, watch for the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone on your right. This is the graduate school of the premier chef training institution in the United States.

Once the Christian Brothers Winery, the CIA California campus now helps already highly experienced chefs rise to a new level.

Visitors without reservations enjoy this environment, but you should book the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant on the campus in advance. This wonderful restaurant takes advantage of extensive vineyards, herb, and other organic gardens on campus—and the awesome talent of the Culinary Institute of America.

See the website for cooking demonstrations and tours open to the public and special activities. While there, be sure to visit the campus store.

From Greystone, continue south through the pleasant city center.

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher

As you near the south edge of St. Helena, pull into Taylor’s Automatic Refresher on your right at 933 Main Street.

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher looks like a circa 1955 old-fashioned fast food stand, but it’s like no fast food joint we’ve ever been.

Taylor’s serves gourmet fast food (see the press section of the link) with wine or non-alcoholic drinks at moderate prices.

Go for the more unusual items on the menu, such as

  • White pistachio milk shakes
  • Chili cheese fries
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Fish tacos with jalapeño-cilantro sour cream, and
  • Ahi burger seared rare with ginger wasabi mayo.

. . . sorry, I can barely write thinking how good these are.

Out back, you may dine on sheltered picnic tables on a pleasant lawn.

Continuing south

From St. Helena, continue south on Highway 29.

Notice the railway that now parallels the highway. This is the route of the famous Napa Valley Wine Train along an old interurban track.

Also notice that the valley widens, with the mountains farther away. Although more people visit the southern portion of the valley, you’ve been fortunate to see it at its most scenic to the north.

Note too the variety of architectural styles throughout Napa Valley.

This entire area imparts its French, German, Italian, New England, Portuguese, Spanish, Swiss, and other heritages.

Yountville

Along Highway 29, approximately 4 miles south and southeast of Rutherford, watch for the Washington Street entrance to Yountville, named after the first Anglo settler in Napa Valley.

Turn left off of Highway 29 onto Washington Street.

Washington Street then veers to the right to parallel Highway 29.

When Washington Street reaches a junction, veer left onto Madison Street.

After 2 blocks, turn right onto Yount Street.

You’re now in the center of Yountville, one of the most pleasant towns in the area.

Yountville offers a prime example of a former Napa Valley market center moving upscale without losing its character, with services for visitors and the wealthy retirees who have flocked to the area.

In the town center, find parking and enjoy a walk along Yount Street, parallel Washington Street, and several side streets.

French Laundry Restaurant

As an example of going upscale, you’ll find in Yountville what many critics consider to be the finest restaurant in the United States, the French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller.

As of 2007, the French Laundry holds the prestigious AAA 5-diamond award and—this get even better—3 stars from the Michelin Guide in a town of some 3,000 residents.

In recent years, Time Magazine named Keller the best chef in the U.S. Restaurant Magazine went as far as calling the French Laundry the best restaurant in the world.

Currently, the French Laundry serves dinner nightly and lunch Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Reservations open 2 months ahead and go quickly, and you must reconfirm at least 72 hours prior.

For the 9-course tasting menu or vegetarian alternative expect to pay at least $240 per person, including gratuity, but excluding wine and taxes.

You’ll find the French Laundry at 6640 Washington Street.

Chef Keller’s other Yountville restaurant, the bistro Bouchon, 6534 Washington Street, offers less expensive but still excellent fare (see the French Laundry website). There are also over a dozen other dining choices within several blocks.

Leaving Yountville

Yount Street continues to become southbound Washington Street.

Past the intersection with Mission Street, follow the sign right to reach Highway 29.

Carefully turn left onto Highway 29.

Continuing south

Travel southbound on Highway 29.

Rich vineyards continue to line your scenic drive, as you mostly bypass the city of Napa, which has been more impacted by new development than other towns in the area.

Just south of Napa, watch for the exit to the westbound combined highways 12 and 121.

Take 12 and 121 toward Sonoma.

Highway 12 will separate from Highway 121.

Take Highway 12 north to Sonoma.

Sonoma

When you reach the Sonoma Plaza (download the brochure) in the center of town, park and then walk around this historic and picturesque area, which has been largely preserved.

Santa Rosa and Sonoma were the northernmost outposts of Spanish settlement along coast California.

Leaving the Wine Country

Then take Highway 12 SOUTHBOUND—back the way you came—out of Sonoma.

When you reach the junction with Highway 121, turn right onto 121.

You’re still passing one vineyard after another. The popularity of fine California wines has exploded in the last decades.

Take Highway 121 west and then south to Highway 37.

Carefully turn right onto westbound 37.

You’ll be shirking the northernmost arm of San Francisco Bay.

Take 37 to Highway 101.

Use the southbound onramp marked “San Francisco.”

Take the U.S. 101 freeway to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

You’ll need $5.00 cash for the bridge toll or more if the politicians have had the nerve to increase it.

Optional stops

Because it’s probably getting dark by now, we’ve listed no more stops, but if still game, check out the end of the Napa Valley scenic drive for 2 more that work well both before or after dark:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center, his last work, and

  • The charming town of Sausalito, with its views of San Francisco Bay.

Have a great trip!

To read the entire redwoods and Mendocino scenic drive, start with Part 1.

Mendocino scenic drive space bar

Part 1: Redwood and Mendocino scenic drive introduction,
Part 2: Directions from San Francisco to Mendocino,
Part 3: Mendocino scenic drive,
Part 4: Avenue of the Giants scenic drive,
Part 5: Avenue of the Giants scenic drive (continued),
Part 6: Scenic drive from Avenue of the Giants to Arcata,
Part 7: Arcata travel guide – what to do,
Part 8: Humboldt and Mendocino counties in depth,
Part 9: Scenic drive from Arcata to Redwood National Park,
Part 10: From Redwood National Park to San Francisco,
Part 11: Motels and hotels along your redwood scenic drive,
Part 12: Camping along your redwood scenic drive, and
Part 13: Mendocino and Redwood parks airport choices.

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