The county seat and only incorporated city in Del Norte County, Crescent City (pop. 7,643) is best treated as a base from which to explore the surrounding wilderness. The foggy weather that helps the redwoods thrive makes the city fairly depressing and gray, and what character it developed since its founding in the 1850s has been eroded by storms; a giant tsunami, caused by the 1964 earthquake off Alaska, destroyed much of the city. The more recent tsunami unleashed by the 2011 quake off Sendai, Japan, was less destructive but drowned one man and caused millions of dollars in damage to boats moored in the Crescent City harbor.

Crescent City includes the familiar lineup of motels and restaurants, plus local options like the CC Diner and Ice Cream (1319 Northcrest Dr., 707/465-5858), on the north side of downtown, a half mile west of US-101. For overnight, one only-in-California option is the Curly Redwood Lodge (701 US-101 S., 707/464-2137, $60 and up), a nicely maintained 1950s motel made from a single sawed-up redwood tree.

Map of Pacific Coast through Northern California.
Map of Pacific Coast through Northern California.