The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
From US-101 at Leggett, a very narrow stretch of Hwy-1 twists up and over the rugged coastal mountains before hugging the coast through the weatherbeaten logging and fishing community of Westport.
The tiny town has more than you might expect, including a cozy 1970s motel and deli on the ocean side of Hwy-1, called the Westport Inn (37040 N. Hwy-1, 707/964-5135, $70 and up), and the newer and more upscale Westport Hotel (38921 N. Hwy-1, 707/964-3688) two blocks south, which has a sauna and (sometimes) a restaurant and welcoming pub with frequent live music. (But be warned: when the restaurant is closed it’s a half-hour drive to the nearest places to eat, in Fort Bragg.)
The small and informal Howard Creek Ranch Inn (40501 N. Hwy-1, 707/964-6725, $90 and up) three miles north of Westport offers comfortable B&B rooms, an outdoor hot tub, and easy access to the driftwood-laden beach. (Like Westport Hotel, it’s a half-hour drive to the nearest restaurants.)
Farther south, MacKerricher State Park protects seven miles of rocky coast and waterfront pine forest. An old logging railroad right-of-way, called Ten-Mile Haul Road, has been brought back into use as a hiking and cycling path that covers most of the eight miles between the north end of MacKerricher and the town of Fort Bragg, crossing over Pudding Creek on a recently renovated railroad trestle. The park offers the chance to see harbor seals and migrating gray whales (in winter). Ongoing efforts are reclaiming the remnants of the old North Coast logging industry by reconstructing natural dunes and removing non-native plant life. There’s also a nice campground (800/444-7275).