Hwy 101 crosses the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, Oregon
As Canadian full-time RVers, we typically spend our winters snowbirding in Arizona to escape the cool and dreary weather in British Columbia. Usually, we leave Arizona in late February and spend some time in various places along our intended route through Bakersfield. But Mother Nature had other plans!
This winter, California was hit by multiple blasts of torrential rain, wind, and snow (“Atmospheric Rivers”) preventing us from going north to Bakersfield … even Highway 5 was closed. So, we headed west toward Los Angeles to Hwy 101, which extends through California, Oregon, and Washington … the longest continuous highway in the US. And we’re so glad we did! The intent of this article is to share information about our travels to entice other RVers to consider this route (not suitable if you’re pressed for time) when heading north … or south. We never drove more than four hours a day and always spent at least three days in each community. Many full-service RV Parks are conveniently located within easy access of this route that can accommodate big rigs and we were pleased with those mentioned.
MORRO BAY To explore this community, we booked a week at Morro Dunes RV Park on the north side of town. After settling in, we drove to Black Hill and hiked a short path to the top for spectacular views of the Bay and Morro Rock, a prominent outcrop of volcanic rock marking the entrance to the harbor. Morro Bay Golf Course, as partially seen in the photo, is known as “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach” (only $40) for its views of the ocean from many of their 18 holes. Just south of the Course, views from a boardwalk include salt flats, sand dunes, and numerous sea birds.
Morro Rock at Morro Bay
If you want to get salty, a variety of water-based activities are available, including whale watching, fishing, sightseeing, sunset and dinner cruises, surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing. We spent a few hours on a comfortable 53-foot tour boat with Morro Bay Whale Watching, taking numerous photos of gray whales, sea lions, dolphins, and a cadre of sea otters cavorting near the boat. After a chilly morning on the water, we warmed up with lattes and cinnamon buns at the very popular and dog-friendly Top Dog Coffee Bar on Main Street. Delicious!
Just north of town at Del Mar Park are pickleball and tennis courts, as well as dog-friendly walking trails. About 20 minutes further north, at the enticing village of Cambria, are lawn bowling courts that welcome guests to join the regulars. And slightly further north in San Simeon is the home of Hearst Castle, a “must-do-tour” for every visitor to the area.
MONTEREY Natural wonders abound in this waterfront community, which can be viewed from boardwalks and piers. Monterey County Fair RV Park provided a VIP card to receive a complimentary appetizer with dinner at Domenico’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, an Italian Seafood restaurant with excellent food and views of boats, birds, sea otters, … and the occasional rainbow.
View from Domenico’s Restaurant
Various tours are available on the Wharf, including fishing, sailing, whale watching, and glass-bottom boat excursions, as well as ice cream and candy shops to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Not to be missed is 17-Mile Drive, a toll road featuring 17 different attractions as well as several golf courses, including Pebble Beach ($600 for 18 holes). On one side of our vehicle was the picturesque beauty of the coastline and on the other were sun-bleached cypress trees and luxurious homes, eliciting more “WOWS” than I could count! The Lodge restaurant, overlooking the 18th hole of Pebble Beach, credited our toll-road cost ($11) toward the cost of our lunch.
Cannery Row in the early 1900s was a street lined with thriving sardine-canning factories; it has since evolved into a picturesque combination of restaurants, boutiques, bars, galleries, and shops. A very popular attraction is the Aquarium, which offers over 200 Exhibits of sea creatures, including six species of sharks, energetic penguins, cuddly sea otters, pulsating jellies, and exotic colorful fish too numerous to mention. Behind-the-scenes tours and feeding times for the various animals were highlights of our visit.
BODEGA BAY This charming seaside community, with a variety of shops, restaurants, and water-based activities, is a scenic drive west from Hwy 101 on Petaluma Valley Ford Road through vast rolling green hills sprinkled with cattle, horses, and goats.
Hillside on Petaluma Valley Ford Road
Bodega Bay and the nearby community of Bodega provided the set in 1963 for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. We kept our eyes open to see if the birds were still running amuck and we’re happy to report that all were behaving normally … with the exception of one seagull that pooped on my truck!
Bodega Bay RV Park is nicely maintained with free Wi-Fi and cable TV plus lots of fun activities: a putting green, bocce ball court, horseshoes, ladder toss, corn hole, and washer toss. A Mexican Restaurant and RV supplies are available on-site. Two awesome beaches are within a mile of the Park, which can be accessed by walking or driving. We drove to Bodega Head, overseeing the harbor entrance … a popular vista for spotting whales offshore. Along the way, we picked up lunch at Spud Point Crab Co to eat at a picnic table on the Head while surveying the ocean. Their clam chowder has been rated as one of the best on the Coast but I have to warn you … it’s very addictive. I picked up more on the way back to our campground!
THE REDWOODS The Activity Guide of Humboldt County in Northern California boasts of 101 things to do for visitors, many of which are easily accessible from Hwy 101. We stayed at Giant Redwoods RV in Myers Flat in the heart of redwood country and focused our attention on exploring a 31-mile stretch of two-lane road known as the Avenue of the Giants. Not suitable for big rigs, it winds through stands of giant redwoods along the Eel River.
Starting from the South Entrance, numerous small hamlets along the Avenue offer access to groceries and live music (Phillipsville), gasoline and tasty pizza (Miranda), a drive-through tree and wine tasting – preferably done in the order indicated (Myers Flat), a gift shop and tree house (Redcrest), and easily accessible hiking trails (Pepperwood). About a third of the distance north is the Visitors Center, which provides a wealth of information as well as hands-on exhibits, movies about the redwoods, a museum, and a bookstore.
Numerous short hiking trails along the Avenue offer a glimpse into the past of one of the greatest forests on earth. Founders Grove was one of our favorites, which includes a fallen tree – the Dyerville Giant – that stood for 1600 years until it fell in 1991. It is 370 feet tall (taller than Niagara Falls), 17 feet in diameter, and likely weighs over a million pounds. Another large tree – the Founders Tree – is dedicated to several prominent men who in 1917 formed the Save-the-Redwoods League to preserve these magnificent trees. Since then the League has donated 57 million dollars to protect over 170,000 acres of primeval forests in California, including those in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Founders Tree on Avenue of the Giants
GOLD BEACH Oregon, unlike California, has no sales tax so we fueled up and shopped for groceries just across the border in Brookings. One of our favorite RV parks is a short distance further at Gold Beach … Turtle Rock RV Resort. This full-service resort has complimentary Wi-Fi and Cable TV and even has hot tubs at some sites … a great setting to relax and enjoy your California wines. For the more adventurous, the Resort rents standup paddleboards, electric bikes, and scooters in Gold Beach, Jerry’s Rogue Jets offers boat tours on the wild and scenic Rouge River. A short walk from the Resort brings you to Turtle Rock, Kissing Rock, and a beautiful sandy beach with an endless variety of stones and rocks … a geologist’s treasure trove.
Turtle Rock at Gold Beach
If you enjoy excellent Mexican cuisine, Tortuga Mexican Bar & Grill is conveniently located at the entrance to the Resort. Across the street is Arch Rock Brewing Company, which offers guided tours and samples of their handcrafted beers … everything you ever wanted to know about beer!
NEWPORT Oregon’s largest commercial fishing port, this town is located on Yaquina Bay with its north and south features separated by the graceful art deco Yaquina Bay Bridge. The Port of Newport RV Park, where we stayed, is a well-maintained park located on the south side of the Bridge beside the South Beach Marina. A variety of tourist attractions are within walking distance: the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium both feature live animals, touch tanks, and displays on all facets of coastal marine life. The very popular Rouge Ales Brewery offers tours of their facility, dozens of their award-winning beers, and a second-story restaurant with excellent views of the Bridge and maritime activities. Yaquina Bay Charters, adjacent to the RV Park, offers whale-watching and scenic tours and also has powerboats for rent to qualified individuals.
Drive across the Bridge and visit the historic Bayfront, a street lined with gift shops and boutiques interspersed with commercial fisheries and restaurants, some with views of the Bay. We made dinner reservations at Clearwater Restaurant overlooking a small rocky island, home to dozens of sea lions. During our meal, we also spotted numerous bald eagles and hundreds of seagulls flying hither and yon … probably in search of my truck to poop on!
Newport lays claim to the only wooden lighthouse on the Coast. The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871 and operated for a few years by a couple with seven children. The living quarters with original furniture is open to visitors. A short walk to the beach offers close-up views of the harbor entrance, sand dunes, and waves lapping on a sandy beach.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
SEASIDE Before reaching this community, we made a required stop at the Tillamook Creamery for a self-guided tour of their cheese-making operation, some cheese samples, ice cream cones, and a bag of cheese curds … which never made it to Canada! After arriving at Seaside RV Campground, we stopped by the Welcome Center to discover why “Seaside is for Fun.” For starters, Broadway Avenue has several arcades with bumper cars, tilt-a-whirl, laser tag, a carousel, bike and surrey rentals, and a wacky photo adventure at Inverted Experience … whimsical photos are taken with your cell phone against several fun backdrops.
The Author … Singing in the Wind
Along the Avenue are a variety of shops, art galleries, and restaurants, a craft beer Brewery – previously the old city jail – and a beer bar at the historic Times Theatre & Public House. If golf is your idea of fun, check out the nearby Scottish-style Gearhart Golf Links, one of the oldest (1892) courses west of the Mississippi.
Another major attraction is a paved oceanfront path (1.5 miles), which parallels sandy beaches, dunes, and ocean waves, an Aquarium where you can feed harbor seals, and access to a couple of prominent landmarks commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition reaching Seaside from the Mississippi River in 1806: a bronze statue of the twosome and a Salt Cairn where five of their intrepid explorers boiled seawater for several days to make four bushels of salt to preserve elk meat on their return trip.
Herd of Elk at Entrance to Seaside
After an outstanding breakfast at the Osprey Café on the south side of town, we drove down Beach Avenue past the Grave of the Unknown Sailor, Vietnam War Memorial, and a popular ocean-watching location by The Cove. Just beyond is Tillamook Trail, a mostly uphill dirt path to a lookout, offering whale-watching opportunities and the Tillamook Lighthouse on a rocky perch two miles off shore. In case you’re wondering, the Unknown Sailor was found on the beach on April 25, 1865 after a deadly shipwreck off Tillamook Head. On our last evening, we drove to Astoria (20 minutes north) for an excellent dinner at the Bridge Water Bistro overlooking the Columbia River and underlooking the Astoria Bridge, which we would drive across on our way to Washington. During our dinner, we watched a freighter pass under the bridge, likely delivering products upriver to Portland.
OCEAN CITY A short drive on Route 109 brings you to Ocean City RV Park, a beautifully manicured campground with concrete pull-through sites and Wi-Fi. After setting up, we walked our dog on a path through dense thickets of shore pine to the nearby beach for a well-deserved romp. A major attraction in this small town is the Market Place, offering beautifully hand-carved wooden plaques and statues galore.
Slightly further south, Ocean Shores has a couple of “family fun” facilities (Pacific Paradise and Playtime Family Fun), a golf course, moped and bike rentals, horseback riding, art galleries, a brewery, bowling, gift shops, a kite shop, and Murphy’s home-made fudge and ice cream. We also visited the North Jetty and Damon Point for spectacular views of the ocean and Grays Harbor. Also on the south end of the Peninsula is the popular Coastal Interpretive Center, which provides exhibits about the coastal environment as well as remnants of various shipwrecks that occurred on the rocky shores nearby. A nature trail through the forest and a children’s playground are accessible from the Center.
Coastal Interpretive Center in Ocean Shores
Did I mention restaurants? There are lots to choose from but several locals recommended Los Hermanos. If you like Mexican food and margaritas, you’ll love “The Brothers” (in English). And if you like to eat and gamble, try Quinault Beach Casino, which has great ocean views from their restaurant. Good Luck!
PORT ANGELES Driving north on Route 109 along the ocean brings you to Moclips Highway, which reconnects with Hwy 101. From there, it’s about three hours to Port Angeles where we stayed at Elwha Dam RV Park, a well-maintained big-rig friendly campground with good Wi-Fi. Hwy 101 continues another 120 miles, east then south, terminating at Olympia, Washington. A kiosk near the Park Entrance provides information about the former Elwha Dam, the site of which can be viewed on a short hike to an observation area. Electric bikes, available for rent at the Park, can be used to explore a variety of trails on the Olympic Peninsula, including a paved waterfront path into town with scenic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Harbor, and Olympic Mountain Range.
On your way into town, Elwha River Casino has lots of slots and low fuel prices. Downtown, the Visitor Center provides information about local attractions: Heritage tours of the underground, Marine Center, wineries, whale watching, and numerous shops, boutiques, and galleries. For dinner, we chose Downrigger’s Waterfront Restaurant, which has outstanding food and views of the harbor from its second floor. During our meal we watched the Coho Ferry maneuver into the dock and several whales surfacing to the delight of patrons, all standing at the windows with cameras at the ready!
Coho Ferry at Port Angeles
Sadly, our fun-filled adventure through three states and eight communities was coming to an end. Our final passage on the Coho Ferry took us to Victoria, BC where we spend the summers. Since we only scratched the surface of these communities, we’re already considering them to stay and play on our next trip south.
IF YOU GO …
Book RV parks at least a month in advance to ensure availability.
Consider a Good Sam membership to save 10% at most of the Parks mentioned.
Check for weather and road closures before departing an RV park. We were delayed twice because of high winds and occasionally had to contend with road closures due to mudslides and flooding.
Drive less than four hours a day and spend at least three days in each community to explore or just kick back and relax.
Choose at least one restaurant in each community to eat a meal … with your favorite cocktail of course.