For people seeking seclusion and a beach that also offers backcountry adventure, a good choice is Shelter Cove, south of Eureka, in Humboldt County California. This secluded and spectacular stretch of beach is located at the spot where the Giant Redwood Forest meets the Pacific Ocean. The unincorporated town of Shelter Cove, CA is known as "The Gateway to the Giant Redwoods" - note that the business addresses here are in Whitehorn, CA. The scenery is stunning along this rugged stretch of coast, surrounded by cliffs and mountain peaks with dozens of cascading streams plunging down the canyon walls into the ocean. Visitors seeking a backcountry adventure will enjoy walks on the beach, beach combing, or backpack excursions into the surrounding redwood forest. Whale watching from Shelter Cove is also a favorite activity. Another amazing Humboldt County beach is nearby -- if you are already in the area be sure to visit Black Sands Beach.
When construction on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) was undertaken, engineers decided it was too difficult to manage the steep terrain to build the highway along coastal area around Shelter Cove which is now known as the Lost Coast. Even though it is only 230 miles north of San Francisco, Shelter Cove has remained very secluded and is only accessible by boat, a narrow mountain road, or by air (there is a public airport runway on the west side of town where the land juts into the ocean - a dramatic landing!). As a result, Shelter Cove has become popular among people seeking quiet retirement or wanting a tranquil and uninterrupted respite from the world. Popular activities include fishing, whale watching, hiking, diving for abalone, tide pooling, beachcombing, and other outdoor activities.
Shelter Cove is part of the Kings Range National Conservation Area, and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. It includes a small fishing village with a long history of occupation, first by natives known as the Sinkyones, then by immigrants from the 13th century on. Although the weather can be wild, particularly in the winter, the surf is always up, making it a favorite with short boarders and long boarders. The whole area is also a Mecca for eco-tourists. Weather in this area is cool and consistent year-round, and the cold water is home to a number of migrating fish species, including salmon and trout and a wide range of other marine life.
The area is also known for the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. This lighthouse was originally activated in 1868 and had a tower that was the highest focal plane in the U.S. at 422 feet. It was abandoned in the 1970s, but in 1998 the old lighthouse was dismantled, relocated, and reassembled in Shelter Cove.
There are a few places to stay in Shelter Cove, including a number of lovely B&Bs with oceanfront views of migrating whales. Inn of The Lost Coast has two restaurants and boasts balconies overlooking the dramatic cliffs and wild coast. Although it is nearly a 2 hour drive north, there are a number of nice bed and breakfasts in Eureka. Among other places to eat is the Cape Mendocino Tea House right across from the lighthouse, which has earned rave reviews for food and atmosphere and includes vegan options on the menu. Shelter Cove has a single runway airport, a 9-hole golf course, and a marina that offers boat rentals and fishing. Salmon King Charter, for example, is just one company that offers a complete fishing experience, providing all gear and filleting your catch of the day.
Unless you choose to travel by plane or boat, getting there can be a bit of a challenge. Access is from Highway 101 north or south. Exit the freeway at Garberville or Redway, travel through either town onto Shelter Cove Road, then proceed over some 23 miles of mountainous road. Access is also possible from Highway 1 via a small gravel road named Usal Road. Because directions are fairly complicated, it's a good idea to research maps ahead of time to plan a route.