California’s Highway 1

California’s Highway 1
Fort Bragg to Monterey

Keith Warwick, PE

Coastal road

The portion of California’s Highway 1 (California 1) from Fort Bragg to Monterey presents a fascinating, nostalgic environment. The highway has a unique charm and character that is significant to California residents and visitors alike.

In California, until about 1900’s, most roads were simple cleared dirt roads.  They were suitable for travel on foot, by horses or by horse- or mule-drawn wagons, but in inclement weather they were often not passable at all.  The early inhabitants of California included several American Indian tribes such as the Yokuts, Catholic priests, ranchers and a few European explorers. They developed many of these crude roadways throughout California which could not readily accommodate automobile traffic.  The early automobiles had very thin tires which could easily become stuck in wet or loose soil.  Before the advent of the automobile, which occurred in the very late 1890’s and early 1900’s, there were very few paved roads in California, and those that existed were limited to the metropolitan areas.  Automobiles had been purchased and used in California since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but their use and ownership was limited until about 1910.

State Route 1, also referred to in part or in whole as Highway 1, Coast Highway, Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway and the Shoreline Highway, is a major north-south route in California.  It extends from the town of Leggett, which is near Fort Bragg, to Interstate 5 in Orange County.  The first section of Highway 1 opened in the Big Sur area in the 1930’s but it was not until the 1960’s that the entire route was designated as State Route 1.  The actual construction of roads predating Highway 1 began between 1900 and 1910, which is about the time that asphalt-concrete (asphalt) became commonly used as a road-building material.  Prior to that time there were scattered dirt roads along portions of the coastline and surrounding regions.

The highway was first envisioned by both private and public entities between 1910 and 1920, which is about the same time that other highways such as the Lincoln Highway and Highway 99 were constructed.  These entrepreneurs and visionaries saw the need for a highway to connect the coastal regions with other parts of the State and to establish this environmental treasure.

The Big Sur section, referred to as Route 56, was difficult to construct due to the steep slopes along the coastline and the varied soil and rock types.  The project, which took 20 years, was often hampered by rainy conditions, fog and landslides.  These same conditions still periodically hamper travel along the highway and require constant maintenance by both public entities and private companies. Although the other major north-south routes in California, including Highway 5, Highway 99 and Highway 101, are more efficient and direct, many choose Highway 1  to experience the overwhelming sheer beauty of the Pacific Ocean views  and to enjoy the coziness of the coastal towns along the roadway.

The highway, which extends along the majority of the California coastline, traverses several geographical and socially distinct regions, including the Mendocino County region, Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge area, the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco peninsula, the Monterey area, Big Sur and the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The cities, towns and areas along  the section of Highway 1 that extends from Fort Bragg to San Francisco include: Leggett, Fort Bragg, Caspar, Mendocino, Mendocino Bay, Little River, Buckhorn Cove, Albion, Whitesboro Cove, Cuffeys Inlet, Cuffeys Cove, Greenwood Cove, Irish Beach, Manchester, Point Arena,  Iversen Point,  Anchor Bay,  Gualala, Stewarts Point,  Ocean Cove, Fort Ross, Jenner, Bridgehaven, Tomales Bay, Portuguese Beach, Bella Vista, Salmon Creek, Bodega Bay, Valley Ford, Tomales, Marshall, Point Reyes Station, Stinson Beach, Marin City, Sausalito and of course San Francisco.

The cities, towns and areas along the section of Highway 1 that extends from San Francisco to Monterey include:  Daly City,   Pacifica, Davenport, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.

At roughly the same time that Highway 1 was being constructed several soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, 7-Up, Grape Nehi and Bireley’s Orange Soda were being developed and marketed widely.  The advertising and signs that were emblematic of that era were part of the landscape of Highway 1.    These emblems, labels and signs were found on vending machines, clocks, thermometers, posters and signs on owner-operated small general stores and businesses.  Many of these stores and roadside businesses also sold salt water taffy, penny candy and PEZ candy and dispensers.

There are varied definitions of antique and collectible.  Some consider an antique to be an item that is over 100 years old.  Some consider a collectible item to be one that is 25 years old or simply worthy of being collected.  If you would enjoy owning it to you it is a collectible.  A typical charming antique store is the Posh Pauper located at 145 East Fir Street in Fort Bragg.  It is situated in a small home on a corner lot with a white picket fence.  It includes a collection of painted furniture, baskets, vases, photographs, candles and other decorative items.  Another is Mendocino Vintage located at 334 North Franklin Street in Fort Bragg, which trades in a variety of goods including tools, photographs, silver and glass items. 

The quintessential salt water taffy gift shop is Patrick’s of Bodega Bay Salt Water Taffy, located at 915 Highway 1 in Bodega Bay.  Its broad pink and white stripes adorn this 1960’s vintage family-operated establishment.  Gifts include those items a beachcomber would enjoy such as wind chimes and shells.  There is a rustic dock nearby that is suitable for salt-water fishing, or photographing the somber ocean views.  Just about any bait will attract the small perch that congregate by the pier.  Diekmann’s Bay Store in Bodega Bay carries gifts, but it carries so many other items such as groceries, soft drinks, hiking and camping supplies, tools and hardware.  So whether you are browsing or backpacking, Diekmann’s will provide what you need.

The Bodega Bay Lodge, located at 103 California Highway 1, is an upscale romantic coastal retreat offering rooms with calming views of the Pacific Ocean and a spa. The restaurant associated with the lodge serves sustainable farmed produce, fresh seafood and for those who would like one, a juicy steak.  The executive chef, Jeff Reilly, ensures that the seafood is collected within the expectations of the Seafood Watch Guide, which is a publication prepared by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to promote the importance of purchasing sustainable seafood.  The Chanslor Guest Ranch and Stables at 2660 California 1 in Bodega Bay offers retreats, camping, horseback riding and traditional hayrides.  You can take memorable pictures of your kids riding on a pony there.

The Grey Whale Inn in Fort Bragg was initially established in 1915 as the Fort Bragg Hospital.  In 1923 Dr. Paul Bowman renamed it the Redwood Coast Hospital.  Dr. Bowman remained the chief surgeon until 1965. In 1966 the hospital was sold to Dr. Hamlin who was a local physician.  In the early 1970’s the Fort Bragg Hospital was replaced by the Mendocino Coast Hospital District on River Drive in Fort Bragg.  The hospital and inn have had a tradition of serving excellent food prepared by Mrs. Hamlin and a Chinese cook named Yippie who served as a cook until the 1960s.

Horace Aaron Weller travelled to Fort Bragg to manage a general store and then built a one-and-a-half story Victorian home referred to as the Weller House in 1886.  He then added a second and third floor which was adorned with redwood and fir paneling.  There is no historical record of the foundation being upgraded to accommodate the additional weight of the home so we must assume that the original foundation was generally adequate.  The main floor of this 10,000 square foot mansion included 10 rooms including an entrance hall, study, living room, music room, kitchen, pantry, recreational room and an office. In 1996 a renovation project was initiated which included reconstruction of the historic water tower. In 1998 the house opened as a bed and breakfast inn.  The property is on The National Register of Historic Places.  To be on this register a nomination must be prepared and ultimately approved by the National Park Service.  Currently there are about 80,000 properties or sites listed individually in the register.  Advantages include potential tax savings and the rewarding knowledge that one is preserving part of our national heritage and culture.  The concept of and implementation of the National Register process  is supported by historians, sociologists, archeologists, engineers, landscape architects, architects and anthropologists.

Commercial fishing for salmon, cod and other species was a viable industry prior to construction of Highway 1.  The American Indian nations including the Pomo tribe and Cahto people inhabited the area and fished the waters to obtain food to feed to their families.  This tradition of commercial fishing has continued from the early 1900’s until the present time.  Conservation efforts along the California coastline to protect the fish, as well as other animals, have been increasing particularly during the current environmental protection emphasis that began in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Recreational fishing became a major activity in the Highway 1 regions soon after the highway construction had been completed.  This includes both salt water fishing conducted from boats, from piers or by surf casting along the beaches, and freshwater fishing.  Lures, bait such as sardines, and flies are successfully used to catch fish along Highway 1. Freshwater fishing is conducted in the streams and rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean.  Fisherman catch salmon, Steelhead trout and trout in these streams and rivers.  A Steelhead is defined as a rainbow trout that swims in the ocean and then leaves the ocean to swim upstream in a freshwater stream or river.  Fly fishing was developed in about 1800 as a popular style of fishing in both the ocean and rivers.  Popular fishing areas include any of the beaches between Fort Bragg and Bodega Bay.  The bane of fly fishermen is the sign that says “no trespassing” or the barbed wire fence which clearly indicates that fishing is not allowed. There are, however, numerous stretches of beach and rivers on public lands that are easily accessible for fishing along Highway 1.

As you wander through the small towns and stores you will notice old bottles, cans and signs.  These images will remind you of PEZ dispensers, chocolate bunnies and penny candy.  Something will catch your eye.  It could evoke memories, say Americana, or simply be really really cool. 

A resort can be so many different things.  It could be an upscale hotel in Bodega Bay or a few cabins with painted adirondack chairs placed in front. Architects and landscape architects are both enthralled and amused as they pass by the spectrum of places to sleep.  The man who stays at the luxurious resort and the man in a tent enjoy the same charms and lush scenery, so in that way Highway 1 is egalitarian.  I guess that we could say that God loves the rich man and the simple man equally.

Most of the restaurants and cafes are owner-operated, as opposed to being part of a chain.  Many have the traditional ice plant with little purple flowers adorning the walkway from the highway to restaurant.  Seagulls squawk and pieces of driftwood offer their appealing calm.  And there is sand everywhere. Yes it is dirty and gritty and gets in your running shoes, but a half-hour or so of walking on the beach is more relaxing than so many other activities. 

This author must say that he does not validate all of the activity of the 1960’s era, but the collection of hippies, photographers, authors, poets, beatniks, bohemians, and beachcombers reflects an eclectic segment of laid-back America.

When the fog drifts in everything stops.  People are calmed.  Those touring on Harleys stop to enjoy the quiet fog.   Everything is freshened.  People just sit on old rickety wooden stairs or on a porch swing and enjoy it.

The natural landscape and that which has been created by man does need to be protected from erosion and destruction.  A sense of environmental awareness and the commitment to protect wilderness resources is developed while being on the highway.  Condominiums and luxury estates have a place, but should not be allowed to impact the natural charm found along Highway 1.

No scenic excursion is complete without a bar-b-que or fish fry along the beach.  Many of the parks along the roadway welcome you to enjoy this activity.  Any local fish with a little lemon or lime, coleslaw and sourdough rolls will satisfy even the most finicky traveler.

In the 1980’s the Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center was established in Mendocino. Located at an entrance to the Jug Handle State Reserve, this is an historical element of the educational nature center. It is committed to teaching people about the sustainable use of the Mendocino coastal lands and beaches, and is a 1870’s era Victorian farmhouse.  This facility boasts quaint cabins, a scenic campground and community gardens. Within the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, which is located one mile north of Caspar, there is a five-mile trail that traverses five terraces sculpted into greywacke sandstone cliffs.  The Jug Handle State Natural Reserve was designated as a State Park Unit in the 1970’s.

There is a significant level of agricultural activity in the coastal areas which began in the early 1900’s.  There are about a 100 crops that are grown near the rural areas along Highway 1 including arugula, avocados, basil, lemons, plums, squash and so many other healthy fruits and vegetables.  Ranches were established decades ago to manage horses, cattle, goats and other animals ranging from the common to the exotic. 

Logging was a productive industry until the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the ecological movement occurring at that time raised significant concerns over the loss of coastal redwoods and other species of trees and the increase in stormwater runoff from deforested areas.  Historically, though, logging was a major part of the commercial culture of the Highway 1 region in Northern California.

When our brother Bob Dylan sang “The times they are a changin’” in the 1960’s he was commenting on the social climate of the time, but his words also apply to Highway 1 which was developing at that time.

Emerald contributor since March 2012


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