Look at me, all masked up and socially distanced. This is Travel in Pandemic Times, people, and I’m here for it as much as I safely can be! As one of my first trips since lockdowns began easing and our devastating annual forest fires were more under control here in California, I was excited to spend 3 days in Crescent City.
I last visited Crescent City when I drove the Pacific Coast Highway in 2014. Like most people driving the PCH, I stopped in Crescent City for one night; I arrived after dark and set out shortly after breakfast. That is to say: I didn’t see Crescent City at all!
So now, despite all the chaos, disappointment, and heartache that is 2020, I decided to make a return trip. I spent a weekend in Crescent City exploring all the area has to offer and the best things to do in Crescent City.
This won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I loved it: Crescent City is the perfect blend of California chill and Pacific North Coast* aesthetic. And before you think I’ve just started barfing up Instagram hashtags (#chill #vibe #aesthetic), let me show you. Here’s are the best things to do in Crescent City, whether you stay for longer than an overnight stop on your PCH road trip – which I obviously recommend – or plan a specific trip to this upper left corner of the Golden State.
*Crescent City locals I spoke to were clear: they’re not Pacific Northwesterners (despite the similar landscape and weather), and they’re not Northern Californians (they actually think it’s funny that San Francisco calls itself “Northern California”). Instead, they’ve adopted the moniker of “Pacific North Coast” to define their home.
Crescent City Travel Tips
I always like to cover a few of the logistics before diving into the meat of my post. Stick with me, as these travel tips will help answer a lot of questions as you plan your Crescent City itinerary.
How to Get to Crescent City
Not to start off all Negative Nancy, but if there’s one thing that’s tricky about visiting Crescent City, it’s how remote it is. Crescent City is six hours by car from San Francisco, and five hours from Portland.
This means that Crescent City is a commitment to reach; you’ll need to take a half-day from work if you plan to spend 3 days in Crescent City, as you’ll need to either drive there on Friday or drive back on Monday. Any shorter than that and you’ll find you just don’t have enough time to enjoy all the things to do in Crescent City!
I teamed up with Toyota for my Crescent City trip; they loaned me a new Toyota C-HR to test on the Pacific Coast Highway and even a bit of adventuring (very gently) off-road. The cruise control was a dream for long straightaways on the US-101, and the “smart” headlights helped illuminate our journey on the winding PCH, and as we headed up misty Highway 199 into the Redwoods.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you can also fly to Crescent City: Contour Air offers daily flights from Crescent City to Oakland. Flights depart at 7:00am from CEC to OAK and return at 6:00pm from OAK to CEC (touchdown is 7:15pm). This is a less budget-friendly but more time-friendly way to visit Crescent City (you’ll need to rent a car to get around, too!).
Crescent City Weather & Seasons
As I mentioned above, Crescent City has a weather pattern that’s a lot more like the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) than it does with the rest of California. As you can see above, we experienced a beautiful sunset and drenching rain on the same day!
The best months to visit Crescent City are during the summer: average temperatures throughout the year range from 42°F to 64°F, but those rare 70°F days are only going to happen between June and August (if they do at all!).
In the winter, expect rain (and wind – this is the Pacific Coast, after all!). Precipitation peaks in December at an average of 10 inches for that month. Crescent City is also mostly overcast between November and March. That’s no biggie if you love that dreary PNW weather like I do, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you want to enjoy outdoor things to do in Crescent City (which I recommend below!).
What to Pack for Crescent City
Broadly speaking, I suggest packing:
- Rain gear, even in the summer months (#pacificocean)
- Good walking or hiking boots, especially if you plan to head out into the Redwoods
- Sunglasses, because the weather changes quickly
- A beach blanket or towel – something to dry off or brush sand off. (Toyota also gave me an Oniva blanket tote which was perfect for this!)
- If you’re driving to Crescent City from Portland or San Francisco, Sirius XM in your car, or a cell-car transmitter will keep your saved Spotify playlists going through the no-service areas
Okay, hopefully that helps – let’s get into the rest of this post!
The Best Things to Do in Crescent City
As you start planning your Crescent City vacation, you might wonder: “what is there to do that makes it worth more than an overnight stop?” Well, buckle up buttercup – I’ve got a whole list of things to do in Crescent City and you’re soon going to see that even three days isn’t enough to enjoy it all.
1. Explore Redwoods National & State Parks
While Crescent City is so named for the crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach south of the city, its main draw is actually inland: those gorgeous Redwoods y’all know I love so much.
Crescent City is close to several areas of protected Redwoods, including Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. These three parks, along with others stretching south along the California Pacific Coast, comprise Redwoods National and State Parks. And they’re minutes away if you’re visiting Crescent City.
To help narrow your search and planning, Stout Grove in Jed Smith Redwoods is a must stop. The visitor center in Hiouchi is also lovely, and very pandemic-friendly.
2. Stroll Along the Beaches
When it comes to things to do in Crescent City, second to the towering timbers are the beautiful, bare beaches of the Northcoast. Anyone who’s explored the Pacific Northwest will recognize the beaches in Crescent City:
Crescent Beach is a long strip of sandy beach, bordered by the Pacific Coast Highway and with epic views out across the ocean. It’s very similar to Long Beach in Washington, or Seaside in Oregon.
Pebble Beach is more traditional for this far up the coast: its eponymous landscape is less oriented to sunbathing as to surfing, and sea stacks dot the vista.
The Tolowa Dunes also border a strip of sandy beach north of Crescent City where you’ll escape all but the most adventurous beachcombers, hikers, and horseback riders (more on that below!).
3. Float the Smith River
Trivia for ya: did you know that the Smith River is the longest undammed river in California? (I’ll bet you didn’t, as I didn’t before I was standing in it!)
The Smith River runs from its headwaters in the Pacific Coast Ranges to the Pacific Ocean, uninterrupted by manmade structure, and no motorized boats are allowed on the river. It winds through canyons of stone and Redwood trunks, and it’s perfect for an afternoon of rafting, tubing, or kayaking.dh
Mr. V and I spent one (very soggy) morning of our 3 days in Crescent City on inflatable kayaks with our guide, Liam from Redwood Rides, floating the Middle Fork of the Smith River. Though the rain tried to dampen our spirits, we paddled through peaceful sections and a few light rapids – and got out to stretch our legs at Stout Grove as we passed through Jed Smith.
4. Visit Battery Point Lighthouse
If I had to name one iconic landmark in Crescent City, it would likely Battery Point Lighthouse. This lighthouse sits on a sometimes-island just off the coast of Crescent City. I say sometimes island because, during low tides, you can walk to the lighthouse and tour the lighthouse and living quarters.
Unfortunately, during our 3 days in Crescent City, the tides never got low enough to make the journey! When we make our next trip back (oh yes, we’re definitely going back!), I’ll try to time it to fill out more in this section.
5. Go Horseback Riding
Do you love exploring the world on horseback? Or just up for something different on your Crescent City trip? Book a trail ride with Crescent Trail Rides!
Mr. V and I did their Beach Ride (obviously) in Tolowa Dunes State Park, and they also offer a Redwoods Forest Ride in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Over the course of two hours, my nice, docile* horse Brittany carried me through dunes and forest, and even along the beach.
*I am notorious for getting horses that want to be in the lead! I love a good horse who’s happy to stroll in the queue with everyone else.
6. Learn Indigenous History
More trivia for you! Crescent City and Del Norte County (pronounced “Del Nort,” not the Spanish way!) is home to four federally-recognized tribes: the Elk Valley Rancheria, Resigini Rancheria, Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, and the Yurok Tribe.
Formerly two cultural groups – the Tolowa and the Yurok (source) – called this part of California home since before Spanish settlers and later other Europeans came to the area. (Sidebar: the first European settler in the reason was Jedidiah Smith Strong, for whom the state park and river are now named. In fact, pretty much everything in Crescent City is renamed, with the exception of Tolowa Dunes State Park – more on that below.)
There are a number of ways you can learn about indigenous history in the region:
- Visit the Hiouchi Visitor Center for Redwoods National & State Parks. You’ll find information on the history of the land’s first inhabitants there.
- View the exhibits at the Del Norte County Historical Society. There you’ll get to see a collection of Native American basketry by the Tolowa and Yurok Indians, and many other Native American artifacts.
- Book a Redwood Yurok Canoe Tour. Operated by members of the Yurok tribe on Yurok land, you’ll learn about indigenous history and their use of the waterways of the Northcoast.
The city of Crescent City is also working closely with their indigenous neighbors to add more cultural experiences in town, which I look forward to adding when they’re complete.
7. Hit the Slots at Local Casinos
If your idea of cultural exchange with indigenous groups is more, shall we say, capitalism-oriented – no judgment. There are three native-run casinos in the Crescent City area: the Elk Valley Casino, the Lucky 7 Casino, and the Redwood Hotel & Casino.
- The Elk Valley Casino is located just outside Crescent City to the east.
- The Lucky 7 Casino is north of Crescent City on the Smith River Rancheria.
- Redwood Hotel & Casino is located south of Crescent City near Klamath.
All three are quite different if you’re a casino traveler, but remember not to bet it all so you can enjoy the rest of things to do in Crescent City!
8. Visit Tolowa Dunes State Park
If there’s one amazing thing to think about with Crescent City, it’s how so much of the surrounding area has been preserved exactly as it was when the Tolowa and Yurok people were the only ones around. Some of the Old Growth Redwoods and groves of Jed Smith and other state parks have been around for thousands of years; Tolowa Dunes State Park has been protected to preserve this area of land where the Tolowa once lived – and died.
Tolowa Dunes State Park is a great spot for outdoor adventure, whether that’s horseback riding as we did, hiking, or beachcombing. You’ll need to park and hike in to reach the beach, but there are 70+ miles of trail to explore in the whole state park. (Way more than you can discover in a weekend!)
The Dunes are also the location of the 1853 Yontocket Massacre, one of the most deadly attacks on indigenous people in the U.S. when hundreds of Tolowa were slain by settlers. You can visit the cemetery sites on the hill while exploring.
9. Visit Ocean World
Crescent City is home to two places that help support the marine ecosystem and sea life in the area: Ocean World and the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center. Unfortunately, the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center isn’t open for tours or visits.
Ocean World is more like a traditional aquarium, with a shark touch-tank, tidepools, and seal and sea lion shows. It’s great for families since it allows kids to get up close and personal with some of the marine creatures that live in the waters right beyond the aquarium’s walls.
10. Taste Local Cheese
If you’re going to eat one thing in Crescent City, it had better be cheese. (Followed by fresh seafood.) It might surprise you that this Northcoast town is known for incredible cheese. It’s primarily thanks to Rumiano Cheese, the oldest family-owned cheese company in California.
Rumiano is based inland in Willows, California, but they have a huge tasting room and shop in Crescent City. They have become equated with the town and you’ll spot Rumiano cheese on menus in several restaurants (including delicious cheese curds at Seaquake Brewing – more below!).
If they’re open during your visit, stop by and sample a bit – don’t be surprised if you come home with a huge basket of cheese like we did!
11. Sample Local Craft Beer
Wash that cheese down with some local beer (or kombucha!). There are two breweries in Crescent City: Seaquake Brewing and Port O’Pints. We sampled both on our visit!
Seaquake Brewing is a more family-oriented restaurant and brewery, and they make a range of beers including a local icon, the Komome Ale. (Read more about what makes this beer so special in the Del Norte Triplicate.)
Port O’Pints is a transplanted Irish pub (save for the televisions), with a huge range of house-brewed craft beer on tap. They have indoor and outdoor seating and seem like the salty locals watering hole – you’re likely to find those sailors stopping for a few days as they sail the Pacific Coast here.
Both also have grilled cheese on their menus (score!) and kombucha, which I tried for the second time on this trip and discovered I actually love! Basically, I could subsist on these two places alone in Crescent City.
12-14. Enjoy the Great Outdoors
In case you don’t have enough inspiration for how to pass the time and take advantage of all the great outdoors in Crescent City, here are some more options:
- Play a course of frisbee disc golf along the waterfront – there’s a 24-hole course!
- Rent a bike and ride up Pebble Beach Drive. We stayed on Pebble Beach Drive and it’s a great easy ride with epic ocean views.
- Challenge yourself with a more advanced hike in Jed Smith Redwoods. Several people recommended the 5.3-mile out-and-back Boy Scout Tree Trail to us but we didn’t have time.
15. Walk Out on the Lighthouse Jetty
I left Crescent City’s iconic Lighthouse Jetty to last on this list because this is the only item I am half-recommending. You’ll understand why in a minute.
Lighthouse Jetty is designed to protect Crescent City’s waterfront and marina from the huge waves and storms that come up from the Pacific – as well as tsunamis when an earthquake happens anywhere along the Pacific Rim.
Lighthouse Jetty is technically not open to the public. There’s a locked gate and some scary “danger” signs at the entrance, but you’ll often see people out strolling on it. This is because it’s easy enough to walk around the gate, and it’s a pretty cool view once you’re out along the jetty.
Here are my very strong suggestions about going out on Lighthouse Jetty – and when not to:
- Do not, at all, for any reason, go out on Lighthouse Jetty during the winter between November and March. Storms are serious business and several people (including locals!) have died or been rescued from the jetty due to sea swells overtaking the jetty and sweeping people away. Google it; you’ll see the stories I’ve seen.
- Do not go out on the jetty if it is wet and it hasn’t rained recently. Check the forecast. If it hasn’t rained in the last 24-48 hours, the only way there’s water on the jetty is from the waves breaking over the top of it. That means they’re big enough to sweep you off, too!
- If the jetty is dry and the weather is good, you can consider going for a walk on it. Use your best judgment, and keep an eye on the tethering line that runs the length of the jetty. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but big waves can come up unexpectedly even on a clear, sunny day.
Lastly, for that legal stuff: if you do choose to go out on Lighthouse Jetty, it’s at your own risk.
3 Days in Crescent City: A Weekend Itinerary
Okay now that you have all that information on the best things to do in Crescent City, how do you string it together into one cohesive 3-day itinerary? I’ve gotchu! Here’s a 3-day Crescent City itinerary based on our trip, but modified using the lessons I learned.
Day 1: Arrive & Get Oriented
Unless you’re flying to Crescent City, you’ll likely arrive mid-afternoon from San Francisco or Portland. That doesn’t leave a ton of time for exploring, but get settle into your accommodation and head out for dinner.
Crescent City is relatively walkable, but it’s probably easier to drive and park. If the conditions are right, you could take a short walk out on the Lighthouse Jetty, but please please please remember my suggestions above!
Head to Seaquake Brewing for dinner tonight; if you have daylight after dinner, stroll in Beach Front Park to get oriented to the layout of town. After that, it’s back to your accommodation for a night of rest.
Day 2: Explore Outdoors
Rise and shine for a day of adventure! With such a short window of time in Crescent City (roughly 48 hours), this isn’t the kind of vacation where you get to sleep in. (Though if you add an extra day or two and do, I’ll be jealous!)
Start by heading to breakfast at Fisherman’s Restaurant. This is a local establishment with American diner fare – perfect to fuel up for a day of physical exertion.
Stop by Rumiano Cheese on your way out of town to stock up on picnic fixin’s: cheese and sausage and crackers for a delicious snack!
Then head into Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park for the morning. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center, then head into Stout Grove or e You’ll cross a covered bridge on the way; it’s a great photo opportunity but be aware of cars coming from both directions.
After Stout Grove, head back into Hiouchi and have lunch at the Historic Hiouchi Cafe. Beware: their portions are huge!
Don’t eat too much because next up, you should head out on the Redwoods by River half-day float with Redwood Rides – they typically meet right at the Hiouchi Chevron station.
Once you’ve finished your float, head back to your accommodation and dry off before dinner. Tonight, head to Port O’Pints for warming grilled cheese with tomato soup… or you know, whatever else you’d rather have. (Mr. V said the “Brew-ben” (Reuben) was good!)
Day 3: More to Explore & Departure
On your final day, you only really have the morning to enjoy Crescent City. If you’re feeling adventurous, the beach ride with Crescent Trail Rides is a great option that shows you a different area near town; you could also spend the morning visiting Ocean World or just strolling along one of the two beaches – surfers might be out on Pebble Beach or you can watch the boats come and go from Crescent Beach.
Before leaving town, stop for lunch at the Chart Room or Crescent Seafood. You might get to enjoy the day’s fresh catch depending on what you order.
Then, it’s time to turn your wheels south (to SF or down the PCH) or north (to Portland or further up the PCH). As I said, it’s not nearly enough time and you – like us – might immediately start planning another trip back. If you’re leaving to the south, be sure to stop at the pull-out near Hamilton Road for one last look at Crescent City from this vista point.
Where to Stay in Crescent City
Uncertain where to base yourself for all this fun? Don’t worry, I didn’t forget that part. Here are some suggestions on where to stay during your 3 days in Crescent City.
Hotels in Crescent City
Most of the hotels in Crescent City are along U.S. 101 since most people passing through Crescent City are just staying one night and continuing on the Pacific Coast Highway. (Don’t be most people!)
There are several chain hotels, including Travelodge, Super 8, and Best Western, but I always prefer to stay local. Instead, browse:
- Oceanfront Lodge – Basic rooms and amenities but it’s right along Pebble Beach Drive overlooking the ocean. Rooms from $89/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Anchor Beach Inn – Near the marina, this is another good option with recently updated rooms and common spaces. Rooms from $70/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Curly Redwood Lodge – Basic and budget-friendly, right along U.S. 101 but close to everything. Rooms from $69/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
Vacation Rentals & Airbnbs in Crescent City
During my two visits to Crescent City, I’ve only ever stayed in vacation rentals and Airbnbs.
- On our recent trip, we stayed at this gorgeous 3-bedroom oceanfront property on Pebble Beach Drive. It was huge and fully stocked, perfect for a family or for a couple who just want space to escape. From $210/night; book on VRBO.
- If you’re budget-conscious, this cute house sleeps two and has all the basics to serve as a base for exploring the city or a quick overnight stop. From $75/night; book on VRBO.
Between all of those options, there should be something for everyone!
And that’s it! Have any other questions about planning a trip to Crescent City? Let me know in the comments!
This post was produced as part of a partnership with Toyota and Crescent City/Del Norte County. Special thanks to our VBRO hosts, Port O’Pints, Seaquake Brewing, Redwood Rides, Crescent Trail Rides, and Rumiano Cheese for helping support our trip.