Named for its curved, sandy beach, Crescent City is a small town and California's northernmost place to go, only 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Oregon border. If something seems familiar, you are right: The city has enjoyed a few chances at its 15 seconds of fame. The nearby redwood trees appeared in "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" as the forest on the Moon of Endor. Likewise, the video of Tim McGraw's 1994 hit song "Not a Moment to Lose" featured the Battery Point Lighthouse.
Crescent City, located on the Pacific coast, is the home port for a commercial fishing fleet, which you can see coming and going in the bay. The town offers a variety of attractions and adventures for locals and visitors, from scenic drives and old-growth redwood parks to collecting agates on the beach to touring an 1850s lighthouse located on an island.
You'll see two lighthouses in Crescent City, but there's only one you can visit, if done carefully and at the right time. Battery Point Lighthouse, a California Historical Landmark which was first lit in 1856, sits on a tiny island that's only accessible by foot and during low tide. Anyone crossing the 200 feet between the mainland and island must be very cautious due to the dangerous waves.
The lighthouse keepers offers tide-permitting tours into the tower, which has a 360-degree view of the surrounding area—you'll also have fun seeing the personal quarters of keepers and artifacts left behind since the 1850s.
On the west end of town is Pebble Beach Drive, where you'll find Pebble Beach, one of the best shores in California for collecting agates and other semi-precious gemstones that have been polished and tumbled by the ocean. Park at any of the pullouts along the drive and take one of the cement stairways that lead down to the beach. The agates are mixed with patches of other pea-sized rocks.
Check the tides before you go; there are more places to hunt at low tide. At high tide, the beach nearly disappears, but you can still find some stones at the base of the cliffs.
A few miles east of the ocean is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the northernmost of several redwood parks in Northern California. It contains some of the world's only remaining gigantic old-growth redwoods in a 10,000-acre area.
In the year-round gorgeous park, you can enjoy the forest and its 20 miles of hiking trails—or you can fish, snorkel, or kayak in the Smith River, the largest major free-flowing river in the state.
A drive on Historic Howland Hill Road is an hour-long, intimate ramble through the towering, old-growth redwood forest. The majority of the road is unpaved, and it is not recommended for motor homes, RVs, or trailers.
Hike and Try Water Sports
There is plenty to do around Crescent City if you want to get active in the outdoors.
Redwood Rides offers fully outfitted beginner and intermediate whitewater rafting trips on the Middle Fork Smith River, along with kayaking on Cooper Canyon, biking through old-growth redwoods, and multi-sport trips for the adventurous. They also rent equipment if you want to venture out by yourself.
If you're looking for a place to hike or run, there are numerous options at various levels of difficulty in and around Crescent City.
More than 20,000 gray whales swim through the Crescent City area on their round trip migrations from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic. The peak gray whale viewing time near Crescent City is from May to October. Some of the best spots to see the whales include Pebble Beach Drive, Crescent Beach Overlook, and Battery Point Lighthouse.
The Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain, official ambassador tall ships of Washington State, sometimes visit and dock at the Crescent City Harbor, where you can go on board and tour the vessels—or even sail with them. The ships offer interactive learning for all ages, such as Adventure Sails: Visitors will join in a sea shanty song, take in great views, and meet the crew that travels the west coast. Or try Battle Sails to experience quick maneuvering and live black powder cannon fire as the ships attempt to win the battle.
The B Street Pier at the west end of the bay is a great spot for relaxing, and it's conveniently within walking distance of several beaches, the harbor, and downtown. You can stroll with the whole family, breathe in the lovely ocean air, do some people watching, and catch a great view of the Battery Point Lighthouse and many birds (seagulls abound).
Crescent City may be small, but it offers a diversity of cuisine for all tastes. There are several seafood and Mexican restaurants, and eateries with Asian and Italian options, along with coffee shops.
A popular place is Fisherman's Restaurant and Lounge, which serves seafood, burgers, omelettes, tasty pumpkin pecan spice pancakes, and beyond. Another known spot that also includes vegetarian options is Perlita's Authentic Mexican Restaurant, which dishes up homemade tamales, tacos, burritos, and more.