The most cliched way to meditate and unwind is to take a walk in the forest-- but it's a cliche because it's true: wandering around the woods really is a calming experience. If you're in serious need of some chill time, then indulge in a nice, long drive through some of the country's most famously beautiful forests along the Avenue of the Giants. Once a part of Highway 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), it's since been designated State Route 254. The 31.6-mile-long stretch of road takes you right through groves of California's oldest and tallest redwood trees, along the scenic Eel River, and past some pretty great roadside attractions.
Of course, the main attraction along the drive is just the sheer number of massive redwoods. Not only are they so big they have to be seen to be believed, but they do a pretty good job of making you realize how small you are, and of blocking out the troubles of everyday life, too!
Pro tip: and if you think that the Avenue of the Giants is sweet from a car, it's even better on a bike.
One of the first stops you'll encounter is The Living Chimney Tree, which had its center burned out by a fire. It still managed to keep growing, despite the fact that it was partially turned into a house. There's a little diner/gift shop on site, where you can grab a burger, milkshakes, and t-shirts, before you take a peek inside the living, hollow, 1,500-year-old redwood. It's even got a door!
John B. Dewitt Redwoods State Natural Reserve was, until recently, a part of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but as it was disconnected from and a little smaller than the other parts of that park, it was turned into a state natural reserve. It's barely on any maps or in any guidebooks, as it's totally overshadowed by the park that it was once included within... which makes it a quiet and peaceful hidden gem. What it lacks in supersized stands of massive redwoods, it makes up for with its serenity. The Whittemore and O'Meara Groves in the southern part of the park are probably the best for taking in the beauty.
You can't take a trip down the Avenue of the Giants without visiting at least one drive-thru tree! The Shrine Drive-Thru Tree is right off the route, and since the tunnel through looks natural, you can get a crazy photo op of your car pulling through the massive, hollow trunk. It's 275 feet tall, 64 feet around, and 21 feet in diameter... impressive numbers, but nowhere near record-breaking, if you can believe it! The site also has some beautiful redwood treehouses for kids to explore.
Along the Avenue of the Giants, you'll also find the so-called Immortal Tree. It's not the oldest, at only 950 years of age, but it's definitely the toughest. It survived a 1908 attempt to cut it down, a massive flood in 1964, and a lightning strike that removed 45 feet off its top. It's hard to miss since you can see the scars from the axes and water and lightning on its trunk... and also because it has a gift shop out front.
Most of the drive goes through the various units of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It covers 53,000 acres of woodland beauty, including 17,000 acres of redwoods. Dang. There are 250 campsites for those who want to sleep among the trees, along with more than 100 miles of hiking and biking trails, and the lovely Eel River. It was founded by the famed Save-the-Redwoods League in 1921, when they purchased the land that now makes up the Raynal Bolling Memorial Grove.
Highlights: Take the Founders Grove Nature Trail to see the Dyerville Giant, search for the Stratosphere Giant (the fourth-tallest redwood) and look for the 98 other of the 137 known trees to soar over 350 feet tall. Rockefeller Grove is the world's largest remaining tract of the old-growth redwoods. Also, fun fact: stick around to experience the "darkness at noon" effect common in redwood forests; the dense, thick, tall stands of trees and the position of the sun directly above combine to block much of the natural light in groves.
In the old logging town of Scotia, you'll find the quaint and cozy Scotia Inn and Pub. Whether you just want to stop off for a drink and a bite to eat, or you want to stay overnight, this inn is perfect. It has old-school charm, from the antiques to the clawfoot soaking tubs, and is comfy and homier than a generic hotel. The pub is solid, and there's also a Mexican restaurant attached as well. They even have a little continental breakfast in the mornings, too. The historic charm of the 1923 building is definitely something special!
End the journey just off the road at Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Another lesser-known gem, it features the crystal clear Van Duzen River, a tiny campground with only 28 sites, five miles of trail, and the gorgeous, old-growth Cheatham Grove. If it looks familiar, that's probably because it was where the scooter chase scene from "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi". Be on the lookout for Ewoks!
Once you've completed the quick little cruise down Avenue of the Giants, there are several places you can go. Make your way another 100 miles north to the mecca of redwood groves, Redwood National Park, curve back to the coast and keep driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, or loop south back towards Napa or San Francisco. No matter where you go next, you're sure to have an adventure... and you're sure to fondly remember your time on the Avenue of the Giants!