Hidden away along the Avenue of the Giants, Shelter Cove is the most beautiful and fascinating Northern California small town you never knew existed.
If leaving from the Bay Area, it is a 3 hour and a half drive up the scenic 101 to Garberville, but that is where things get interesting!
As you approach Garberville, you will notice Bigfoot-themed gift shops, as the area has been rumored to be a common place for Sasquatch sightings.
Once in Garberville, you will head towards the coast through a region aptly named the “Emerald Triangle,” as the single-lane road zigs and zags through the nation’s largest weed-growing region, Humboldt County.
After about 45 minutes on this road, you will reach the top of the hill. Once the tree line clears, you will discover the hidden treasure that is Shelter Cove.
Things to Do in Shelter Cove
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Backpack the Lost Coast Trail.
The scenic Lost Coast Trail is the ultimate attraction of Shelter Cove. The trail is 26.4 miles with approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain and takes the average hiker about 2-3 days to complete.
Due to wind conditions, hikers normally begin north at Mattole Beach and trek south, ending in Shelter Cove.
The difficulty can be considered moderate as the trail isn’t terribly long and the elevation gain is manageable, but you may find yourself hiking sandy beaches that surely will slow the pace.
Make sure you pay attention to tidal patterns, otherwise you will find yourself waiting hours for the tide to recede to continue.
The trail does require a permit to camp overnight in the King Range Wilderness.
The trail is open year-round but is extremely popular – so plan accordingly. Permits open up October 1st and are usually completely booked out within 24 hours.
(Editor’s Note: I can attest to this! I tried for permits on October 2nd and only a few spots were left, though I did manage to snag some for November)
The Lost Coast Trail within the King Range Wilderness is a protected area. This creates a safe habitat for wildlife you will likely encounter!
Harbor seals, seal lions, and elephant seals are in abundance. You will see various species of sea birds and will come across blacktail deer.
However, it is also an extremely healthy habitat for black bears. It is required for hikers to bring a hard-cased bear canister during their trip.
Float the cove on your paddleboard or kayak.
There is an invisible line separating the town of Shelter Cove.
The resort side is north of this line, with fantastic bungalows, beautiful inns, and high-end restaurants.
However, the south side is the lifeblood of the town. Shelter Cove is, in fact, a fishing village.
The cove on the south side is perfect for kayaking! The way the cove curves, it allows for calm waters on the Pacific Ocean, creating ideal kayaking conditions.
If you are feeling bold, you can go big game fishing — right from your kayak!
Not too far off the coast, there is a significant drop-off that creates an environment for salmon, rockfish, crab, and halibut, all of which have been caught from the smallest of watercraft.
Be careful! With these large fish, sea lions, and elephant seals making shelter cove their home, it is a feeding ground for predators. Great White Sharks have been spotted close to shore.
Dive in with the locals at Mario’s Marina.
Shelter Cove has an excellent selection of restaurants and establishments to bookend your evenings. However, if you are in the mood for something a tad different, Mario’s Marina is the place for you.
Located in the center of town, Mario’s is perched on the top of a hill, looking directly down on the cove, making for an excellent place to wind down and enjoy the majestic views!
While resembling a traditional dive bar, Mario’s is the place where the local angler unwinds.
Spark up a conversation with a stranger here, you will surely hear unique and bizarre stories from a community that is like no other!
Dig your toes into the rocky Black Sand Beach.
True black sand beaches are rather rare in the world, but luckily you don’t need to go all the way to Iceland or Hawai’i — you can find one right here in California.
When visiting Shelter Cove, spending a day on the beach is an absolute requirement.
Nestled in a small cove within a cove, Black Sand Beach is a small stretch of coastline that is lined with dark, volcanic sand, resembling small rocks. The density of the rocks is strong enough to withstand the indefinite current crashing into them.
The main draw of this beach is the pure power of nature. You can find yourself mesmerized watching the waves come in and strike the rocks, creating a massive collision of epic proportions.
Dine at the locally sourced Gyppo Ale Mill Brewpub.
Self-proclaimed as California’s most remote brewery, Gyppo Ale Mill is a restaurant and brewpub that is the all-encompassing Shelter Cove experience!
The restaurant itself is quite small, but the backyard is where you find the charm.
Gyppo’s is a unique food experience because it is a true scratch kitchen. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the locally caught, hand-breaded fish and chips, to the selection of home-brewed craft beers.
Head brewer Jared Smith and company have delivered a dining experience that cannot be missed during a trip to the Cove.
Combined with an excellent dining experience, the backyard opens to some of the best views of Shelter Cove.
Located on a golf course, you can enjoy a Whistle Punk IPA or a Daydreamer Believer Pale walking a putting green, looking down at the Pacific Ocean with the soundtrack of roaring sea lions.
Gyppo’s is also the best place in town to catch the sunset. When the sun begins to set, it is almost a certainty that the local family of deer will join you to watch the day come to a close.
At the end of a long day hiking or soaking up rays at the beach, Gyppo’s backyard is the ideal landing spot.
Go whale watching.
While you can see whales from the comfort of land from a distance, there are charters that will get you up close and personal with these giant mammals.
The best time to book a charter for whale watching is in March, as the grey whales are migrating back to Alaskan waters and can be seen traveling in groups close to shore.
Be sure to plan ahead, as these tours are limited and tend to be booked well in advance.
Charter a boat for fishing.
Some of the best adventures in Shelter Cove aren’t found on land, but rather at sea.
There are several fishing charters in the cove that will take you out a few miles offshore, where you can enjoy some of the best fishing the Pacific Ocean has to offer with the convenience of being close to shore.
Lose yourself on your own secluded beach.
For a leisurely morning walk, grab your coffee and stroll down the southern coastline.
The walk itself is about a half-mile long and is moderately trafficked with a few off-road vehicles and owners playing fetch with their dogs.
Most people will turn around once you reach the wash (a natural blockade of large rocks) named Dead Man’s Point, a term of caution of the incoming tide.
In fact, for a funny example, visit on the fifth of July. It is not uncommon to see a pickup truck dumped on the shore like a piece of driftwood!
What the locals won’t tell you is that if you are able to traverse the wash, the other side is often uninhabited for as far as the eye can see. Where else could you find your own private beach in California?
Visit the campground and deli.
If you are trying to stay on a budget, staying at the campground is an excellent alternative.
They have multiple RV sites, and the tent sites are close to the water. If you camp, you can wake up to the sounds of departing fishing boats and sea lions roaring.
Don’t sleep on the deli!
The nearest grocery store is a long hour away in Garberville, so visiting the deli is not an option – it is a necessity. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
It is a hybrid deli, grocery store, gift shop, bait shop, coffee shop, and quick-eats restaurant. It’s everything you need in one.
Outside is a beautiful courtyard with relaxing views of the ocean and the rocky coastline.
During the summer, Gyppos and the campground collaborate with live music and drinks in the evenings, and some nights will open the stage to guests to share their talents with epic evenings of karaoke.
Observe the underwater world of the cove’s vibrant tidal pools.
There is only one main road that loops through town.
On the sea side of the loop, there are established points that allow access to exposed rocks. These pools have created a haven for some truly unique sea creatures!
After safely crawling over wet rocks, you will have the opportunity to see purply, spiney sea urchins, colorful anemones, shore crabs, and a variety of beautiful starfish.
Remember to look only, and never touch or take anything from the tidepools.
Hit the fairways.
Shelter Cove Golf Course is central to the entire town… literally!
Considering the small size of the town, this course was built to match. It fits in the middle of the one-mile loop road!
There are nine spectacular holes just a chip shot away from the rocky shoreline.
It is a short course, as there are four par-3s, four par-4s, and just one par-5. This course is relatively easy and is visually breathtaking.
And the best part? The final hole ends at the brewery!
Raised in the Midwest, Alex is an RV pulling, bike-touring, globetrotting, slow-hiking nomad. He travels full-time with his travel nurse wife and their famous hiking tabby, Rafiki (yes, she has an Insta). He enjoys experiencing the lesser-known destinations and discovering hidden gems.