History, art, fine dining, family fun, outdoor sports, spectacular coastline, and splendid lodgings are just a few of the elements that make Fort Bragg and Mendocino County a unique Northern California destination.
Many of the experiences in Mendocino County were hosted for my husband and me. However, all opinions are mine.
The dramatic Mendocino County coastline can be accessed by road and air.
While you need a small aircraft to access the municipal airports in Willits, Fort Bragg, Little River, and Anderson Valley, better fly-in options are larger airports. Santa Rosa is the closest at 85 miles away.
Three Roads Head West
Three roads take you west of Highway 101 to your Mendocino County destinations.
From the north, exit at Leggett on Highway 1 and enjoy the stunning coastal route traveling south. From the east, exit at Willits, taking Highway 20, which drops you at the south end of Fort Bragg.
From the southeast at Cloverdale, take Highway 128, which takes you through fascinating and picturesque Anderson Valley. The quintessential postcard landscape through the Navarro River Redwoods State Park caused us to stop frequently to gaze in awe at the stately trees and discern their subtle fragrance.
- Allow lots of time for stops through Anderson Valley.
- The roads to and from Highway 101 have many curves. Use caution during all hours and follow posted speed limits.
- If you are driving from the south, take Highway 1 from San Francisco and enjoy the incomparable California Coast on your 172-mile journey north.
- The Mendocino County coast enjoys very mild weather year-round, and snow is virtually non-existent. Fog and low overcast are common. Bring layers for warmth. When we arrived on the Mendocino Coast in late spring, the strong, biting wind caused even the locals to remark how unusual it was. They said these winds typically only occur during the winter.
1. Fort Bragg (Known For Glass Beach)
The town of Fort Bragg was founded in 1857 before the American Civil War and is a California Historical Landmark.
Once a trash dump in the 1950s and ’60s, Glass Beach gained popularity as the waves washed the glass onto the shore as smooth little gems. Unfortunately, visitors carried away much of the sea glass, so now it’s illegal to take away any of the glass from this southern beach of the MacKerricher State Park.
2. Skunk Train Railbikes Tour
The most exciting experience in Fort Bragg is the Railbikes Tour of Pudding Creek Estuary. Departing from the Fort Bragg Skunk Train station, custom-built railbikes accommodate two people and are pedal-powered.
Running from spring through fall on the same tracks as the Skunk Train to Glen Blair Junction, this excursion even welcomes pets.
3. Fort Bragg Murals
A great way to see the murals in the Fort Bragg Alleyway Art Project is by railbike. One mural, painted on the wall of the railbikes garage, is named “Mendocino, Land of Extravagant Visions” by Marta Alonso Canillar. As a love letter to Mendocino County, iconic fragments of the county blend with the artist’s life experiences in one colorful mural.
4. Skunk Train From Fort Bragg On The Pudding Creek Express
The historic Pudding Creek Express departs the Fort Bragg train station for a seven-mile scenic roundtrip train excursion through the Pudding Creek Estuary. Once the train reaches Glen Blair Junction, passengers can get out, explore the trails through the redwoods, or have a picnic.
5. Skunk Train From Willits
A 2-hour round trip ride on a historic Diesel-Electric engine train will take you from the valley floor to the highest point on the historic Wolf Tree Turn line. Descending into the Noyo River Canyon, thick with native redwood trees, a brief stop at Crowley allows passengers to get off the train for better views.
6. Fort Bragg And Mendocino Certified Farmers Markets
Proud to encourage buying and eating locally, Fort Bragg hosts the Certified Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and Mendocino hosts it on Fridays. Everything from knife sharpening on-site to raw meats for your pets to handcrafted organic heart-shaped chocolates. All produce is Certified Organic.
7. Noyo Harbor
Noyo Harbor is the boat docking and port area for Fort Bragg, California. Fresh fish caught in coastal waters out of Noyo Harbor is served within hours to a couple of days at the finest restaurants up and down the Coast. Chefs pride themselves on serving the freshest fish at their table.
Movie scenes have been filmed in Noyo Harbor. Perhaps the most recognizable is The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.
Whale watching from November to February is a popular activity out of Noyo Harbor during the whale migration between Mexico and Alaska.
8. Noyo River Grill
Nestled among small houses and fishing-related businesses in Noyo Harbor, Noyo River Grill serves an unlikely treat. Learning the secret of making light, homemade fettuccine pasta from their mother, Chef Guillermo Medina, and his brother, Gabriel, who runs the front of the house, brings this indulgence as a “special” to their diners.
Along with a fresh array of seafood, patrons get a great view of the river and ocean. Live performances on Fridays and Saturdays make the Noyo River Grill popular in Fort Bragg for dining and entertainment.
9. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Plan your escape to botanical pleasure at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are a destination in all seasons of the year.
The mild coastal climate and quality soil are ideally suited for flowering Rhododendron plants, succulents and cactus, heaths and heathers, as well as perennials.
A haven for bird watchers, The Gardens host more than 180 bird species throughout the year.
When we drove into the parking lot, ponds with flowering waterlilies met our gaze reminding us of Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny, France.
10. Point Cabrillo Light Station
A restored lighthouse is located along the dramatic Mendocino County coastline. The Point Cabrillo Light Station, a California State Historic Park, is between Fort Bragg and Mendocino.
In addition to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, the 1st Assistant Lightkeeper’s House and the Marine Science Exhibit are open to the public. The Park is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.
Pro Tips: It’s a half-mile walk from the parking lot near the main road, Highway 1, to the lighthouse. Disabled-person parking spaces close to the lighthouse require a placard. Don’t forget to take your Lighthouse Passport to be stamped for your collection.
11. Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail
A trail at Van Damme State Park called the Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail is a fascinating forest that showcases short, stunted trees and shrubs that may be over 100 years old. They survive on poor soil fertility but do not thrive. A complex ecological condition of underlying wave terraces associated with unusual soils restricts vegetation growth.
The Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail is an easily accessible boardwalk for those requiring wheelchair access.
A few yards beyond the Pygmy Forest, the stunted vegetation gives way to full-size redwood trees.
12. Forest Bathing
In the 1980s, the Japanese developed a practice of bathing in the forest atmosphere to reduce stress and unplug from technology. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” Shinrin-yoku means you take in the forest through your senses. It is simply being in nature and intentionally connecting your five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
Sara Bassindale of All Rhythms Wellness was the guide for my first shinrin-yoku experience. The Pygmy and Redwood Forest at Van Damme State Park was the perfect setting. While you don’t need a guide to forest bathe, I was glad Sara taught me how to experience it for the first time.
13. Van Damme State Park
The fern-filled lush forest at Van Damme State Park offers camping year-round.
In addition, it’s an excellent place for families and outdoor activities like hiking, camping, running, birding, or watching salmon spawn.
Van Damme State Beach is across the highway. Some wheelchair-accessible accommodations are available in the park and a beach wheelchair is available upon request seven days in advance for beach use.
14. Anderson Valley
Approaching coastal Mendocino and Fort Bragg from the southeast on Highway 128 make Anderson Valley your mini destination. Stop for a meal, some art, and some wine tasting.
Anderson Valley grape growers specialize in Alsatian varietals, Pinot Noir, and sparkling wines. Annual major wine events include the International Alsace Varietals Festival in February and the Pinot Noir Festival in May.
Many artists live and work in Anderson Valley and represent a broad spectrum of formats. Open Studios/Art Tours are traditionally held during Memorial Day weekend for the Anderson Valley Art Guild.
One artist whose work fascinates me is Rebecca Johnson. We visited her studio, located on Highway 128 in Navarro. Many of her stone carvings dot the grounds. You can walk around each piece and see the artwork and craftsmanship from all sides.
Pro Tip: Call ahead to make an appointment to visit artists in their studios. Personal conversations bring their artwork to life.
The Bewildered Pig, on Highway 128 in Philo, serves curated meals, and reservations are required. Their hyper-local and seasonally driven menu is five courses with optional wine pairings. I’m told it’s a luscious food experience along with delicious hospitality.
Whether you are coming to visit Ford Bragg and Mendocino County or are spending time in the area, there is no shortage of experience for everyone in your group to enjoy.