Mendocino Coast: soak-up nature, history and good eats in Fort Bragg

It is getting to be crunch time for our move to Italy, so I've asked some lovely ladies based all around the globe to share their travels with us over the next few weeks! Every Monday until mid-July, I'll have a travel writer/blogger/tour guide extraordinaire share an awesome destination with us.  I'm super excited about these destinations and I hope you will be too!

To start off the guest posts, Mary Charlebois, a fellow colleague at Trip101 and freelance travel writer will be sharing a budget-friendly guide to Fort Bragg, California. I've only visited California once, but this post certainly makes me want to return for an extended stay without worrying that I'll break the bank in the notoriously expensive California.


Wildlife, waves, wilderness and wine. Mendocino Coast overflows with them all. Craggy Pacific headlands shelter caves, coves and secret beaches. Open grass and meadowlands give way to woodlands and forest. Wildlife flourishes.

Welcoming towns, small businesses, local food, and a flourishing art and music scene, are the way of life. Open vistas of wild, pristine, nature and Mediterranean temps are captivating. The Mendocino Coast is ideal for a thrifty traveler to soak-up nature, history and good eats. Fort Bragg has plenty of all three.

Wave watching bench and picnic spot, along Ka Kahleh Trail, part of the coastal trail system. Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Wave watching bench and picnic spot, along Ka Kahleh Trail, part of the coastal trail system. Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

 

Free Activities

Row the Noyo River

Team-row a 16-man vintage whale boat. The Traditional Small Craft Association’s (TSCA) rowing classes and excursions begin a mile up-river in a tranquil, wildlife filled marina. The journey continues through busy Noyo Harbor, site of commercial fishing vessels and seafood shipping companies, US Coast Guard Search and Rescue base, restaurants, lodging and shops. You’ll row under a 90’ bridge carrying CA Hwy 1 one it’s back. Some rowing excursions go into the Pacific. Trips are available for novices to experts. Your first outing is free, reservations are required. Website.  For a 20 second video of a rowing trip, click here.

Haul Road Trestle crossing Pudding Creek as it enters the Pacific. Once used by trains hauling redwood, today it is part of the coastal trail system. One of the best photo times for this bridge is sunrise. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Haul Road Trestle crossing Pudding Creek as it enters the Pacific. Once used by trains hauling redwood, today it is part of the coastal trail system. One of the best photo times for this bridge is sunrise. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Walk or Roll the Coast:

Ravens soaring, hawks hunting, cranes standing like statues. Whales spouting, seals and sea lions barking. Fort Bragg’s coastal trail has 10-miles of paved path, suitable for all feet and wheels. It passes along headlands, through grasslands, woodlands and estuaries. Wave and whale watching benches, picnic spots, interpretive and historic panels dot the trail. Website.

Ravens soar on thermals and nest in cypress trees in Fort Bragg. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Ravens soar on thermals and nest in cypress trees in Fort Bragg. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Triangle Tattoo Museum:

Triangle Tattoo Museum will expand your ideas about art, especially body art. This family friendly spot has expertly curated exhibits displaying and defining the history and culture of body marking and body art. Museum admission is free. Private tours are available by appointment. Call 707-964-8814. Website.

Sea Glass Museum:

This small business is a casual, home grown museum, enlightening the public about Fort Bragg’s glass beach along the coastal trail. It's a nice add-on stop if you are going to walk or roll the trail.

The owner/shop attendant is friendly and knowledgeable. He’ll be happy to answer questions and give directions. Get hours and other info on their website. Sea Glass Museum is located at 17801 North Highway One, on the south side of Fort Bragg.

Learn to Tango in a Victorian ball room:

Held in a historic redwood ballroom, Weller House Inn offers informal Tango practice and lessons on Tuesday evenings. Everyone from accomplished dancers to just curious are welcome. Music by various DJs. A $5 floor fee is requested. For more information, contact Terry at 707-734-0961.

Festivals and celebrations:

Attend festivals celebrating whales, crab, abalone, mushrooms, wine, beer, music, ukuleles, rhododendrons, Paul Bunyan, film and so much more. Every month celebrates something on the coast. Admission to festivals is free, and includes music and entertainment. Many events host craft fairs and learning booths. Local food and beverage are offered for purchase. Website.

Nature is free for everyone to enjoy in parks, beaches, trails, ocean and rivers. Have all you want.

Activities ($5 to $15)

Guest House Museum

Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast history and cultures are brought to life with a visit to the Guest House Museum. Visible from most parts of Fort Bragg, the charming house was built of coastal redwood in 1892. Located downtown on North Main Street in Fort Bragg, a $5 donation is suggested. Website.

Guest House Museum brings Fort Bragg logging and Pomo history alive. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Guest House Museum brings Fort Bragg logging and Pomo history alive. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Guided History Walks - Downtown walk:

Fort Bragg’s vivid commercial past is brought to life in a docent led walk. You’ll learn about the business district, Fort Bragg military post and how the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake destroyed most downtown buildings.

Rose Memorial Park Cemetery walk:

You’ll hear engaging stories about pioneers and settlers. Learn about grave markers and what they teach of the areas family histories. A $5 donation is suggested. Website.

Stroll and Picnic in a garden by the sea:

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is one of the few botanical gardens with ocean front. The forty-seven acres include canyons, wetlands, coastal bluffs and forest. A visit here introduces the many eco-systems and micro-climates so prevalent on the Mendocino Coast. The gardens are known for rhododendrons and tender plants that thrive in the coast’s Mediterranean climate. Open year-round, the botanical gardens are a superb whale watching and picnic spot. Admission range is $8 to $15. Website.

CV Star Aquatic Center:

Leisure pool, splash pool, lap pool, lazy river, workout equipment, yoga, Zumba, Aqua-Arthritis classes, art classes and more. $5-7 drop in per day. $18 per day family pass. Website.

Activities Under $50

Whale Watching Cruise - $40

Live jazz at North Coast Brewing Tap Room - $20

Take the Pudding Creek Express aboard the historic Skunk Train - $10-25

Good Eats

Headlands Coffeehouse:

Casual, coffee/tea bar, soups, sandwiches, salads, wine and beer. Very good food, reasonably priced. Great place to meet locals. Free Wi-Fi. Free live music 7-nights a week. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 120 Laurel Street, Fort Bragg. 707-964-1987. Website.

Picnic or cook your own:

Colombi Market and Deli has a scrumptious variety of house-made deli foods.  You can build your own sandwich or order a specialty one from the menu. Freshly made salads, deviled eggs, salsas, breakfast burritos, enchiladas, chili rellenos, jalapeno poppers and desserts. This family owned and operated spot has fantastic food and great prices. Perfect picnic supply location. No website. 647 Oak Street, Fort Bragg. 707-964-5773.

Breakfast/Lunch:

A bucket of peel and eat shrimp and a glass of local white a Django’s Rough Bar Café, Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

A bucket of peel and eat shrimp and a glass of local white a Django’s Rough Bar Café, Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Café 1 is dedicated to using organic, chemical-free and non-GMO ingredients. Open for breakfast and lunch most menu items are under $10, many are under $8, for example: French Toast - macadamia nuts and coconut with mango pineapple cream $7.75, a cup of Veggie Chili - served with cheddar cheese & oyster crackers $4.25. 753 North Main Street, Fort Bragg. 707-964-3309; Menu.

Seafood:

Django’s Rough Bar Café – in Noyo Harbor, just before Noyo Bridge, Fort Bragg. Heated, glass-walled, deck or inside seating. Best view in the harbor. Casual surroundings with locals and visitors. Local seafood, chowders, sandwiches, small plates, craft beer and wine are offered. Live music evenings and Sunday afternoon. Serving lunch and dinner. 32096 N Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg .707-962-0100.

Vegan:

Ravens is an award winning, fine-dining, vegan restaurant. All organic and local. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stroll through the grounds and organic kitchen garden that sets the daily menu. At Stanford Inn, Hwy 1 & Comptche-Ukiah Road, Mendocino. 707-937-5615.

Cocktails & Sunset:

Point Noyo Restaurant and Bar – Enjoy a hand-crafted cocktail and happy hour appetizer while watching the sun setting behind the Pacific and Noyo River. Full bar includes cocktails, local craft beer, and wine. Seafood, chicken and steaks are featured on the menu. Serving dinner daily, brunch on weekends.  1011 S Main St, Fort Bragg. 707-962-3035.

The huge, organic kitchen garden for Raven’s, Mendocino CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

The huge, organic kitchen garden for Raven’s, Mendocino CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Great Sleep

Accommodations on the coast will fit every budget and taste. Best rates are available January through March. Peak season is June through August.

Several Fort Bragg hotels are directly on the Fort Bragg/California Coastal Trail. Family and pet friendly rooms are available. At the Beachcomber, you can eat a continental breakfast on the deck, overlooking the Pacific and headlands. Off season, trail-side, ocean view rooms are available under $100. Beachcomber Motel; Ocean View Lodge.

Vacation rentals in all sizes and locations are prevalent, click here for more info.

Camping from tent to RV is everywhere on the coast. Numerous state and private parks are available. These are short walks to the Pacific.

MacKerricher State Park – on the coastal trail

Van Damme State Park – favorite kayaking spot

Camping on the beach at Wages Creek, north of Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Camping on the beach at Wages Creek, north of Fort Bragg CA. Photo: Mary Charlebois

Getting to Fort Bragg

From Hwy 101 in Willits, turn west on Hwy 20. Wind over the California Coastal Mountains through redwood and conifer forest. Forest and parks along the way provide picnicking, hiking, equestrian trails and camping.

Hwy 20 ends at the Pacific on CA Hwy 1 in Fort Bragg. Once the center of logging and fishing industries, Fort Bragg is still the largest community on the Mendocino coast with over 7,000 residents.

Sunset, Fort Bragg CA. Photographer: Mary Charlebois

Sunset, Fort Bragg CA. Photographer: Mary Charlebois

A trip to Mendocino Coast is a feast for the eyes, heart and tongue. Each small town has its own variety of history, nature and community. Every turn in the road opens unparalleled vistas. Eateries present a fresh take on locally grown, harvested and produced food, beer and wine. Artist and performers thrive. Life slows down and watches the sunset.


Mary Charlebois is a freelance travel writer, photographer and videographer. Coastal Mendocino County California is her home base. Mary is passionately interested in sustainable travel. She likes researching and developing arga-tours for travelers to visit sources of whole, clean, organic food.

See more of her stories, photos and videos at MaryGo. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram . See her portfolio of published work here.