With winter break over, the holidays behind us, and my daughter back in school this week, we’ve been struggling a bit to settle in to our regular routine. We had a great break, sleeping in and eating too many sweets, plus all the traditional holiday activities…ice skating, Santa Train, teddy bear tea, the Nutcracker, and lots of photos with Santa. One of the highlights this winter, however, was a quick jaunt to Fort Bragg, a small seaside town just 10 miles north of Mendocino. We spent two days there, just a few days before Christmas, and enjoyed some memorable beach adventures with glorious, sunny weather.
A small town with a picturesque coastline, Fort Bragg is kid-friendly and dog-friendly – in fact, dogs are welcome at many restaurants, attractions like the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and even on the Skunk Train! Dogs can enjoy free ice cream at Cowlick’s, and many downtown shops have dog treats and fresh water for your canine companions. Several hotels also welcome dogs, including the Beachcomber Motel, which has its very own “Beachcomber Dog Park.” It made us wish we had a dog!
We stayed at the Surf & Sand Lodge, directly adjacent to the Beachcomber Motel (where we enjoyed our Continental breakfast each morning) and our room opened up to a small patio with steps down to a path that lead directly to the beach, and just a few hundred steps from the Wesley Chesbro Pudding Creek Trestle, Fort Bragg’s historic bridge, also know as “MacKerricher State Park’s Bridge to the Past.” The Union Lumber Company originally constructed the Ten Mile Railroad in 1915/1916, but the railroad ceased operations in 1949 and the railway roadbed was converted into a road. Known locally as Haul Road because it was used to haul logs, it is now a grand pedestrian bridge with a spectacular view. One of our favorite memories of our trip was watching the sun set from the bridge and then climbing down the short steep path to the beach below – luckily, we brought a flashlight for the climb back up!
The first night, my girlfriend and her daughter joined us and the girls (all four of us) had a blast at Glass Beach, the main attraction that brought us to Fort Bragg. We’re not talking about an occasional piece of sea glass, which happens when raw glass is broken into smaller pieces and slowly polished by the sand – the coves are covered, and I mean covered, with sea glass of gemstone quality. Legend has it that sea glass is actually “Mermaid tears” because every time a sailor is lost at sea, the Mermaids cry, and the sea glass is their tears washing up on shore. But the reality is that this glass-covered beach is a result of garbage being dumped there until the mid-60s until nature corrected man’s mistake and converted trash to treasure.
Sea Glass Museum
The Sea Glass Museum in Fort Bragg boasts the world’s largest permanent sea glass exhibit featuring thousands of pieces on display. Capt. Cass Forrington, a retired sea captain and owner and operator of the tiny museum, was there the day we visited and we were mighty impressed with his sea glass collection. He has a small gift shop, with lovely, reasonably priced jewelry and other items, as well as small bags of sea glass to purchase and then throw away. Throw away? Yup, you are encouraged to toss the contents into the water at Glass Beach to help replenish the sea glass people continuously take from the beach.
MacKerricher State Park
We visited MacKerricher State Park, which offers a variety of habitats and tide pools are along the shore. Seals may be seen on the rocks off the park’s coastline, and more than 90 species of birds visit or live near Cleone Lake, a former tidal lagoon. During winter and spring, the nearby headland provides a good lookout for whale watching – our friends saw a whale but we weren’t so lucky. The park has a wheelchair accessible and stroller-friendly nature trail, and two high and low tides of unequal heights each day. We found shallow tides less than a foot, ideal for viewing and touching the anemome, which we kept calling edamame.
Noyo Harbor is the port and boat docking area for Fort Bragg, and the place to book a fishing trip, whale watching excursion or crab catching adventure, but we were happy just to explore. Tucked into the forested hills at the south end of Fort Bragg, the harbor is home to a large fleet of fishing trollers and canneries, and also the set location for several movies including Overboard – remember Goldie We enjoyed walking around the harbor, watching the sea lions waiting for the return of the boats at day’s end.
Django’s Rough Bar Café
We just happened upon Django’s when we took a ride down the hill to Noyo Harbor. We loved the entrance to the restaurant and the menu looked good, but it was Wednesday and the restaurant is only open Thursday-Sunday, so we returned for lunch the next day. So why the name “Rough Bar” and what about “Django?” We didn’t find anything “rough” about the café but “bar” is a nautical term for the place where a river meets the ocean, and within sight of the cafe, the Noyo River meets the Pacific Ocean. What about Django? He is one of owner Dusty and Linda’s favorite musicians – and one of mine! If you name a restaurant after Django Reinhardt, I figure it can’t be bad! We had bowls of fresh, steamed clams and local craft-beer battered fish and chips. Our server/host was a sweet, crusty old man who did funny magic tricks and told silly jokes, and the girls loved him.
Café del Mar
Looking for a place for dinner, we came upon Cafe Del Mar, one of those hole-in-the-wall places that looks a little suspect from the outside, but holds an abundance of deliciousness inside. Featuring a funky décor and a reasonably priced, organic menu, we were more than impressed. Plus, we loved the kids’ menu – the girls had Caribbean plates with Cuban black beans and rice and marinated chicken, and they practically licked their plates. The café’s breakfast menu looks particularly good – next time!
We didn’t get to explore the Point Cabrillo Light Station, visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, or ride the Skunk Train through the redwoods. Nor did we get to Cowlick’s Ice Cream, an iconic Fort Bragg establishment featuring artisan ice creams made by hand in small batches. All good reasons to go back to our new favorite spot on the Mendocino Coast! Other reasons to return…later this month, Mendocino hosts the 18th annual Crab, Wine and Beer Festival, and in April the Botanical Gardens hosts the 40th annual John Druecker memorial Rhododendron Show, California’s largest rhododendron show. We’d also like to spend some time in nearby Mendocino. We’ll be returning soon, and next time, we are definitely bringing our bikes, and maybe borrowing a dog!