Last week I flew back to San Jose from Portland on a Thursday evening, Mark came over and we stayed up past midnight installing my brand new tow hitch and bike carrier (it can carry up to 4 bikes!). The next morning we hit up Costco for fresh fruit (see my Healthy Traveling and Road Trips’ tips for more healthy snack ideas) and then set off on California’s Highway One towards our destination: Fort Bragg. If anyone lives in California, I’d suggest taking a weekend to drive the route we took to visit Fort Bragg.
Where is Fort Bragg? Fort Bragg is a small beach ‘town’ in Mendocino County and is located in Northern California. It’s about 4 hours away from San Jose and is famous for its Glass Beach, Skunk Train, and North Coast Brewery amongst other things. The Highway One is well-known for its scenic route along the Pacific coast. Taking the Highway One route does considerably lengthen your road trip due to the slower speed limit, winding road, and occasional cyclists that you must be aware of. Thanks to the fact that we hazily planned out our trip and weren’t in any rush, we were able to enjoy Highway One and have a relaxing weekend.
While driving along the Pacific Coast, there are plenty of beaches, small towns, and lookout points to stop at to take photos of or hang out at.
Stops along the Highway One
First stop! We drove past all of the Sonoma beaches and stopped here. I think this was Goat Rock, but just to clarify, I didn’t see any goats.
See that little arch structure back there? There are tons of those along the drive. But that arch might be Goat Rock, I don’t really know.
Gualala – there’s a little grocery market called the Surf Market where you can stop to get coffee, take a bathroom break, and then go for a short walk down one of their trails to see the Gualala River Estuary. The Gualala River Estuary is part of a 32 mile long watershed.
Mendocino Headlands State Park -Enjoy the beautiful blue waters, the briny sea air that’s incredibly refreshing, and sounds of waves lapping against the shore. You get to hike along the coastline, climb the bluffs, stand on the edge of cliffs, examine tide pools, and hike down to the beaches where you can stroll along the shore.
You can see Mark standing on the edge of a cliff in the picture below. He claimed to have seen a seal.
We strolled along the beach as the tide continued to rise.
Mark then insisted that we climb all the way down another bluff.
He wanted to take a good look at these strange plants.
After an hour or so of traipsing around the headlands, we ended up walking around a beach town that was right next to the state park and having dinner at Frankie’s. They had these quinoa kale cakes that were healthy and delicious. Their pizza was pretty tasty, too. I’d definitely recommend checking the beach town out when all of their boutiques are open.
After Mendocino State Park, we drove for a few minutes and reached Fort Bragg. We spent the night at the Best Western hotel which is a little further removed than the other inns in the area. If you’re willing to walk, it’s within walking distance of all of the shops and restaurants. If not, it’s literally a one to two minute drive down into town. Based on the photos on the internet, the hotel looks more updated than the other hotels, bed and breakfasts, and inns. It also seems to be less expensive.
In the mornings they serve a continental breakfast which can help you save a couple of dollars. Some of my favorite things on their menu: coffee, boiled egg, oatmeal, and waffles.
Cycling on Old Haul Road:
The next day we took our road bikes out on a trail to ride through MacKerricher State Park. From our hotel, we rode down the Highway One towards the little shops in town and then turned right on Elm Street (when you see the Denny’s). As you go down that street, you’ll see a trail ahead. Turn right onto the trail and keep riding along the coast. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride for road bikes, but there’s beautiful scenery, short bridge crossings, secluded beaches to explore, and a route to ride further on Highway One if desired.
Since it is on a trail, it is very safe (no vehicular traffic) and an easy-going ride. There are no real inclines to climb and is ideal for any family rides. It’s more than 10 miles round trip.
I really enjoyed how we could carry our bikes down to the empty coastal trails to various bluffs.
We tried to ride further on Highway One but were paranoid about the cars rushing past us at fairly high speeds. There are plenty of cyclists who enjoy riding on that road, but the thought of one absent-minded driver sending us flying off our bikes had us turn around and get back on the trail. We’re just not at that level of cycling, yet.
On the way back from the start of MacKerricher State Park, we stopped by Glass Beach.
Glass Beach has quite an interesting past. In the early 1900’s, the beach was actually a dump site for residents to toss all sorts of their garbage: glass, vehicles, appliances, household items, etc. When the garbage pile grew too large, they would burn the trash. Years later, they closed the dump site and turned the beach into, well, an actual beach.
However decades of waves breaking over the garbage caused everything to disappear except for the glass and pottery. The glass and pottery were smoothed into colorful shiny pieces of sea glass that visitors come to gawk at. The shore of a small part of the beach is still covered in sea glass; however, the sea glass is there for spectators to examine, take photos of, and enjoy. No one should take the sea glass from the site so that others can come and enjoy the area as well.
Believe it or not, there was even more sea glass that covered longer stretches of shorelines, yet because so many visitors have taken glass home, there isn’t nearly as much there as there used to be. If people continue to remove these simple treasures from the beach, there may no longer be any left for those to see. (Learn more about the history of Fort Bragg here)
As you can see, the sea glass on this beach are tempting to take. Yet please be respectful and leave them. There are other beaches where you are free to hunt for and take sea glass home. Glass Beach is not one of them.
After cycling and exploring the coastline, we returned back to the hotel and then walked into town for dinner. We walked past the North Coast Brewing Co.
Then we had dinner at the restaurant called North Coast Brewery Taproom and Co. For those who are 21 and older, go ahead and try their beer sampler. Mark is kind of a beer aficionado, and so this was a place where he really wanted to try their beer that’s brewed right across the street.
The nice thing about this place is that they have a separate seating area for people under 21.
We had dessert at this popular ice cream parlor called Cowlick’s Ice Cream. Their ‘famous’ flavor is mushroom. I dare you to sample it!
We walked back and caught the sun setting over a bridge we’d crossed earlier that day.
The next day at Fort Bragg we stopped by a few of their local stores, enjoyed the flowers, and saw an old tree trunk.
Pretty flower 🙂
On our way home we hiked through Jackson State Forest. We had the entire trail to ourselves. It didn’t seem like many people came through.
We enjoyed the seclusion and change of scenery. Living in California is amazing. You can go from ocean to forest in a matter of minutes.
There are tons of wild blackberry plants, but beware of the poison oak. At some point the trail we were on became less and less maintained, and we had to pick our way past the poison oak.
I’m not sure if you’re allowed to pick the blackberries…we were just a bit curious about what they’d taste like.
For the most part, we enjoyed snacking on Costco grapes. See them hanging on the backpack?
For more things to do in the Fort Bragg/Mendocino area, check out Fort Bragg Escapes. They have a plethora of activities ranging from relaxing to action packed.
I’ll miss you Fort Bragg!