There’s only one thing wrong with living in Fort Bragg; when you tell folks where you are from, they think you mean that lovely town on the east coast in North Carolina.*
Fort Bragg California is on the beautifully wild and fragile Mendocino Coast of Northern California. Three hours from the Golden Gate Bridge, getting to the Mendocino Coast is a bucket-list journey with the kind of scenery you see in sports car commercials.
Rough and tumble
In the 1800s, people came from around the globe to Fort Bragg. They came to make their fortunes, start a new life, or disappear into the hubbub of a boomtown. Some came for mill or timber work. Others came to fish the abundant North Pacific waters.
Fort Bragg was bustling. Competent sailors and dock hands were in high demand. Craftsmen of all descriptions were needed. Merchants prospered. Many came to provide services to the men working on land and sea. Timbermen and seamen had to eat, sleep, get laundry done, buy new boots, and have some fun after days at sea, weeks in the woods, or long hours in the mill.
The mill closed in the 70s when cutting redwoods was sharply curtailed. You’ll still see a logging truck here and there, but the industry is small. Fishing holds on but is threatened. The Noyo Harbor fleet grows smaller each year. Our independent fisherman brings in a sustainable harvest of salmon, cod, crab, urchins, and other sea treasures.
Today Fort Bragg hosts visitors from around the globe. Spend some time immersing in our off-the-hook Nature, intriguing history, and laid-back lifestyle. Take 48-hours and explore Fort Bragg.
The harbor is one of the last small fishing villages left on the California coast. In this historic working harbor, you’ll see the catch-of-the-day coming in from the Pacific on fishing vessels, both commercial and pleasure craft. Packing sheds receive the days haul and prepare it for local and regional markets.
On the water
Take a kayak tour or try a charter boat.
You’ll find several outfitters for kayaking. One of the best is Liquid Fusion Kayaking. They have all the gear you need and will give you current details for the weather, water conditions, and tides. They offer guided or self-guided tours of the Noyo River and the Pacific Ocean.
Charter boats take folks out to fish, crab, watch whales, or for sunset and wine cruises. Use their gear or bring your own when fishing for Salmon and Rock Cod. All Aboard Adventures’ Captain Tim has been exploring the coastal waters for over 40-years.
Eat some fish
Seven restaurants compete for your taste buds in the harbor. They serve a variety of styles, including; hook-to-mouth seafood, Tex Mex, casual, gourmet, seasonal, Mayan, vegan, grilled, baked, fried, and more.
Most harbor eateries have pet-friendly decks with bridge, river and ocean views perfect for sipping the sundown. Some harbor restaurants have live music in the afternoons and early evenings.
Suggesting just one restaurant is tough. They are all good. I suggest a harbor dine around. Stop at the first place you see and have an appetizer, move on to the next spot for an entrée, then dessert at the next location. You can park and walk to each place, no need to drive in compact Noyo Harbor.
RAILS THROUGH REDWOODS
Skunk Train Railbikes
Fort Bragg’s Skunk Train has an up-close and personal way for you to experience the Redwood Line from the classic train depot in downtown Fort Bragg to the magnificent redwood trees along Pudding Creek Estuary.
Pedal-powered with electric motor-assist vehicles ride the rails from Fort Bragg to Glen Blair Junction. After a stop for a little history and nature talk, the bikes are turned around for the return to Fort Bragg.
Your railbike ticket includes admission to the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society. Located behind the Skunk Train Depot in Fort Bragg, logging and railroad history are depicted in G-Scale. Model trains run along 1,300 feet of track, representing 6-miles full-scale.
Reserve your railbike or book a seat on a historic excursion train HERE.
Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail
Meandering 10+ miles along the edge of the Pacific, the trail is a marvelous way to see the fragile, wild coastline, its many habitats, and historical sites. A hardtop path makes safe walking and rolling for all ages and abilities.
Interpretive panels define local nature and history. Handcrafted benches offer a scenic respite, or, an unparalleled whale watching position when the grey giants are passing. This is part of the California Coastal Trail. Find a trail guide HERE.
MacKerricher State Park
An extensive sand dune system borders a paved path for wheels and shoes. It connects to the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail. Explore sandy beaches and hiking trails. A long boardwalk crosses the grasslands to a stairway down to tide pools.
Canoe and kayak in Lake Cleone. Sunrise is spectacular at the small lagoon. Soft steam hoovers over the water. The loon’s call accompanies the first light of day. WEBSITE
MUSEUMS FOR ALL
Guest House Museum
Coast history and cultures are brought to life in this grand Victorian. The house was hand-crafted from coastal redwood in 1892. Located downtown. WEBSITE
Triangle Tattoo Museum
Every square inch is covered with art. The diminutive Triangle Tattoo Museum exhibits body art from the Pacific Islands, Japan, New Zealand, Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and North America. The walls, stairwell, and even some of the ceiling are dedicated to ‘art with a pulse.’ WEBSITE
Sea Glass Museum
The museum is a homegrown creation explaining and displaying the bounty on Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach. The gift shop is the only place to get ‘legal’ sea glass. There are locally crafted items and unadorned specimens available for purchase. Sea Glass Museum is a venerable local attraction that will share the ‘trashy’ side of life in Fort Bragg. WEBSITE
WE’RE A CREATIVE BUNCH…
Take the downtown Mural Walk, Fort Bragg’s newest art venue. The walk leads down alleys and behind buildings where artists have designed and painted murals depicting the life, nature, and history of our town. Find a walking guide HERE.
First Friday and Art Walk on the first Friday of every month. Downtown Fort Bragg galleries, shops, and eateries open their doors, bring out the wine, and bring on the music. Just show-up and wander.
Live music is always available downtown and in the harbor. Check the events calendar in Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Packet, a free entertainment publication on newsstands all over the coast.
…AND A FESTIVE BUNCH
Coastal folks love a good festival. We look for any excuse to celebrate Mother Nature, music, art, food, wine, and beer. Some of the most popular are Whale festivals in March, a film festival in May, a music festival in July, and a mushroom festival in the fall. There is at least one festival a month, summer months have two or three. See a full calendar HERE.
Everything from oceanside camping to ultra-luxury oceanfront lodges and homes is available on the Mendocino Coast. No matter what your budget or style, you’ll find a place that suits you. Look HERE for a list of local lodging or check hotel booking sites. GlampingHub offers some of the most unique places to sleep on the coast. You’ll find oceanfront cottages, cabins, water towers, and glamping tents.
Fort Bragg is best accessed by auto. It’s about three hours north of San Francisco and three hours south of Eureka. Take Hwy 101 to Willits California from the north or south. Head west on Hwy 20 for 33-miles, ending at Fort Bragg and the Pacific Ocean.
If you don’t want to drive, you might consider cycling or local transit with county-wide connections. MTA has a trip planner online. All buses have bike racks and friendly drivers.
Fort Bragg is a place to escape and occupy nature. Unplug, unwind, and take a walk on the wild side. For more things to do on the coast, click HERE.
*You may have guessed by now that Fort Bragg is my home. I’ve lived here almost 15-years. I’m proud of my community and hope you’ll pay us a visit. It’s a very special place. —MaryGo
All photos and video: Mary Charlebois.
p.s. If you enjoyed reading about Mary Charlebois’ Fort Bragg, California, then you may also want to read her riveting articles San Francisco’s Embarcadero – On the Waterfront and 4 California Wine Country Alternatives to Napa Valley