There is no better location to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the California coast than Fort Bragg. Located 160 miles north of San Francisco, it is a great place to get away from the daily grind and enjoy the cool ocean breezes as you gaze over the waves that gently slap the beaches with each roll of the surf.
This unpretentious town is surrounded by forest and sea, providing some of the purest air on earth. While it is the largest coastal town in Mendocino County, there are no traffic jams, no rush hour, no parking meters, no crowds, and, needless to say, no hurry. It is a place where you can slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, Fort Bragg style.
Historically a blue-collar lumber town, Fort Bragg contrasts sharply with the dainty little village of Mendocino, its neighbor to the south. California’s fabled Highway 1 will take you through town in a few minutes—that is if you don’t stop at one of the many seafood restaurants at Noyo Harbor, or have a beer or two at one of the best brewpubs in California, or stroll through the old downtown section.
Fort Bragg has long been the getaway site for San Franciscans looking to leave the stress of city life without traveling too far. It is also where the Bay Area’s hip crowd has dropped out in search of the best nature has to offer.
A hangout for both the new and old hip is Headlands Coffeehouse. This little coffee shop in the small downtown section is straight out of Berkeley or San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the ‘60s. It features Belgian waffles, grilled Italian sandwiches, and assorted pastries, in addition to fresh ground coffees from all over the world, several micro brews and local wine. It is an outstanding place to relax and enjoy games, books or use wireless Internet while you enjoy the house treats. Live music from jazz to classical is on tap nightly.
A few paces away is one of Northern California’s best brew houses, the North Coast Brewing Taproom and Grill. This brewpub is a pioneer in the craft beer movement, opening in 1988 and earning more than 70 awards in national and international competitions. In addition to the usual offerings of pilsners, ales and stouts, you can also quaff a selection of Belgian style brews, including Brother Thelonious, a dark ale honoring the legendary jazz genius of Thelonious Monk.
Walk across the street and you can board the famous Skunk Train for a scenic tour through towering redwood forests along the Noyo River. The 40-mile trip to Willits takes you over mountain meadows and pristine creeks, with a lunch stop in the middle of the forest.
However, the main attraction and best value for visitors are the many beaches that dot the coast. Places like Mendocino Headlands, Point Cabrillo Light Station, Jug Handle State Reserve and Glass Beach offer outstanding opportunities to enjoy the sea. Bring a little food, drink, beach chairs or blanket and savor the ocean air and sounds of the surf as you wile away the day.
After a stroll along the beach to explore what the tide has brought in, grab a seat and open a book as you relax seaside. Talk about life’s little pleasures; it doesn’t get much better than that.
There is plenty to see, too, on the way to and from Fort Bragg. If you exit U.S. 101 and travel northwest on Highway 128, you will pass vineyards and tiny ranches. Many of the small wineries have charming tasting rooms that offer brilliant views of their vineyards. Also along the way you’ll pass through little Boonville, where many of the locals still speak a dialect created over 100 years ago called “Boont.” Also in Booneville is the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, with a beer garden where you can sample the local brews, and a huge field to toss a Frisbee around.
Just before you hit the coast highway, you’ll pass through a majestic grove of redwoods near Navarro. Here you can take a break from the road and enjoy the calm and serenity of the giant trees while sitting at a picnic table or wandering along one of the park trails.
While there are many RV parks near Fort Bragg, we always stay at Pomo RV Park and Campground. The grounds are surrounded by forests, and the wide parking spaces are lined with tall hedges providing a courteous amount of privacy. During our last visit the rhododendron and fuchsias were in full bloom, adding a regal sense of color to the campground. Those who fish will enjoy the fish cleaning station, with plenty of counter space and sinks to clean the daily catch.
Doug Imberi operated the public affairs office at a military distribution center in Tracy, California, before retiring in 2006. An award-winning home brewer, he lives in Salida, California.