48 Hours in Mendocino County

It has been awhile since I have looked forward to a weekend so much, and my getaway to Mendocino and Fort Bragg truly did the trick. Here is how to get the most out of your own quick getaway to the forest and the sea!

The most scenic route you can take, if you don't want to do the whole thing on route 1, is to take 101 to 128, and cross westward on beautiful windy roads, past vineyards, up to Boonville in Anderson Valley. Take a break here to stretch your legs, and either take an official tour of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company brewery (a few offered each day, check their website for specifics), or for a faster stop you can just visit the tasting room, with over 15 signature beers on tap. There is a cute beer garden out back with corn hole (#fraturday), and past that you can play horseshoe toss, stare at the cute goats or even play a round of frisbee golf (how many breweries are also home to frisbee golf courses?). If you are a true Anderson Valley fan, there is also a shop with clothes and tumblers, and you can buy growlers and their signature collections in a variety of sizes. Basically, you can't go wrong here. They don't sell food but you can go into Boonville (just down at the next light) and pick up sandwiches and bring them over. 

After you stock up on your booze and frisbee golf regalia, you can start the last leg of your journey up to Mendocino County. 128 snakes along for another 30 or so miles until you hit the coast, and from there you can enjoy a scenic ride up route 1. Depending on how much of a rush you are in (and if it is still light out), definitely make another stop at the Point Cabrillo Light Station. There are a few trails here, but the main one which is about half a mile takes you down to the lighthouse and gorgeous views of the coast. There is a little aquarium (okay, fish tank in an old barn) as well as a little museum devoted to the families of yore who used to live and work the station. The light atop the lighthouse still functions (and shines bright like a diamond!). If you are really enamored with the place, you can even rent out one of the cottages next to the lighthouse, and pretend to have stepped back in time a good 100 years or so. If you are lucky, on your hike back up to the car the sound of sea lions will carry over the wind!

 Pt. Cabrillo Light Station.

Pt. Cabrillo Light Station.

I stayed in Fort Bragg that evening, which is another 15 miles or so up the road. Fort Bragg has long had a grungier reputation than Mendocino, and I can sort of see why - Mendocino is like Nantucket, with old timey buildings and expensive restaurants with views of the sea - and Fort Bragg is more like Ocean City, Maryland - more strip malls and home grown feel. However, the downtown is pretty cute and certainly is beginning to give Mendocino a run for its money. 

I stayed at an AirBnB for 2 nights in Fort Bragg - a great way to go if you have never tried AirBnB and don't want to break the bank with last minute hotel stays (I have used them all over the country and have never had bad experiences, though it is advisable to do your homework and read reviews on hosts).

 Cozy studio in Fort Bragg.

Cozy studio in Fort Bragg.

After arriving on Saturday evening, I had dinner at Raven's Restaurant which is the vegan restaurant connected to the Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino. Fantastic sunset views of the sea accompany truly delicious vegan food (I swear! And you can pretend it is even healthy for you!).

Sunday was spent first enjoying a local breakfast joint - Home Style Cafe which I should say - and I did not think this was possible - had the hand's down best vegetarian omelet, hash browns and biscuits I have ever had the pleasure of savoring (and I am kind of a brunch snob, as is probably every other 20 something in the Bay Area). After literally having to be rolled out of the restaurant, I went exploring the glass beach that has put Fort Bragg on the tourist map (besides its' titillating logging history) - make sure to go at low tide to snap the best photos of the shimmering glass pieces that wash up. Though unfortunately the Glass Beach loses more and more of its' glory every year, due to the influx of tourists who take pieces of glass home with them, there are still some nice spots to admire. Also, if you haven't eaten yourself into a food coma by this time, there is a nice 4 mile trail along the coast that picks up here as well. If you bring your bike for the weekend, this would be the place to ride it. 

 Aptly named Glass Beach.

Aptly named Glass Beach.

After getting enough photos of sand to fill a whole facebook album, I walked around downtown Fort Bragg a bit more, stopping in to see their model steam engines (they still have a functioning logging train that you can ride), various gem and glass collections (some from the glass beach of course!), and last but not least Cowlick's, which had magical black forest and black raspberry ice cream. Granted, I had to wait in line for 45 minutes, but it was still the best ice cream I have had in awhile (and maybe the waiting helped).

Afterward, I headed back down route 1 to Russian Gulch State Park. There are a few state parks within the same couple mile vicinity - like Mendocino Headlands State Park, Van Damme State Park, Jughandle State Reserve, and MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area. There is certainly no shortage of hiking trails in this part of the country! For the amount of time I had though, I thought Russian Gulch had it all - first, there was this awesome "Devil's punch bowl", which is basically a blow hole caused by crashing waves having nowhere to go within this deep cavern. You can drive almost right up to it, only having to take a 500 ft or so walk. There are also great vistas of the coast from here.

Above from left: View from Russian Gulch State Park overlook; "Devil's punch bowl"; waterfall view from Fern Canyon Trail; Close up on the waterfalls.

Many people go to this park to visit the beach, but I ventured further back to the Fern Canyon Trail, which is at minimum a 4 mile roundtrip hike but can be made longer if you take alternate loops back. This hike takes you back (as maybe can be expected) into the canyon, among the redwoods and other beautiful trees of the region. The hike is super manageable as the path is pseudo paved and there is only incline for the last half mile. And the best part - it ends at a waterfall, which you can basically walk right up to and stand under!

That night after the hike, I enjoyed dinner at Flow, which also has a great view of the ocean in Mendocino and is perfect for sunset. They have a great bar menu and food that can't be beat. Mendocino is kind of sleepy at night so if you want to explore the town, go before dinner. 

Monday morning I woke up early to go sea kayaking. It was about 55 degrees outside and the water was about the same (at 9am), so if you aren't into freezing your butt off in the Pacific, opt for a later tour. I used Kayak Mendocino, which costed $60 dollars for about 2 hours out on the water. It was worth it because a) I felt safe b) I saw seals c) I got to kayak through CAVES and d) I got to see another blowhole (these seem to be a popular tourist attraction). There were some other options in the area so if you want a private tour or more time on the water, do some shopping around (but definitely book your reservation at least a few days in advance!).

After working up an appetite from kayaking, I went on the hunt for some decent zzah (brah'). Mendocino had a spot but it wasn't open Mondays (grr) so I drove back to Fort Bragg and got stuck in the Labor Day Parade (tugging at my childhood heartstrings! loggers! boy scouts! high school football teams! police on horses!). But, finally found some parking and hop skipped over the parade route to find one of the only open restaurants, Piaci Pub & Pizza. And in addition to it actually being open during the parade, the food was fantastic. If I didn't have to drive all the way back to Berkeley in Labor Day traffic I would have also enjoyed one of their many beers on tap.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend of food, sun, surf, hiking, kayaking, and good company. It definitely felt like an escape from city life and the mundane BART commuter of usual Mondays, plus I had very little cell service so I couldn't even waste time on Facebook. Get yourself to Mendocino/Fort Bragg if you are looking to get away from it all!

 Sunlight streaming in Russian Gulch State Park.

Sunlight streaming in Russian Gulch State Park.