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The rocky coast off Fort Bragg, California
Lucas Himovitz

Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg
Rough-and-tumble lumber town morphs into a top coastal find

With its century-plus history as a military garrison and then a gritty lumber town, Fort Bragg skirted under the radar of most Mendocino County visitors for a long time. But now—perhaps because the demolition of the town’s original mill in the 1990s was seen by many as a harbinger of better things to come—the town has buffed up its image, with new things to see and do. There are some long-standing attractions, most notably the Skunk Train, which chugs into the redwood forests inland to the town of Willits. Whale watching boats and fishing charters depart from rustic Noyo Harbor. But perhaps the most telling indicator of the town’s evolution is the Company Store building at Redwood and Main. Where lumber employees used to shop for basic provisions, visitors and locals can stroll through boutiques and galleries before refueling with a plate of artisanal cheeses and a glass of Pinot from local Mendocino County dairies and vintners. Before going, check the county’s calendar of events to what will be happening in the area during your stay.

As for the coastal setting, it too offers appealing attractions. A rainbow of sea glass, formed from bottles and other glassware dumped into the sea up until the mid-1960s, draws the curious to Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park. Book an excursion with Liquid Fusion Kayak or rent gear from Kayak Noyo to explore the gentle waters of the Noyo River by kayak for intimate looks at local wildlife, like river otters and black-tailed deer, as well as a different perspective on a working harbor. A few miles to the south you’ll find the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a 47-acre conservatory of coastal flora situated between Highway 1 and the Pacific.

 

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Tai Power Seeff

Northern California

Discover the North Coast

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57
July
Average (°F)
June - Aug
62°
High
51°
Low
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low
Dec - Feb
55°
High
41°
Low
Mar - May
58°
High
43°
Low

Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal land, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests. Along more than 100 miles of coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of pounding surf, picturesque headlands, and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens. And in towns and hamlets, a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. In this burgeoning culinary scene, every hyper-local specialty is worth a try: slapping-fresh seafood, artisan cheese, grass-fed beef, locally foraged mushrooms, bold ciders, and hoppy beer.

Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco. Steep roofs, tall water towers, and leaded windows appear plucked from a classic New England town. Wander among the meticulously restored historic buildings to browse eclectic galleries and charming shops. Or visit the harbor town of Trinidad, nestled on picture-perfect headlands overlooking a teacup harbor; or stroll through history-rich Eureka, a former logging town filled with grand Victorians and gilded mansions. Every town along the North Coast celebrates its annual seagoing visitors—from December through May, about 20,000 gray whales travel along the coast on their annual migration.

Of course, this region is also the gateway to breathtaking Redwood National and State Parks, where the tallest trees in the world grow in primeval wilderness. Towering more than 300 feet high, the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) take your breath away, whether it’s your first time seeing them or your one hundredth. Drive the 31-mile stretch along Avenue of the Giants or the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Redwood Scenic Parkway to marvel at the massive trees right from your car. The stunning redwoods in Lady Bird Johnson Grove can be seen on a relatively easy 1.5-mile hike. Or go explore the otherworldly delights of the 0.7-mile Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which takes hikers through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to a steep-walled canyon covered in ferns.

See the forest, enjoy the trees, but don’t forget the “coast” component of the Redwood Coast. Hike the California Coastal Trail at Humboldt Lagoons, head to Moonstone Beach to watch pelicans swoop above the mossy cliffs, or check out Agate Beach to search for its precious namesake rock. If you’re visiting in November, December, March, or April, you have a good chance of witnessing the gray whale migration. Bring a pair of binoculars to High Bluff Beach, or get up close and personal with an ocean tour from Pacific Outfitters

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