Crossing Twisty Roads & Checking Off Bucket Lists – Fort Bragg, CA
I’d been looking forward to this spot for YEARS.
I’d been obsessing over other people’s Instagram shots, saved up tips and even dreamt about the place. This town was going to check not just one but three bucket list items for us, and the most perfect combo at that too -> a gorgeous lighthouse, a beach of glass and a good brewery. Plus we discovered several more gems after we arrived.
Just to add to the draw, several of our RV buddies (e.g. IslandGirlWalkabout, LifesLittleAdventures) had passed this way before us, so I’d had ample time to drool over their blogs and build up sufficient twangs of envy. You know the feeling right? You love your RV buddies, you’ve had wine with them, broken beer and eaten bread (gluten-free perhaps), but you can’t help but curse at them a bit when they’re in a spot you sooooooo want to be. Darn, annoying RVers.
The Twisty, Windy Road To Paradise
Alas, the road to paradise is not always paved with flowers. One of the reasons we hadn’t come this way before was the twisty, crazy road to get out here.
Fort Bragg lies slap in the middle of one of the most inaccessible pieces of the Northern California Coast. It’s just south of the Lost Coast, one of the most remote and beautiful stretches of Coast in the State and there’s only three ways to get here, from the south (or north) via Hwy 1 or from the interior (101) via Hwy 128 or Hwy 20.
Hwy 1 is a gorgeous road, but it’s a total no-no for big-rigs (in both directions IMHO), at least not unless you want to be swinging your rig blind into oncoming traffic lanes around curves that are barely large enough to keep your wheels on the road. No, thank you. Hwy 128 and Hwy 20 are do-able, but you’ve still got to steel yourself for lots of curves some of which may or may not have shoulders. Plus with my “pukeage” issue (= car sickness) the only way we could survive was if I drove “the beast” both ways.
So we’d hemmed and hawed, but just hadn’t made the drive….until now.
A Doggie Paradise
What finally tipped the scales was the fact that we were finally (after 7 years of RVing) traveling the Coastal Route and yes, you guessed it, doggie.
It’s no secret that the paws rules our lives. Much of the reason we live in an RV, and a Class A at that is because of the pets. We get to travel and see the country with our best furry pals in tow, which makes the whole experience aaaaall the sweeter, at least for us.
Sometime this year, and I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t discovered it before, I found out that Fort Bragg is known as one of the most dog-friendly spots on the entire California Coast. Unlike many spots in CA, where there’s so many restrictions you sometimes don’t even know if humans can go (too much coast has been privatized in CA, sadly), this is a spot where paws and their best buddies are welcome just about everywhere. It’s paws heaven, a doggie paradise of sand, coast and stunning vistas.
What could be better than checking off bucket list items? Bucket list items with doggie! Yes, we’re those kind of people.
We Made It!
So, we buckled up the seat-belts, secured everything in the RV double-tight and engaged the 34-mile drive along Hwy 20 to Fort Bragg. Yes, it was twisty, yes it goes over THREE mountain ranges, yes there were a few trees that came within spitting distance of the back corner of the RV and yes, a few corners were “beastly” questionable. But overall it’s a great road that’s totally do-able as long as you take your time. Plus there are plenty of turn-outs to let the traffic pass. In fact it turned out to be such a pleasant drive we made a short video with a few twisty driving tips, just for fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq8nDeVk8Gg
Just over an hour after we started we were parked in a super-rustic, but super-friendly RV park (Sportsmans RV Park -> review coming) right on the waters’ edge in the harbor of Fort Bragg. Within milliseconds of arriving I knew we were going to LOVE this place. And as a bonus, not one of the 2 humans or 12 paws had puked. The trip was already a success.
It was now time to tick off our bucket list items….
Bucket List #1 -> Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Every lighthouse is beautiful, but there is something about a fully-restored working lighthouse which just makes it even more alluring.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse lies just ~10 miles south of Fort Bragg and she is soooooo worth the visit. She’s a fine old lady from 1909 with a third-order Fresnel that shines her beam off the cliffs of a spectacular swath of 270-acres of preserved land. She was painstakingly restored over 6 years (1995-2001) and is accompanied by the Keepers Houses (fully restored, some are rentable), the Oil House, and Blacksmith & Carpentry Shop. Plus not only is the entire point dog-friendly, you can even bring paws INSIDE the lower portion of the lighthouse which is completely unheard of, anywhere we’ve been!
We went on an early weekday morning, strolling the scenic 1/2 mile walk down to the lighthouse and spending several hours roaming around the lighthouse (and museum), the keepers houses and the surrounding trails. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the rare English-Made Fresnel (tours of the lens only happen eight days a year), but we enjoyed absolutely everything else. Plus Polly had a blast, went into her very first lighthouse and even got a treat from the lighthouse docent. Spectacular, gorgeous, historic. One of the very prettiest, very bestest lighthouses we’ve ever seen.
VISITING & DOGGIE NOTES -> Lighthouse is open daily 11-4, all year. Lens Room is only open only eight days a year. Lighthouse and surrounding grounds are 100% dog-friendly (on leash). Click HERE for main Lighthouse visiting page and HERE for lens tour info. FREE to visit.
Bucket List #2 -> Glass Beach
I love unusual beaches…black sand, pink sand…that kind of stuff, but I’m a complete sucker for sea glass. Put me on a beach with sea glass and I become like little kid. I can literally spend HOURS on my ass just shifting through the little pieces of beauty.
“Oooo….look at this one. How pretty! Ooooo…another one. How pretty! Wonder if I can find any blue ones? Oooo….let’s make a mosaic with them!”
And so my internal 5-year old dialogue goes on….
From a top-level view it’s really just a bunch of old trash. Here in Fort Bragg the local residents hauled their trash to the beach (glass, metal, electrical you-name-it) up until ~1960. Then the ocean simply did the rest. Years of surf took the huge chunks of trash and crashed, rolled and smoothed it out to the pretty pieces of color and bits we see today. It’s junk, but it’s also historic junk since the colors reflect the various glasses that were used in manufacturing over the years (glass tip -> blues are rarer than greens and whites). So, you can think of that while you play….
I’d heard many things, both good and bad about glass beach at Fort Bragg. Some people loved it, some were completely underwhelmed and some reports mentioned several different beaches. After a lot of digging around, I finally figured out there are actually three different Glass Beaches, all within spitting distance of each other in Noyo Headlands Park. Beach #1 is apparently pretty sad (not much glass left), beach #2 is more difficult to get to, but apparently quite nice (decent glass), while beach #3 is supposedly excellent but only accessibly in negative tide or by kayak. Clearly I needed Beach #2, so after parking the car I made the short hike towards my inner child.
What did I think? Glass Beach was AWESOME! Yes, you’ve got to get down there, and yes you’ve got to get your ass ONTO the beach but once you get up close and lose yourself in the small pieces of colored gems you’ll have a fine, old time. Plus the surrounding headlands provide several miles of easy (paved) hiking along the scenic cliffs. It was so much fun I convinced Paul, Polly, his dad and Ana to come visit the next day. And yes, they played too.
VISITING & DOGGIE NOTES -> From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach. Park at the lot for Noyo Headlands Park and walk ~1/4 mile down the paved trail where you’ll see a split with a clear sign. The “easy trail” to the right leads to Glass Beach #1. The “difficult trail” (which is steep, but not hard at all) to the left leads to Glass Beach #2, which is the one I recommend. The entire headlands AND the beaches are all 100% dog-friendly. FREE to visit. NO glass picking allowed.
Bucket List #3 -> North Coast Brewing Co
It was the beer that started my love of Stouts. It was dark, it was powerful and it was oh-so-sexy good. I’d never really tasted anything like it, but once I’d had some I couldn’t let go and I’ve honestly been a dedicated Stout-lover ever since.
The beer was a North Coast Russian Imperial Stout, and although I’ve tasted many excellent Stouts (some, admittedly better) since then, it still holds up as one of the great ones.
North Coast Brewing Co started in 1988 and was actually one of the early pioneers of craft brewing on the West Coast. They offer many good brews including a very nice Pils (Scrimshaw), a lovely Red Ale (Red Seal) a tasty IPA (Pauls’ fav, the ACME). But where they excel IMHO is in their “heavier” beers. Their Belgian Strong (Brother Thelonius), Imperial Stout (Old Rasputin), and their Old Stock Ale are all superb. Plus, they now also make a Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (bottle only) which is absolutely outstanding (don’t miss it if you’re a Stout-addict)! If you love the heavy stuff, you’ve got to come here.
We had an awesome tasting at their restaurant/tap-room. Great beers, nice food and even live jazz (on the weekends). Only negative? This was one of the few places we visited in Fort Bragg that didn’t allow doggies 🙁
VISITING NOTES -> Tap Room bar opens at 2PM. Restaurant opens at 4PM. Click HERE for brewery website. No dogs allowed, sadly.
Bucket Lists Discovered -> Botanical Gardens & Hiking
As if 3 items weren’t enough we discovered two more more hidden secrets that we didn’t even know we wanted to know about until we knew about them (you get it, right?).
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
It doesn’t look like much on Google Maps. Just a speck of a spot directly south of town which I figured would take around 10 minutes to visit. I couldn’t have been more wrong! First of all the Botanical Gardens are actually 47 acres of intricate plantings, spectacular coast and hiking trails. Secondly it’s entirely dog-friendly (?!), the entire trails and the gardens themselves. Thirdly, and this was actually the best surprise, the garden has Rhododendrons, endless stretches of Rhododendrons, and oh-my-blooming-flower are they amazing! Blooms the size of basket-balls, flowering trees as tall as “the beast” and every color and scent you could imagine. I…had…NO….idea! Put this one on your list, and if the Rhododendrons are in blooming (late Spring from ~April to June) put it on your list thrice.
VISITING & DOGGIE NOTES -> The Botanical Gardens are open 9AM-5PM in high season. Admission $14 (adult), $10 (seniors), kids under 5 free. 100% Dog-friendly! Click HERE for more info.
Ten Mile Haul Road
This was another one of those “looks kinda nice” things on the map which really turned out to be waaaay prettier than we imagined. Starting just north of downtown, Ten Mile Haul is a 10-mile (surprise, surprise) multi-use trail that travels along the Coast all the way through McKerricher State Park. We took Polly on a misty morning and parked by the Trestle Bridge (Pudding Creek Access Road), scrambled to the top and spent the next few hours just enthralled by nature’s beauty. You can hike along the main path here, or scramble around the cliffs along all the secondary paths. Lots of beaches to lay your butt along the way, and enough amazing beauty to blow your mind.
VISITING & DOGGIE NOTES -> Ten Mile Haul runs along the coastline ~10 miles north from Pudding Creek. Bike, hike and 100% dog-friendly. Click HERE for trail info.
Oh and one (very, very) last tip for the foodies? If you’re a Cioppino lover, head on over to the Rough Bar for a brew and a stew (if you’re staying where we stayed, it’ll be right next door). Paul said it was one of the best he’s had in a long time.
That’s it, folks! This was a looooong post and hopefully your heads didn’t explode with the awesomeness of it all. Now you may go ahead and curse me all you like, until you’re able to get out here yourselves 🙂