San Francisco was filled with smoke from wildfires, giving an apocalyptic feeling to our already gritty neighborhood. Though we were not affected even remotely like our fellow Californians in Butte County or Paradise, CA, where so many people lost their lives or homes, after a week of smoke and an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 274 at one point on Friday, we decided it was time to leave town. We headed north to Fort Bragg.
After a 3 ½ hour drive with pretty light traffic, we were in Fort Bragg. The skies were still slightly smoky but the only smell of fire was from people’s fireplaces, and the crisp, cold ocean air made us feel better immediately. Checking into our Airbnb, a bit north of town in Inglenook, CA, we already felt the weight of city living lifted a bit.
Our first outing for the sunset was the wonderful dunes of MacKerricher State Park, where we wandered for a bit on a few trails. Less than 4 miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, the Mendocino Dunes are really extensive — about 10 miles of wide sand dunes with the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean and good salt air.
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We had dinner at Los Gallitos, 223 N Franklin St in Fort Bragg, and it did not disappoint. Considered by many to be the best Mexican restaurant in the area, the place was packed at 5:15 PM on a Saturday. We had to wait awhile for our food, since they seemed to be doing a brisk business in take out as well, which backed up the kitchen a bit more. But the service was great and we had to turn down that fourth basket of chips while we waited, or risk spoiling our dinner. Great Carne Asada dinner plate, with a nice salad and good soupy but not refried beans. Definitely worth a stop.
On Sunday, after sleeping in and eating some delicious Fort Bragg Bakery bagels we had purchased the night before, we went back to the southern part of MacKerricher State Park for a bike ride on the Haul Road, the old railroad embankment / overpass along the ocean for a few miles that once carried steam-driven trains to the former Union Lumber Company mill in Fort Bragg. We finished up that visit with a walk on the boardwalk on Laguna Point, which has some great observation points overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
For lunch, we hit Eggheads in downtown Fort Bragg. A popular breakfast and lunch spot, they were serving up dungeness crab omelettes, a bit of a splurge at $22 but made an amazing brunch, packed with the meat of Northern California’s finest crustaceans and cheese. When Dungeness Crabs are in season they are a treat for anyone who likes seafood, especially if you are from somewhere where Dungeness Crab isn’t readily available. This small diner-style restaurant sports a Wizard of Oz theme with a great mural and themed menus as well.
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Fort Bragg has a small fishing fleet, so continuing the seafood theme after lunch we went down to Noyo Harbor. If you are driving on highway 1 you go straight over it, so might miss the harbor and restaurants down below, but it is definitely worth a stop. Just wind your way down to the plateau along the mouth of the Noyo River, and you’ll find a marina with fishing boats and charters, restaurants, and more. There is also a good dog friendly beach here at the outlet of the river. We stopped at Princess Seafood Market & Deli, the fish market and restaurant of one of the working fishing boats based in Fort Bragg. This female-owned and operated seafood company really had things going in Noyo Harbor. We bought some fresh caught fish to take home, and a half-dozen barbecued oysters as an afternoon snack. Yum.
Late afternoon it was time to go shopping for some Mendocino weed to finish the day. Fort Bragg doesn’t have quite the same visible Cannabis culture as some inland Mendocino towns, like Hopland and Ukiah, which are surrounded by the warm inland ridges where much of the sun grown marijuana that Mendocino is famous for is farmed. But it does have a history of cannabis cultivation in its forests and surrounding hills, dating back long before legalization.
Fort Bragg has three great cannabis dispensaries, Dragonfly Wellness Center, Herban Legend and Sovereign, which are located close to each other about a mile south of town on Highway 1. Fort Bragg zoning does not allow marijuana businesses in the central business district, apparently. Dragonfly is both a dispensary and a holistic healing center open to everyone, offering yoga, acupuncture, tai chi and nutrition classes, and herbal remedies in addition to both medical and recreational marijuana.
Finally, we needed some alcohol to finish our gourmet tour of Fort Bragg, Mendocino. The wine scene is mostly inland in the Anderson Valley as well as the smaller Yorkville Highlands, Redwood Valley, and Potter Valley. There is one winery in the area, the Pacific Star Winery north of Fort Bragg, which we did not visit, and we did not see any tasting rooms in town. The Schnaubelt Distillery in Noyo Harbor claimed it was expected to open at some point in 2018, but our visit took place just before Thanksgiving, so it looks like their opening was likely delayed.
The centerpiece of Fort Bragg’s booze scene, besides well stocked liquor and grocery stores with plenty of local Mendo beer and wine, is North Coast Brewing Co.. North Coast Brewing is familiar to many as the makers of Red Seal Ale, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, and Scrimshaw pilsner. These beers are popular throughout Northern California, and distributed elsewhere as well. Independent since 1988, this great brewery has a large taproom, restaurant and bar on site, right on highway 1, as well as a separate store. We picked up a six pack of the North Coast Steller IPA, an excellent brew which isn’t seen as much as some of their other beers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and headed back to our rental house for some relaxation!
There is plenty more to do in Fort Bragg that we didn’t get to, including well known attractions like the Skunk Train and Glass Beach. But we had more than a good time just enjoying the fresh ocean air, redwoods, beautiful views, and good food. Be sure to put Fort Bragg, California on the Mendocino coast on your list of places to visit soon!
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