California Highway One lays along the ocean at the very edge of the western United States.
Along this route, you will find some of the most fabled scenery in the world. Photographed time and again for motion pictures and television. High ocean bluffs offer captivating views of off shore islands and white water surf. The hills to the east are reminiscent of Ireland and the Scottish Isles. All along the way, private coves offer oceanside beaches of silver-white sands. Sea lion and sea bird rookeries dot the rocks and estuaries spilling out to sea.
The jewel of the region is the village of Mendocino. Located about three hours north of San Francisco, it sits on a bluff above a bay that once churned with the traffic of clipper ships delivering passengers and goods and loading the currency of the north- redwood logs and lumber. Almost surrounded by state parks, today the village welcomes visitors from around the world to it's fine restaurants, shops, theater and art galleries.
About 8 miles north of Mendocino lies it's neighbor, Fort Bragg. It is the largest city in this stretch of coast and boasts of a population of +/- 7,000 full time residents. Here is where the local fishing industry is centered and many restaurants will feature freshly caught specials on their menus. Many activities are available in Fort Bragg including the newly built Aquatic Center, Glass Beach, dog parks, movie theater and whale watching tours.
The terrain within reach of the coast is varied and dramatic; from forests of giant fir and redwood to ancient and rare pygmy forests. The Mendocino Coast is a kind of Shang-ri-la for the world-weary as well as those with a voracious appetite for life. It offers something for everyone with diversions from the intellectual to the challenges of outdoor adventures.
Let me show you the coast that I love!
36 Hours on the Mendocino Coast
SINCE the ’60s and ’70s, when a flood of artists, hippies and back-to-the-landers brought the cosmopolitan counterculture to this corner of Northern California, the Mendocino coast has made appearances on too many television shows (“Murder, She Wrote,” most notably) and movies (“Overboard,” for one) to mention. Once a collection of working-class logging, fishing and ranching communities, the Coast — as it’s called by residents — has become a stand-in for California’s left-coast eccentricities. This series of hamlets, small towns and rural ridges is now widely known for its intoxicants — its celebrated wine, beer and marijuana. But what makes this stretch of oceanfront real estate so stirring is its profound natural beauty and fierce independence.
Friday, 5 p.m.
1) TINY TOWN
Take Highway 128 to the coast, passing through the Anderson Valley wine appellation and following the redwood banks of the Navarro River to Highway 1 and the turbulent Pacific. For local lore and a drink, pull up a stool at Beacon Light by the Sea (7401 South Highway 1; 707-877-3311), high on a hill near Elk, population 200. Part dive bar, part museum of oddities, “Bobby’s place” is run by the Greenwood Ridge fire chief Bob Beacon in a back room of his remote fire station. You’ll be greeted by a Great Dane and an aging grand piano. Afterward, take a sunset walk on Navarro Beach, where sand castles and driftwood sculptures litter the pebble-strewn shoreline, and bonfires burn on clear nights.
For dinner, continue up the coast to Ledford House in Albion (3000 North Highway 1; 707-937-0282;ledfordhouse.com), a French country bistro in the new California style (local farms, local wines, international influences), with a deck and tall Pacific-facing windows. A husband-wife, maître d’-executive chef team turns out formidable renditions of classics like cassoulet ($26) and steak au poivre (filet mignon with roast tomato horseradish sauce; $29) in a homey dining room with live jazz nightly.
3) WILD NIGHTS
For late-night boot-stomping and food until midnight, head for Caspar and the Caspar Inn (14957 Caspar Road; 707-964-5565; casparinn.com), a vintage roadhouse with a long bar, a low stage and a dance floor that welcomes all comers. One of the few coastal night clubs between San Francisco and Oregon, the Caspar attracts surprising acts, including the English Beat, Fishbone and international reggae bands. For those who enjoy themselves too much to make it home, there are 10 spare, shared-bath rooms upstairs (from $45, including show admission).
Saturday, 8 a.m.
Rise early to wander the Victorian-lined streets of Mendocino village. Walk the narrow footpaths along the rocky, wind-lashed headlands to the Blowhole. Nearby, there’s an imposing Tiki sculpture; do as the locals do and place an offering in the mouth of the carved Kahuna or watch the swells come ashore from the driftwood “Love Bench” above Portuguese Beach. For breakfast, linger over espresso and a house-made bialy ($1.50) at Thanksgiving Coffee Café and Espresso Bar (10485 Lansing Street; 707-937-0836;thanksgivingcoffeecafe.com). For a more substantial meal, head to Eggheads (326 North Main Street; 707-964-5005; eggheadsrestaurant.com) in Fort Bragg — a cramped, Wizard of Oz-themed diner where you’ll find Dorothy’s Revenge, a supremely rich Dungeness crab eggs Benedict ($17.99).
All who have witnessed the frothing Pacific know that its name — from the Spanish for peaceful — is a misnomer. Here, the sea is as violent as it is beautiful. Liquid Fusion Kayaking (32399 Basin Street, Fort Bragg; 707-962-1623; liquidfusionkayak.com) in Noyo Harbor teaches novices to ride the white water with a three-hour surf kayaking session ($100). For a more leisurely paddle, rent a Polynesian-style outrigger at Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too (44850 Comptche-Ukiah Road; 707-937-0273; catchacanoe.com; $28 a person for three hours) and glide up Big River.
6) TAKE OUT
At Jenny’s Giant Burger (940 North Main Street, Fort Bragg; 707-964-2235), a classic roadside stand with vinyl stools, order a Giant Cheeseburger ($5.35), fries ($2.20) and chocolate malt ($3.75), and drive north to MacKerricher State Park (24100 MacKerricher Road, Fort Bragg; 707-937-5804; parks.ca.gov) to eat beside cattail-lined, fish-stocked Lake Cleone. Then walk south along the former log-haul road to where the pavement disintegrates into the sand dunes at Inglenook Fen Ten Mile Dune Preserve. Or instead rent a bike in town and ride the length of the trail, crossing the nearly century-old Pudding Creek Trestle, an elegant lattice bridge that was reopened as a pedestrian and bike path in 2007.
7) COASTAL COUNTERCULTURE
Climb the stairs to the Triangle Tattoo & Museum (356B North Main Street, Fort Bragg; 707-964-8814; triangletattoo.com), where Madame Chinchilla and Mr. G have compiled exhibitions dedicated to Maori tattoos from the 1800s, circus skin art and vintage ink machines. For contemporary installation art pieces and paper made from local invasive species — like pampas grass — and discarded textile scraps, visit the Lost Coast Culture Machine (190 East Elm Street, Fort Bragg; 707-961-1600; lostcoastculturemachine.org), a collective founded last year by Brooklyn expats. On the grounds of the former Preston mansion (of “East of Eden” fame), the Mendocino Art Center (45200 Little Lake Street, Mendocino; 707-937-5818; mendocinoartcenter.org) has six galleries and open studios where you can watch artists-in-residence at work.
8) BEER COUNTRY
The North Coast Brewing Company’s Taproom (444 North Main Street, Fort Bragg; 707-964-3400; northcoastbrewing.com) has wooden booths, animal heads on the wall and a 12-beer sampler ($15) that includes the brewery’s flagship Red Seal Ale. For a wider selection of regional beers, plus excellent New York-style pizza, head to Piaci Pub and Pizzeria (120 West Redwood Avenue, Fort Bragg; 707-961-1133; piacipizza.com). Or travel south to the Wine Bar[n] at Glendeven Inn (8205 North Highway 1, Mendocino; 800-822-4536; glendeven.com), which pours 45 local wines by the glass each afternoon.
9) IN GOOD COMPANY
Until 2002, Fort Bragg was a company town with a coastline consumed by a sprawling lumber mill. The second story of the former company store, a redwood building with a cathedral-like interior, is now home to Mendo Bistro (301 North Main Street; 707-964-4974; mendobistro.com), a New American restaurant that serves dishes like barbecued lamb shoulder with cornmeal fried tomatoes, pickled onions and mint ($22) and pappardelle with pesto, cherry tomatoes, corn and black olives ($15).
10) ALL THAT JAZZ
For live music and an after-dinner latte, go to Headlands Coffeehouse (120 Laurel Street; 707-964-1987; headlandscoffeehouse.com), a local institution with a monthly art show and a loyal following that’s helped revitalize Fort Bragg’s once-decaying downtown. Just across the alley, V’Canto (124 East Laurel Street; 707-964-6844) is an Italian restaurant-lounge with a welcoming bar and well-considered wine list. Live music acts on weekend nights.
Sunday, 10 a.m.
11) GOING DOWNTOWN
The eclectic collection of shops in Fort Bragg’s compact downtown include the whimsical sock store Pippi’s Longstockings (123 East Laurel Street; 707-964-8071; pippisocks.com); Tangents (368 North Main Street; 707-964-3884), an emporium of kitsch, candles and silver jewelry; and the stylish consignment boutique, If the Shoe Fits (337 North Franklin Street; 707-964-2580). There are also three bookstores within two blocks, including the Bookstore (206 East Redwood Avenue, 707-964-6559), with a lovingly curated selection of used books.
12) THE LONG ROAD HOME
Take Highway 1 out of Mendocino County, stopping for brunch at Queenie’s Roadhouse Cafe (6061 South Highway 1, Elk; 707-877-3285; queeniesroadhousecafe.com) for organic allspice-laced corned beef hash ($11.95) or waffles with fresh fruit and yogurt dressing ($10). Then continue south to Point Arena, stopping at the 115-foot Point Arena Lighthouse (pointarenalighthouse.com). Rebuilt in 1907 after the great San Francisco earthquake, it’s said to be the first steel-reinforced concrete lighthouse in the country. Three miles south of town, take the overgrown path to Schooner Gulch State Beach for one final walk along the water’s edge.
The Inland Valleys
Twenty minutes from the mouth of the Navarro River, at the edge of a redwood forest, begins one of the most beautiful coastal valleys in California; the Anderson Valley. You have arrived in the celebrated North Coast wine country.
The western end of the valley enjoys a coastal influenced climate, with soft ocean breezes traveling less than ten miles to reach the surrounding ridges. On most summer evenings, coastal fog creeps through the lowlands laying a blanket of mist across the grapevines. Ridge dwellers wake to a lake-like vision below then which dissipates with the rising sun.
Highway 128, paralleling the Navarro River, travels through the small towns of Navarro, Philo, Boonville and Yorkville. The drive offers the traveler a changing panorama; orchards in bloom and awash with wildflowers in the spring and ripening vines as the summer approaches. As the seasons progress, the hills shift from verdant green folds to rippling golden grasses and finally to sculptural moss covered branches laid bare in the winter.
The appellation "Anderson Valley" is increasingly recognized the world over for fine, award winning Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet, as well as Chardonnay and Sparkling Wines. The Valley is also home to Anderson Valley Brewing, named one of the worlds' ten best micro breweries by The New York Times.
Boonville, in the midsection of the Valley, is home to the Mendocino County Apple Fair every September.
This valley and neighboring Comptche Valley to the north are prime horse raising and riding areas as well, offering miles of wilderness trails for the enthusiast. Here is a place where the young and the old mingle- where communication is down-to-earth and the true meaning of "community" comes to life.
Come home to the California of a sleepier time. Let me introduce you to the joys of Anderson Valley.