6 Ways to Get Your Nature Fix on the Mendocino Coast

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Given that San Francisco is home when I’m not on the road, I’ve been fortunate to explore some of the gems that Northern California has to offer more often than I did when I lived in Boston. And so, the Mendocino Coast isn’t new to me and while it’s known as a spot for artists to retreat to and Anderson Valley wine country is en route, the area is also the perfect getaway spot for a long romantic weekend away or even better – a quiet solo retreat where you can reconnect with nature.

The views of the rugged coast are absolutely spectacular and there are nearby woods for walks or tougher hikes. Here are some fun ways to use nature to restore, heal, rejuvenate, and inspire.

Walks Along the Coast

With breathtaking views like this, why not take advantage of it by going for leisure walks along the edge? You can also bring a blanket, a picnic and a few good novels and hang out for the afternoon or do more strenuous hikes by heading up into the hills.

Above and below, some of the views on the Inn at Newport Ranch property, where we stayed.

ATV Tours

The Inn at Newport Ranch, which opened in 2015, offers ATV Tours, which you can sign up for if you stay at the ranch, which we’d recommend — our stay was glorious.

They take you along the coast and then up to the top of the mountain, where you’ll get breathtaking views of the coast in all directions. To get there, you’ll wind through the forest, which has plenty of Redwood Trees, rivers, diverse vegetation and natural beauty. You’ll even pass some cows and a black bull along the way.

Above, going through the woods — this was a lovely spot where we got out of the vehicle to look at some of the old stumps and Redwood burrows which are apparently very rare.

There’s also wildlife to be seen (and heard), including mountain lions, buzzards, Osprey, Quails, Black Bears, Blue Herons, Bobcats, Coyotes and Bald Eagles. There are over 30 miles of trails on the property and during one jeep tour, you’ll cover around ten of those depending on the tour you take.

The Skunk Train

The historical Skunk Train leaves from downtown Fort Bragg and takes you through the California redwoods, and past rivers and vineyards. This 131-year-old train chugs (and it chugs slowly) through tunnels, over bridges and past open meadows, taking what is known as the coastal “Redwood Route” just as it has been doing since 1885.

We went on Mother’s Day so they offered gals a free drink which included Margaritas, Bloody Mary’s, craft beer, wine, coffee, tea and soda to choose from, among others. I opted for a shot of Bailey’s in my coffee, which I hadn’t had in years.

Our relaxing ride took us through towering trees and along the Noyo River and because the engine goes so slowly, it has that old fashioned train sound, one that relaxed us enough to want to take a nap during the one hour ride.

It’s a fun thing to do if you have children in tow and there are parts of the train where you can lean out to catch photos of the trees and vegetation on each side. More information can be found at their website: Skunk Train.

Horseback Riding with Ricochet Ridge Ranch

Because the area is so gorgeous, seeing some of it by horseback is a great option and certainly one that will bring you into the heart of Mendocino County’s natural beauty.

Ricochet Ridge Ranch offers a variety of horseback riding options, their most popular one being their one hour beach ride which goes along a ten mile beach in Cleone.

Above photo credit, courtesy of Ricochet Ridge Ranch

Rides are by appointment and depart from their ranch across from Mackerricher State Park in Cleone, which is a mere two miles north of Fort Bragg. They have horses appropriate for riders of every experience level, from first-timers to competitors.

Since one of the routes went up into the hills near where we were staying, we opted for a 2-3 hour ride, which takes you through the woods and up to a viewing point at the top.

Ricochet Ridge Ranch can create customized vacation packages as well as they have up to 6,500 acres of trails to choose from, which range from trail rides along beaches and through redwood forests to more leisurely options where you can stay in fine hotels, inns, and B&B’s. You can also add wine tasting, biking, and fishing charters.

For more serious horse lovers, they offer a Redwood Coast Riding Vacation, which is a 6 day/6 night adventure for riders of all experience levels. Each day’s ride takes you on a different trail and rides range for many miles along ocean beaches, through a working cattle ranch, and up into the coastal mountain range that is richly covered with towering conifers and offers views that stretch to eternity.

For more information, visit their website for details on what they offer and how to book.

Glass Beach

Yup, there’s a beach that isn’t full of pure white sand, but glass and tons of it. Called Glass Beach, we visited for the first time a few years ago. Glass Beach is located in MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg, that is full of sea glass created from years of dumping garbage into an area of coastline near the northern part of the town.

We were there for several hours the first time we discovered it — you can search for rare ruby reds (from pre-1967 auto tail lights) or sapphire gems from apothecary bottles but they ask that you do not remove any of the pieces from the beach so the area remains protected.

From 1906 to 1967, everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans and appliances were unceremoniously pushed over the cliffs into the ocean — a common practice of seaside cities for centuries.

Bring a picnic and head to Glass Beach #3, which is the most northern of the three beaches and set up a blanket for lunch on the rocks and cliffs overlooking the ocean below.

You can also visit  The Sea Glass Museum, which has free admission, and includes a beautiful display cases of every color and size of glass you can find on the nearby glass beaches. The museum is located on Highway, just south of Fort Bragg.

After that picnic, go for a walk as you’ll find lots of lovely vibrant vegetation nearby.  Glass Beach is located on the end of West Elm Street at Old Haul Road; park your car at the end of Elm and then, it’s an easy walk to the beach from there.

Breathtaking Redwoods

To get to Fort Bragg, you’ll either take Route 128 through Anderson Valley (a great option for wine lovers) or you can take the windier Route 20, which is roughly thirty miles of luscious Redwood Trees, although you’ll find plenty on the other route as well.

At one time, redwoods thrived worldwide, but now are found only in Northern California and Southern Oregon (Coastal Redwood), the Sierra Nevada mountains (Giant Sequoia) and in a remote valley in China (Dawn Redwood). Apparently the Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, but were rediscovered in a remote area of China and brought to the states and propagated, including at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

In addition to trails in nearby state parks (Jug Handle, Van Damme, and Montgomery Woods), a local walking group offers 11 trails to explore and the city has its own redwood park, Otis Johnson, for quieter walks.

Redwoods have played an important role in California history, most notably in the re-building of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.  Connection to local history of the area include lighthouses, shipwrecks, railroads and boomtowns. And for more serious historians and water lovers, it’s worth noting that there was even a whaling industry in the area.

The redwoods are so majestic that you don’t need to do much at all to feel the magic among them. Walk through the woods, look up and marvel at their size and beauty.

Be sure to check out our Nature Section for more nature options, stories and adventures in California and the rest of the world.  You may also be interested in our Adventure Travel and Family Travel sections.

Restaurant Suggestions:

The below restaurant suggestions are a combination of our own personal experience and strong recommendations from a couple of locals who have lived in the area for many years. We hope to review them on future trips to the area.

  • Mayan Fusion in downtown Fort Bragg, for South American cuisine.
  • Point Noyo Restaurant & Bar on South Main Street in Fort Bragg for a view of the entrance to Noyo Harbor and great seafood.
  • Silver’s at the Wharf on N Harbor Drive in Fort Bragg has delicious seafood, window tables with views and a full bar.  
  • Cucina Verona, a charming trattoria with a snug, colorful bar offering classic Italian eats, brunch and live music on Laurel Street in Fort Bragg.
  • Cafe Beaujolais on Ukiah Street in Mendocino, an elegant mainstay that features seasonal French-inspired cuisine and local wines in a Victorian farmhouse.
  • Trillium Cafe and Inn on Kasten Street in Mendocino for a cozy restaurant environment with a fireplace and ocean views.
  • Flow Restaurant and Lounge on Main Street in Mendocino for delicious local, organic meats and vegetables with vegan & gluten free options.
  • North Coast Brewing Company for fabulous craft beers and beer ice cream in downtown Fort Bragg – see link below for our review.

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