If your summer funds or summer energy levels are running a little low this year consider vacationing at home (or almost at home) with a “staycation” in Fort Bragg. Many think of Mendocino Village as a destination but actually Fort Bragg offers much more in the way of variety and excitement. There are activities including kayak adventures, train rides, botanical education and trail walks. There are food enjoyments that include both sit down and take away delights. People who believe in retail therapy will have their hands full with everything from a thousand sock emporium, Mendocino Humane Society Ark super Thrift store to a Balinese handcraft and statuary store in Noyo Harbor - The Sacred Woods. If history is your thing the Guest House Museum traces Fort Bragg’s early history as does the Company Store with photos from many eras displayed on the walls.
Where to start? Driving into town you will hit the Botanical “Garden By the Sea” on the
right left 18220 CA-Hwy. 1. Each season features different blooms - August for example will show those flashy showgirls the Dahlias, glowing almost fluorescent Begonias and those hanging fairies blossoms the fuchsias. Check the web site for offerings season by season. Continuing on the round-about you will see The Ark Thrift Store at 18274 CA- Hwy.1 home of bargains ranging from $10 cashmere sweaters to a complete set of plastic horses with wooden stable also $10. Bargain hunters beware, this shop can be dangerous. By this time you may need a break. Drive straight ahead to Laurel Street where you will take a left right to 120 E. Laurel The Headlands Coffee House. Excellent coffee and other assorted beverages along with a good range of bakery and more substantial savory treats are available at reasonable prices. This is an old school independently run coffee house. You can sit at your table as long as you like and sometimes there is even live music. Refreshed you can emerge and make a quick left. Next-door is a frame shop that also sells many gift items and some books and cards all selected by the owner who is a great curator with good taste. Beautiful objects everywhere - hard to choose what to buy.
Walk down Laurel St. toward ocean, cross Main Street and keep going until you bump into the Skunk Train Depot at 100 West Laurel. Hop on the train for a one hour ride round trip into the redwoods. You can sit inside the vintage cars or venture out to the open-air cars for a more up close and personal look at the trees. When you get back walk back up Laurel St. the way you came until you get to Laurel’s restaurant. Inside you will find an actual train parked next to the tables. If you’re ready for lunch there is a full diner menu. The clam chowder is delicious so you could go for a cup of that while saving room for a slice of their homemade Lemon Meringue or Banana Cream Pie (yum). All done? Jewelry lovers take a trip to the back of the building near the restrooms and enter Chernoff’s Jewelers. Simple but elegant gemstone and gold pieces along with some nice silver. They do repairs and are very knowledgeable.
Going back the way you came cross Main Street again and turn left to 412 N. Main where you will find Roundman’s Smoke House. This is a place where they say, “We’ll smoke anything” They produce and sell gourmet smoked fish, meat and cheese. It is all nitrate free and scrumptious. Great spot to stock up for a picnic or for hostess gifts. Retrace your steps to 410 N. Main where Mendocino Chocolate makes a home.
You can buy one piece or pounds and pounds. Distinctive local chocolates definitely worth a taste. Walk back to the corner of Main and Laurel and turn left proceeding to 123 E. Laurel where you will find Pippi’s Longstockings across from the coffee house. This is an almost all sock store that will blow your existing socks off in favor of some brand new ones in patterns and colors that have to be seen to be believed.
Exit Pippi’s and turn left out the door to the corner of Laurel and Franklin turn right to 344 N. Franklin where Racine’s Art and Office Supplies lives. If you love playing with paints, pencils, stationary supplies, and all things paper and canvasy this is a must stop. Lots more high quality art supplies than you’ll find most places. They’ve got the stuff that artistic dreams are made of.
Look across the street for Cucina Verona Mercato a market for Italian specialties. Another Italian place worth noting is Colombi Italian Market at 647 Oak where you can get yourself custom-made Italian-style (and that’s a good thing) sandwiches but go early sometimes they sell out. Ready for a little action? Find your way to 300 S. Lincoln Ave. still in the downtown area, put on your swimsuit and take the plunge at the C.V. Starr Community Center. Weight lifting and gym machines plus exercise classes also available- this is an indoor pool so it offers all season availability.
If you’ve worked up a real appetite by this time head for the north end of town where local burger joint Jenny’s Giant Burger will satisfy your lust for fabulous fries, juicy burgers and all that goes with that. While you are north of town don’t forget to check out glass beach just a few blocks west of Hwy. 1 near Jenny’s on West Elm St. if you want to work off some of that burger and fry fat you can leave your car at the Glass Beach parking lot and start a long walk on the Coastal Trail- paved, well used, well loved fronting the former Georgia Pacific Lumber Mill.
You can also follow the Coastal Trail to the Haul Road which will connect you to MacKerricher State Park. Enough excitement for one day? Think about spending the night at the Beachcomber also at the north end of town. Pick the Beachcomber because it is right on the beach. Second floor rooms have a great view of the water and Invigorating ocean breezes. The Coastal Trail is right there and loaner bikes are available. Cross the famous trestle bridge. Some of the ground floor rooms have fire pits built into their decks and it’s a great place for several families or friends to rent together for a beach party weekend. Not cheap but not crazy expensive either.
Next day back to Laurel’s for the All American breakfast of your dreams- eggs, home fries, bacon, and toast. Fuel up for another Fort Bragg staycation day.
Some unique retail opportunities include Ananse Village at 17800 Highway 1 with fair-trade items from around the world- unique. Sacred Woods in Noyo Harbor at 32281 N. Harbor Dr. has a yard full of inspiring garden statuary, a store full of Indonesian and other exotic clothing, jewelry, house wares, carvings- some items truly breathtaking.
Sew N’ Sew at 890 N. Franklin is a fabric lover’s paradise with lots of the batiks and small patterned fabrics quilt makers love. The staff is open to any questions and they have lots of good answers. Very special is Pacific Textiles at 450 Alger St. They offer classes in many textile related arts but also sell all kinds of fabric related items- clothing, hangings, yardage, books, equipment, yarns etc. Mostly run by women of a certain age with an abiding love of all things textile they are also a font of knowledge. Prices are very good; items are often one of a kind.
While you are at it don’t miss Windsong bookstore at 324 N. Main. Used books and records- the kind you just have to rummage around in to find the treasures.
If you want one last jolt of adrenaline check out Liquid Fusion Kayak at 32399 Basin Street. All ages and abilities welcome. Entry to Noyo River in quiet cove. Nothing like really being out on it to really feel the waters. If a quieter mood is how you want to wind up your staycation head for the Guest House Museum where you can track some of Fort Bragg’s vital history in a beautiful large old wooden house complete with gorgeous stained glass windows. Literature is available very specific and unusual for example a history of Finnish immigrants on the North Coast. Fascinating stuff for the history buff.
Another quieter but quirky side trip would be to visit “Little Cup” at 223 E. Redwood Ave. This is a studio that gives classes in Ceramics and Letterpress but also has a wild assortment of vintage toys, doll furniture, china, litho prints, jewelry and lots of other assorted “stuff” that is just wonderful. Owner, teacher Sabine Brunner originally from Germany is the quiet force behind Little Cup and a delightful person. This shop is a dream she one had that she has made come true.
Last but not least don’t miss the Dollar Tree on the way out of town at 189 Boatyard Drive in the Boatyard Shopping Center. You may have been to lots of Dollar Tree stores but this one is special. Very big and very well managed. You can find things here you would not find at other Dollar Stores. If you are planning a party this is definitely the place to go to stock up on everything from plates to decorations to game prizes.
Before bidding adieu to Fort Bragg descend into Noyo Harbor where you will find two taste treats. The first is Princess Seafood- the fish market and the restaurant.
Fresh fish to take home from the market and freshly cooked seafood to eat sitting a stool with a million dollar View of Noyo Harbor. Princess because the fisher people are women- they catch the fish, sell the fish and cook the fish. Beyond description is the lobster/crab bisque= nectar of the sea goddesses. Also very swell the Poke Bowl- rice with raw fish Hawaiian style. That is real brain food and a super charge for a sleepy brain. Sometimes they have live music.
So pack your bag for one night away from home and get ready to experience Fort Bragg as you may never have experienced it before. It’s not like Anderson Valley and it’s not like Mendocino Village it is a vital community with it’s own creative spirit just waiting to be explored.