Highlights: Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Mendocino Headlands SP, Jug Handle State Reserve North Coast Brewery (Fort Bragg), Noyo Harbor (Silver's at the Wharf and Princess Seafood Market and Deli)
Campground: Site 23; Back in; Full hookups; Poor Verizon cellular, AT&T (trailer antenna) worked fine;
Just getting to and leaving this part of the coast was interesting.
Getting to Fort Bragg:
We came from the Santa Rosa area and had three options to get to Fort Bragg. Route 1 along the coast may be spectacular, but it would also be winding, hilly, busy, and take longer.
Google maps and our trip planner recommend US 101 to Willis then going due west on CA 20 to the coast. Using Mountain Directory we declined this option. The Directory warns of one stretch of 9% and 10% grade followed by 6% for 6 miles.
Instead we opted for the slightly longer CA 128 from Cloverdale to join CA 1 just south of Mendocino. Highway 128 was narrow, hilly and winding as well (all options go over two sets of coastal hills that we in the east would call mountains), but we later met campers who arrived at our park via Rt 20 and said that after experiencing both 128 and 20, they will never do CA20 again.
CA 128 was scenic too. A quandary was that 128 goes through Anderson Valley with several well known wineries (like Roederer), las well as other small wineries along with a few breweries. Sad to pass these by, but alcohol and pulling a trailer won't mix for me.
Leaving Fort Bragg:
It was even more eventful going north. With the option of going north on Rt 1 all the way to US 101, the Mountain Directory states that CA 20 is a “wider and better road.” Having just driven the many 20mph twists and turns of CA128, we thought “how bad could it be?” After all we are going over the same hills only further north.
CA 1 was beautiful as it winded up and down coastal cliffs with a couple 180 degree turns. One section was done to a single lane, because the outside lane is now in the Pacific. A road crew is working on it with an expected completion date of December 2019.
Once CA1 leaves the coast, it gets REAL interesting. One sign showed curves ahead next 22 miles. Over that distance I never went over 30 mph. Most corners were 20MPH limits with a couple 25 mph, a few 15 MPH, and even a 10MPH U-turn. All of these were on steep climbs or descents with either a drop or a blinding hillside on the road shoulder – when there was a shoulder.
The one positive about the trip was that traffic was almost non-existent. Which was not only welcome, but probably kept me from a certain crash. I took the truck nose wide on many turns. Some I could see around, some I couldn't. I was just lucky not once did I meet anyone coming the other way. It's dicey turning right around a turn and making a quick glance to my side mirror to make sure the trailer is not rubbing up against an overhanging hill face.
At one high point, I could see down well over a thousand feet below. Sandy determined we were at 1,800 ft above sea level. That doesn't sound as high as it looked.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.
Recommended by our camp hosts, this was just across Rt 1 from our campground and provided an enjoyable half a day of strolling the grounds which extend to fine overlooks of the coast.
They had a rhododendron show in a tent just a day before and the displays were still there for us to see. I could post 20 photos of the different varieties we saw. Some were tiny and delicate and we were surprised by the display.
The rhododendrons were in bloom throughout the gardens as well. Trails would around in random intersecting patterns that promote a leisurely walk.
The town of Mendocino is described in our Moon Guide as one of the prettiest villages on the coast and was the site for the TV series Murder She Wrote. The setting of the town was special resting on a small headland projecting above the Pacific. But I didn't find the town itself particularly beautiful. Many coastal towns were founded by New Englanders in the 1800's who brought their house styles with them. These older structures add a certain charm. Main Street is perched on the southern facing coast and had a few open shops and a public restroom!
Mendocino from the headlands.
In a vacant lot in town a block from the Headlands SP. AMAZING!
These averaged about 8-10 feet tall. One was much taller.
By comparison two camping stops north of Mendocino we ventured to the smaller town of Trinidad. I found this even more picturesque, even more quaint, a nice beach and equally nice walk up a 200 foot promontory just off the town.
The Highlight Gallery on Main Street was exceptional. It sold local artists' works, including furniture and sculpture. We loved it and again wish we had the space and funds to do a little buying.
We also can recommend Fiddleheads Cafe as a lunch spot. This 4 table eatery has a small menu to match, but the burgers were creative and good – as was the pink lemonade.
Mendocino Headlands SP.
There are 4 easy access parking areas for the State Park which has trails that go right to Main Street. So you could go from the park to the town as we did or vice versa. It is a couple miles walk around the headlands with constant open views in three directions. The nicest view is at the northwest corner.
A spur trail led out to a point where I had great views of the rocks and sea birds.
The end of a spur trail leads to great views. Sandy stayed back on the headlands.
Looking back from the spur trail where it narrows
The trail cuts close to the edge.
Sea cave cutting through the rock.
Wild flowers everywhere
The trail around the headlands.
View of Mendocino from the Headlands.
A blow hole is just above the cave where you see the spray. I missed my one chance to capture the spray coming out.
Jug Handle State Reserve
On the way back to our campground from Mendocino we stopped at the Jug Handle for another short ramble. More nice views though the photos suffer from the gray skies.
Eats and Drinks:
North Coast Brewery (Fort Bragg). I'm a big fan of their Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout which you can get back east. So I was happy to learn the brewery was a 10 minute ride. Let's go!
Sandy and I shared a flight and enjoyed others including the Old Stock Ale which packed quite a punch of flavor and alcohol at about 12% abv. Our waitress said that their Scrimshaw Pilsner is their best seller, which really surprised me with IPA's dominating the market now. Sandy liked the stout! I couldn't get her to try any dark colored beer a few years ago and now she likes them.
Noyo Harbor (Silver's at the Wharf and Princess Seafood Market and Deli)
Both of these restaurants deserve a mention in this blog and we highly recommend both to visitors. Silver's has terrific views and very good food. A detraction was the “colorful” red-headed waitress who would buzz to and from your table as fast as a hummingbird. If you needed to chat, do it quick. She also did something so odd that it left me speechless.
We haven't been able to dent stopping at all the highly rated wineries on this trip, so I have been ordering by the glass from some of the wineries we have passed or missed. Accordingly I ordered a local Chardonnay. Our waitress returned, placed a glass of wine in front of me and quickly stated, “we're out of [that Chardonnay] so I got you this instead. You'll really like it.” She quickly turned and went off on another mission.
I know people who would have freaked out at her actions, but we were already enjoying ourselves and I shrugged it off as part of the quirky ambience. Turns out the wine was OK anyway (nothing special though). We just laughed it off.
Might as well mention that the cioppino was excellent and I couldn't even finish the leftovers.
On the same and only street on the harbor is the Seafood Market and Deli. This is a nondescript seafood market with a street-side patio area. Order inside by the fish counter and grab a seat outside. Crab seems to be the thing to have in many fashions. Sandy said her crab sandwich was one of the best meals she's had yet. I had a great grilled shrimp po' boy. This is one of those no frills real deal fresh seafood places. If you don't mind sacrificing the view, it is probably a better option than Silver's especially for lunch. Silver's will have more options.
Off to Fortuna CA....