Count on it being cool. Fog in summer. Wind in the afternoon is normal. Layer up. On a breezeless, sunny day, you’ll be okay in a short sleeve t-shirt. For longer walks, always bring water.
Best advice (from the Ocean Safety Coalition):
“Be swept away by the beauty, not by the waves. “ Keep a respectable distance from the cliff’s edge and don’t climb down on the rocks. Sneaker waves are common. The waves are powerful and water cold (54 degrees).
A Birder’s Paradise
A list of 276 species found near Fort Bragg is available for $1 from the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society.
What Do To If You have Two Days
After a big leisurely breakfast at the Atrium, you’ll be ready for some exercise. At both the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and the light station, you can take short strolls or vigorous walks of a couple of miles each. Except in winter, you can have lunch at the gardens before moving on to the lighthouse. Since these two outings are halfway between Fort Bragg and Mendocino, you’ll find lots of lunch options between adventures. Don’t forget your camera.
Day 1: Explore Point Cabrillo Light Station
State Historic Park and Nature Preserve.
Walk to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and follow the trails along the ocean, stopping at the lighthouse, marine aquarium exhibit and Lightkeepers House Museum.
Why Gail and Mary Like It
Just five miles south of the Fort Bragg City Limits, this state park and nature preserve is one of the most complete (restored) light stations in America. Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association received state and national awards for restoring eight of the nine structures to their original 1909 condition.
Managed by the Coast Guard as a federal aid to navigation, the 1909 lens projects a beam visible 14 miles out to sea. You’ll discover two museums, a gift shop, ship wreck artifacts, a marine exhibit with living tide pool creatures and lots of wildlife along miles of trails that crisscross the 300-acre nature preserve. Eight of the nine original buildings have been restored, including three lightkeeper houses. Located 6 miles south of the Atrium. The walk to the lighthouse from the visitor center is a half-mile. Close-up handicap parking is available as a well as a ramp into the lighthouse for easy wheelchair access.
A few miles if you walk around the entire 300 acres; 1-mile roundtrip if you walk just to the lighthouse and back from the visitor center parking area.
What to bring:
Picnic, camera, binoculars, your wallet (for some great stuff in the lighthouse).
Cost: a donation is requested at the lighthouse (since this is an non-profit run by volunteers even a dollar or two is appreciated). Otherwise, you are free to roam this California State Park.
Day 2: Walk the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Paved trails crisscross the 47 acres from Highway 1 to the Pacific Ocean. This is a place to meander from garden to garden, rather than power walk. But feel free to go at a faster pace. In Summer, you can buy lunch at the stand near the Garden’s store and fresh, handmade ice cream from Fort Bragg’s Cowlick’s Ice Cream.
Why Gail and Mary Like It
The Gardens is known for its tender species rhododendrons that produce some of the most fragrant blossoms of the year. Native to the cloud forests of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, these gems are restricted to a narrow band along the northern California coast in the U.S., where they thrive in the foggy, coastal climate.
The cactus, the heritage roses, heather collection, the dahlia garden and rhododendrons are all must-sees. Illustrated panels and the garden-forest setting make this is a birder’s dream. You can sit on a bench and admire the scenery, view the 150 different bird species, shop at the garden store, walk to the ocean view cliff house or bring a digital camera and fill a media card or two. Located 3 miles south of the Atrium.
To see what’s in bloom, visit the Gardens Web site.
Cost: $10 / person
If you have Three Days
Day 3: MacKerricher State Park and Glass Beach
Besides being a popular campground, MacKerricher is one of the most diverse state parks in California: it offers great walks, some of the best surfing in California (Virgin Beach), long stretches of beach with sweeping ocean views (Ten Mile Beach), rare birds (The Snowy Plover) and great viewing platforms for watching waves, wildlife and surfers (Laguna Point).
Why Gail and Mary Like It
You can literally walk from the Atrium to the Old Haul Road starting point at Pudding Creek Trestle (about ¾ mile). Or take a short drive over to the small parking lot, stopping along the way at Glass Beach.
Glass Beach – once the town trash dump – has been cleaned up and is part of the state park. Over several decades, the wave action broke up and smoothed the tens of thousands of glass containers dumped here into tiny bits of treasure that come in a rainbow of colors. Best explored at low tide. If the surf is big or rough, keep a look out for rogue waves that seem to come out of nowhere. You can walk to Glass Beach from the Atrium.
What to bring: Whether you like riding bikes or prefer walking, you can pack a lunch and jacket and find some of the area’s great adventures along the way.
If you like to read, the warm sand dunes of Ten Mile Beach with big ocean views area book place to sit and relax.
Local tip: At Laguna Point, near Cleone Lake, two viewing stands are an idea place for photographs or vacation videos. The gift shop at the park headquarters entrance off Highway 1, a few miles north of the Atrium, showcases the animal life in the park. Just outside is a gray whale skeleton, something to marvel at. About 20,000 Grays pass by Fort Bragg from December to April each year in a migration that takes them from their feeding grounds of Alaska to the birthing grounds of Mexico, and then back with the calves.
Extra Credit: A Two-Day Garden Tour
Day 1: Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and Rhododendrons
After a big leisurely breakfast at the Atrium, you’ll be ready for some exercise. Spend your morning at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. You can take a short walk to the ocean and back in less than a hour or stroll for hours among the gardens and forest. After lunch, visit Celeri & Son’s rhododendron farm.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens — This is 47 acres of beautiful and rare plants from around the world sandwiched between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. The cactus, the heritage roses, heather collection, the dahlia garden and rhododendrons are all must-sees. You can sit on a bench and admire the scenery, view the 150 different bird species, shop at the garden store, walk to the ocean view cliff house or bring a digital camera and fill a media card or two. Located 3 miles south of the Atrium.
Celeri & Son — some 20,000 rhododendrons are spread over 1.5 acres. From the newly-propagated to large potted plants, there are more than 100 species and hybrids normally found on the slopes of the very deep valleys that border the eastern Himalayas and southeastern Tibet, or in the mountain ranges stretching between mainland Asia and Australia, including the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Jim Celeri and and son, Frank, encourage you to come by and have a picnic or a stroll through their gardens even if you don’t buy. A must-see for garden lovers.
Day 2: Plants that are Rare and Wonderful
After another wonderful breakfast at the Atrium you’ll head out to one of the most interesting nurseries you’ve ever seen.
Simply Succulents — The owner of this half acre nursery of 35,000 plants is a former nurse who changed her name on a road trip as a young woman to “Rella.” She is a woman in love with succulents — not only as versatile and beautiful plants, but because of their water-saving properties as well. Her plants have names like Sedums, Aeoniums, and Epiphyllums. While the strange names may seem hard to grasp, Rella will be your willing guide through what she calls the wonderful world of succulents. A plant lover’s paradise.
Located a mile north of the Atrium. Drive to Airport Road, make a right turn and go another half mile until you see Simply Succulents on the left.
Note: Nearby Glass Beach is a good alternative.