If you love nature and serenity, plan a trip to Fort Bragg! The tiny Northern California Coast town features stunning scenery and offers a variety of fun things to do.
Located along beautiful California Highway 1, Fort Bragg is famous for its Glass Beach, actually a series of three beaches, that feature colorful rounded bits of glass. But there’s a lot more to see and do in Fort Bragg!
With beautiful parks by the ocean, inland trails through the redwoods, and incredible opportunities to view marine life and birds, Fort Bragg is a must for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. History buffs will find the town’s logging past fascinating. And if you just want a quiet coastal town to relax and unwind, Fort Bragg fits the bill perfectly!
Not only is Fort Bragg a fabulous destination in its own right, it is also close to other must-visit places on the scenic Northern California Coast. So whether you just plan to visit the Mendocino Coast, or you are planning a full-fledged North Coast road trip, put Fort Bragg on your itinerary!
Considering a trip to Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast? Read on to discover all the best things to do in this scenic coastal town!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Things to Do in Fort Bragg, CA
Things to Do Near Fort Bragg, California
Getting to Fort Bragg, CA
Where to Stay in Fort Bragg, CA
Where to Eat in Fort Bragg, CA
The Best Time to Visit Fort Bragg, California
Things to Do in Fort Bragg, CA
Tour the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
One of the most beautiful botanical gardens in California, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are a must-visit, not only for the jaw-dropping displays of plants and flowers, but also for the superb setting that includes canyons and coastal bluffs, forests and wetlands.
While you will find something blooming no matter when you visit, the showstopper dahlias in the garden are in bloom from August until October. The colors are simply stunning! Also don’t miss the heritage roses in summer, and rhododendrons in spring and summer.
Visit the vegetable garden and orchard, where staff and volunteers grow fruits and vegetables for donation to the local food bank. Hike the coastal bluffs trail for beautiful water views. Bring your binoculars and look for birds: more than 180 species, from hummingbirds to warblers, have been seen here!
For hours and admission, visit the garden website.
Visit Glass Beach
There are actually three beaches at Fort Bragg that feature rounded pieces of colored glass. Created over a period of decades by the ocean pounding and grinding discarded bottles, headlights, and other trash, the pieces of glass sparkle in the sun amidst the pebbles on the beaches.
If you go expecting to see large swathes of colorful glass, you may be disappointed: sadly, the glass is much depleted. From the coastal trail at Noyo Headlands Park, a steep downhill climb leads down to the beaches. The glass that’s left is mainly clear, with some brown and green bits, and the very rare bit of red or blue.
There are tide pools at the beaches here, so plan on visiting at low tide if you want to explore the pools, and to see the glass up close. The coastline is interesting, with big rocks and rugged cliffs. Look for birds and enjoy the waves crashing over the rocks.
Glass Beach is also a popular place for scuba diving and snorkeling, with a depth range of 10 to 60 feet. You will find the ocean bed covered in bits of glass as you snorkel out. Look for abalone shells!
Explore MacKerricher State Park
Located just north of Fort Bragg, MacKerricher State Park is a great place to experience a variety of environments, from beaches to bluffs and forests to wetlands. If you enjoy looking for marine life and birds, don’t miss this beautiful state park!
If you visit in the winter or the spring, the headlands are the perfect spot from which to scour the ocean for migrating whales. Tidepools in the rocks by the shore near Laguna Point house lots of tiny marine creatures, from anemones to sea stars. Walk to the Laguna Point Seal watching Station and look for harbor seals on the rocks as well!
At Cleone Lake, a small freshwater lake, look for waterfowl, osprey, and wading birds. You can hike, bike, or go horseback riding along Haul Road, a 10-mile trail that runs from Fort Bragg to Ten Mile River. You’ll pass snowy plover nesting grounds, and more bird spotting opportunities at Virgin Creek!
Bike (or Hike) the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail
The Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail at Fort Bragg is part of the California Coastal Trail, which is eventually slated to run along the entire California coast, from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north.
The coastline here in Fort Bragg was behind the gates of a lumber mill for decades, until the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail opened it up to the public. The five-mile trail is wide, paved, and accessible, making the spectacular views available to all visitors that want to enjoy them.
This trail is another fabulous place in the area to look for birds and marine life, and to view the sunset. Don’t miss the beautiful benches along the way, made by local artisans. Plenty of parking is available at either end of the trail.
Enjoy Pudding Creek Beach
A beautiful beach where Pudding Creek cuts a swathe through the sand on its way into the ocean (or sometimes just forms a lagoon), Pudding Creek Beach is a wonderful place to spend some time if you visit during low tide. At high tide, there are trails along the headlands you can walk.
The beach is lined with rocks and cliffs, with little caves and arches to explore and photograph. If it is a nice sunny afternoon, you can enjoy a picnic on the sand. The water is ice-cold, but strolling the beach is fun, especially at sunset. And the beach is a great place from which to photograph Pudding Creek Trestle!
Walk the Pudding Creek Trestle
We love photographing bridges, and Fort Bragg’s historic Pudding Creek Trestle is a beautiful bridge to photograph. Pudding Creek Trestle was built in the early 1900s, when the route was used for transporting lumber.
You can park at one end of the wooden trestle bridge, at the parking lot off MacKerricher Road, and then walk the bridge and back. It is very cool to walk over the historic old bridge! The bridge is a little over 500 feet long, so it’s just a short walk from one end to the other.
Stroll Historic Downtown Fort Bragg
Downtown Fort Bragg offers something for everyone. If you love art, you will want to do a self-guided tour of the beautiful murals in the town. The colors are vibrant and the themes diverse. Don’t forget your camera! You will find several art galleries in town as well.
If you enjoy shopping, you will love browsing the unique shops in downtown Fort Bragg. From ceramics to jewelry, and apparel to gifts, there’s a lot of choice if you want to bring home a souvenir.
Love local history? Tour the downtown historical business district, or, if a docent-led walk is being offered when you visit, join. You will learn about Fort Bragg’s rich past as a commercial center, and about the devastation wrought by the 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco.
And Visit a Museum (or Two!)
Triangle Tattoo & Museum in downtown Fort Bragg is a unique stop. Colorful art covers the walls, and you can view many tattoo artifacts here: it is one of only a few collections of tattoo artifacts on the planet.
Triangle Tattoo & Museum is housed in one of the original Victorian storefronts in downtown Fort Bragg. Admission is free.
Also in downtown Fort Bragg is the Guest House Museum, which showcases the history of Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast. The structure is made of old-growth redwood, and contains beautiful wood work, detailing, and stained glass.
Inside, you will find exhibits on the logging industry, the railroad, and other aspects of local history. A donation is suggested.
Go Kayaking on the Noyo River
Take a guided tandem kayak tour on the Noyo River! The calm waters offer a gentle (and dry!) ride, and you will have lots of opportunities to see harbor seals, sea lions, otters, and sea birds along the way.
Liquid Fusion Kayaking offer guided meanders from mid-May through mid-September. It’s a fun activity for kids and adults alike, and a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Stroll Noyo Harbor
One of the few surviving working harbors on the US West Coast, Noyo Harbor makes for an amazing stroll. Fishing vessels put out to sea, bells clanking or whistles blowing, and return with fresh catch. The docks, rolls of rope, boats, and the bustle all make for the quintessential seaport scene.
You will find many excellent seafood restaurants along the harbor, all featuring excellent views, plus the opportunity to snap photos of sea birds and perhaps a sea lion or two.
Ride the Skunk Train
The Skunk (officially the California Western Railroad) has been in operation since 1885, ferrying goods and people through the beautiful redwoods route. The trains ran on gas engines, and the strong odor from the fumes gave rise to the nickname.
The Pudding Creek Express is a 90-minute round-trip train ride that departs from Fort Bragg. The 7-mile route traverses the Pudding Creek Estuary. You can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy and hike some of the trails through the redwoods before taking the next train back. Looks for birds along the route!
Another more active way to enjoy the experience is via rail bike. The two-person electric bikes let you pedal without the need to steer, so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery along the route and look for birds and wildlife. It’s a fabulous way to enjoy the redwoods!
Visit the Sea Glass Museum
Located just south of Fort Bragg, the International Sea Glass Museum houses sea glass from the collection of Captain Cass Forrington, who has collected more than 150,000 pieces of sea glass. The museum is small, with just four rooms, but well worth a visit.
With over 3,000 artifacts, the museum houses the largest permanent sea glass display in the world. A visit is very educational, and you will learn about how sea glass forms, and the composition of the different colors. There is a gift shop if you want to buy a souvenir.
As a bonus, you may learn from the Captain exactly when and where to go to find glass on the beach at Fort Bragg. So it’s a good idea to visit the museum before you head to Glass Beach! There is no admission fee, but a donation is suggested.
Walk the Trail at Pomo Bluffs Park
Fort Bragg has many beautiful parks at the edge of the ocean, and Pomo Bluffs Park is no different. You can walk as much or as little as you like, to enjoy the stunning views of the rocky coastline and pounding surf. The park is particularly beautiful at sunset.
Pomo Bluffs Park is one of the best spots in Fort Bragg for whale watching, and to watch the fishing boats going in and out of Noyo Harbor. Look for sea birds, and listen for sea lions barking below. There are benches to sit and enjoy the view.
If you walk, stay on the path and away from the cliff edges. The park is located at the south end of Fort Bragg, and there is plenty of parking.
Admire the Model Railroad
We can’t resist model railroads, and this exhibit is very interesting! If you want to learn about the history of logging operations in the area in days past, Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society is the place to go.
With 1,700 feet of track and several trains, authentic backdrops, and a lot of educational material, this museum will thrill model railroad enthusiasts and local history buffs. The model trains run both inside and outside the building. Allow more time than you think you will need!
The exhibit is located in a building near the Skunk Train Depot, and admission to the museum is included when you purchase a Skunk Train ticket, or you can buy tickets just for the museum.
Snap a Photo of the Cypress Tree Tunnel
A few miles north of town, at Ten Mile Beach, you will see a beautiful Cypress Tree Tunnel on California Highway 1. It is a beautiful drive through the tunnel, and a great place for photos if you can snap some safely!
The tunnel is north of MacKerricher State Park, and you will get the best photos at golden hour in the morning, when the frays of light stream through the gaps in the trees.
Things to Do Near Fort Bragg, CA
There is plenty to explore around Fort Bragg if you have the time. Intrepid explorers can visit Sinkyone Wilderness State Park to the north. Sinkyone is located at the southern end of the Lost Coast, a coastline so rugged that the road had to wind around it.
About an hour and 15 minutes northeast of Fort Bragg is Leggett, the official northern terminus of California Highway 1. And just north of Leggett is Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, the southern end of California’s famous redwood belt. The scenery is beautiful, with canyons and clusters of old-growth redwoods.
South of Fort Bragg is the beautiful coastal village of Mendocino. Most visitors combine a visit to Mendocino with a visit to Fort Bragg, since they are so close together. Southeast of Fort Bragg and Mendocino, you will find pastoral Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s wine country.
Getting to Fort Bragg, CA
Most visitors to the Mendocino Coast arrive by road. From San Francisco, it takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes to drive to Fort Bragg along the faster Highway 101, which goes through the interior. We took this route on our way back, so we could enjoy the vineyards of Anderson Valley.
If you drive the coastal route, on California Highway 1, the 178-mile distance takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes. But this route is so scenic that it is definitely worthwhile adding an extra day to your trip and taking it on your way up, making your trip about the journey as well as the destination!
Where to Stay in Fort Bragg, CA
Airbnbs in Fort Bragg, CA
This zen retreat is located just 10 minutes from Fort Bragg. The architecture is exquisite, and the furniture custom-made. The bamboo floors are heated, and there is a full kitchen. The Japanese gardens are beautiful, with a pond. The property is a short walk from Ten Mile Beach and offers prime bird-watching. Book a stay here!
This stunning A-frame cabin is surrounded by redwoods! Located just 7 minutes from Fort Bragg, the cabin has a large south-facing deck with a hot tub and barbecue grill. Inside, you will find a comfortable living area and two bedrooms, each with a queen bed. Book a stay here!
This beautifully-designed studio guesthouse is set in the midst of a tranquil garden. The property is surrounded by fields and redwood groves and is about 5 minutes from town. There are two double beds, a comfortable living area, a kitchenette, and sauna. Book a stay here!
Hotels in Fort Bragg, CA
Noyo Harbor Inn is a highly-rated bed and breakfast inn located on the marina. Rooms are well appointed, with a fireplace and soaking tub. The onsite restaurant is rated excellent. Opt for a room with a view overlooking the harbor. Book a stay here!
The Beachcomber Motel and Spa on the Beach features comfortable rooms with 180-degree views of the beach. Opt for an upper floor room for unobstructed views. Rooms have microwaves and refrigerators. The wifi is good. Book a stay here!
Where to Eat in Fort Bragg, CA
Noyo Fish Company is the place to go if you are craving fish and chips. Served on paper in a wire basket, the fish (or prawns), and chips, are crisp and hot. You can also order shrimp or fish tacos, and they have outside seating with a view!
Noyo Harbor Inn Restaurant & Tavern, and D’Jango’s Rough Bar Cafe (try the cod chowder with corn!), are other well-rated seafood restaurants at the harbor. Los Gallitos Mexican Restaurant offers everything Mexican, from quesadillas to tacos. The small restaurant is a local favorite.
Rhody’s Garden Cafe at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a great option for lunch: they feature fresh-picked produce from their own vegetable garden, and you will find vegetarian and vegan options.
Don’t forget to stop by the Mendocino Cookie Company for fresh-baked cookies and pastries, and by Cowlick’s Ice Cream for handmade ice cream. Absolutely delicious! Pacific Star Winery is a must-visit for wine tasting: the picturesque winery building is tucked into the cliffs and offers fabulous views.
The Best Time to Visit Fort Bragg, CA
Fort Bragg is a year-round destination. Temperatures don’t vary much: daytime highs are generally in the high 60s in the summer and the 50s in winter. In a wet year, you may run into rain in the winter and spring. But winter is also the time when you can expect more fog-free days, with bright sunshine!
Spring brings beautiful lush green and wildflowers. In the summer and fall, you will find beautiful bloom displays in the botanical garden, and great weather to frolic on the beaches. Fall may bring warmer temperatures, during the California Indian summer: it’s a beautiful time to be outside on the north coast.
Our recommendation is to pack layers, no matter when you travel, so you are prepared. In the winter and spring, pack rain gear. A windcheater with a hood is perfect for walks by the water.
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