FORT BRAGG-A REMOTE RETREAT ON THE MENDOCINO COAST
By Michael Hepworth
Fort Bragg is a quiet Northern California coastal town off the Mendocino coast, and part of the fun is getting there since this is quite a remote destination. We flew in to San Francisco and then drove north on Highway 101 to Highway 128 West all the wayto the coast before heading up Highway 1 to Mendocino Village and then Fort Bragg.
Mendocino County gets up to 1.8 million visitors a year thanks to its 80 miles of Pacific coastline, 85 wineries, 23 state/national parklands and over 500 diverse accommodations. Nearest airport is Sonoma County Airport aka Charles M.Schulz.
The village of Mendocino is rather special and one of the top bed and breakfast places to stay is Hotel Alegria, a small six room inn that makes you feel right at home. An organic breakfast is served inn the small lobby area, everything home made by the proprietor. The rooms are exceptionally well appointed with a lot of thought going into the small details including make up remover towelettes..
Dining options seemed quite interesting as we arrived on an atmospheric wet and cold night with two newcomers t o the dining scene, Flow and Trillium. Flow has been open 6 months and is primarily an upstairs bar that serves small plates from 2 pm until closing. Tried the Sausage and Mushroom Pizza ($12) and loved it, so I have to assume that the other pizzas, soups and salads on the menu are equally good. Trillium has been only open 3 months and is already doing good business. The space is not new as a restaurant, but the new owner Sandra McElroy is a former server in the village for 16 years who has mortgaged her immediate future to make a go of it. The idyllic setting overlooks the rugged Mendocino coastline, and you can see and smell the vegetable and herb garden from the patio area of the restaurant.
Chef in charge is Jeremy Baumgartner who learned his skills in Pittsburgh. He has found a good spot here and has a few signature dishes such as Seared Rabbit w/Bolognese sauce and Crab Strudel. The Pork Schnitzel Reuben I tried was a substantial lunch and the local fish favorite Rock Cod caught locally was perfect for a casual Friday lunchtime. Also make sure you try the local Black Oak Coffee from Ukiah.
Fort Bragg is more of a blue collar town than Mendocino, with tourism the main industry. There is only one building left standing from the original fort dating back to 1870 and I had been yearning to visit the place ever since reading an article in the Los Angeles Times. The hotel we stayed at is called the Beach House Hotel, and although it is nothing fancy it was very clean, quiet and access in and out very easy. Staff are very helpful and I would stay there again on my next visit. There is a view from most rooms of the hotel of the estuary, with the hotel being no more than a couple of hundred yards from the beach.
The food options in Fort Bragg are limited however, with Mendo Bistro on Main St probably the best option in town. Owner/chef is Nicholas Petti has ran the restaurant since 1999 and they specialize in the ‘Choice Menu,’ where you choose your ingredient, select how you want it cooked and then choose the sauce. All meat is served hormone and anti--biotic free and is purchased from local organic farmers. This night we selected the Yellowtail-Jack fish and Niman Ranch Leg of Lamb served with caramelized fennel, wheat berries and Bok-Choi vegetables.
The Skunk Train is a ‘must do’ when in Fort Bragg, a 42 mile round trip into the redwood forest at a speed of about 12 miles an hour. Now I must make it clear that the redwoods you see are not the giant kind, as those can be found farther north in Humboldt County. They stop for a barbecue lunch at Northspur in the forest so that the train can turn around.
The train itself consists of three carriages plus an observation car which is a lot of fun since the track itself is standard gauge, leaving little room for the train to meander through the runnels and trestle bridges on the route. They even have a train musician on board who takes requests (www.trainsinger.com), and since he knew the Elvis classic ‘Mystery Train’ and played it very well, it made the journey even more fun. There are also overnight trips where you can spend a night in an old logging location called Camp Noyo that has 7 campsites with multiple tents. You can only get there by train and if you want to stay longer then the camp will deliver groceries.
Fort Bragg as well as Mendocino are also fast becoming a haven for artists and sculptors, especially those who specialize in landscapes such as Erin Durtner and Olaf Palm. For more information about all the art activities in the region please go to www.artsmendocino.org.
Wine enthusiasts will want to spend a few days in the area around Philo, Ukiah and Redwood Valley to visit many of the wineries around. Unfortunately for me, time restrictions this time around prevailed, so that will be in a future article. Some of these such as Husch Vineyards and Black Kite Cellars are in the Hendy Woods State Park.
For more information about the world of wine visit www.mendowine.com
Fort Bragg has a famous beach called ‘Glass Beach’ that is made up entirely from
glass and bottles that have been recycled. Any of the beaches in Fort Bragg are
what you might call fairly windswept, but if you are looking for atmosphere and
a certain degree of solitude you will love it. There are plenty of options for outdoor
enthusiasts with an exceptional botanical gardens, plenty of biking and canoeing
options and a host of things for families to do without breaking the bank.
Fact Sheet :
Hotel Alegria- 44781 Main st, Mendocino
Beach House Hotel-100 Pudding Creek Rd, Fort Bragg
Trillium-10390 Kasten St, Mendocino
Flow-Main St, Mendocino
Mendo Bistro-301 N.Main St, Fort Bragg 707-964-4974
Mendocino Botanical Gardens-18220 California 1, Fort Bragg.
Catch a Canoe and Bicycles Too-15 Big River Rd, Mendocino
Skunk Train-www.skunktrain.com 707-964-6371
Tickets $54. Children 2-12 $ 3