13 Best Things to do in Fort Bragg – Weekend Guide
I visited Fort Bragg for the first time in August of 2020 as a weekend trip with my now husband celebrating our dating anniversary. After visiting we both fell in love with the mystical moody weather and gorgeous coastline views. Its a fairly small and very walkable town with shops and restaurants to enjoy. For being a tourist town it didn’t feel very crowded- at least when we visited in August.
I knew I had to share this amazing gem located on Northern California Coast and what it has to offer. From beautiful hiking amongst the redwoods, a beach full of sea glass, to train rides and beer… there is something for everyone in Fort Bragg.
Read ahead for all the best things to do in Fort Bragg on your next weekend trip!
Brief History of Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg was originally home to the Pomo Native American tribe and was established as The Mendocino Indian Reservation in 1856. A year later a military post was established named after Captain Braxton Bragg. In 1864 the military post was evacuated and abandoned then the Mendocino Indian Reservation was discontinued in 1866. The land was then placed up for sale.
Shortly after all this, lumber mills began to establish in the area which eventually incorporated into the Union Lumber Company. Then the city of Fort Bragg was established in 1889. Chinese tunnel builders were brought in from San Francisco to build tunnels to make it easier to remove logs from the area. And in 1901 the National Steamship Company was created to carry lumber, passengers and supplies.
Then in 1906 a big earthquake hit that sparked a fire that threatened the saw mill and the city. Much damage was done, but most downtown reconstruction was able to be completed within 12 months of the disaster. The earthquake actually brought prosperity to Fort Bragg as the mills furnished lumber to help rebuild San Francisco who was also damaged. And by 1916 this prosperity helped make Fort Bragg a popular place to visit, settle, and eventually flourish into the town it is today.
Where is Fort Bragg?
Fort Bragg is located in Northern California’s Mendocino County along Hwy 1. It is approximately 3 hours north of San Francisco and 4 hours from Sacramento.
This is a great weekend getaway if you live in or are visiting Northern California. People are attracted to this destination because of the Pacific Ocean views and it’s notable Glass Beach and “Skunk Train”.
Fun Fact- The nickname “skunk train” comes from the smell that came from the self propelled motorcars. They had gasoline engines and pot bellied stoves burning crude oil to keep passengers warm. People would say they were like a skunk- you could smell them before you could see them!
1. Glass Beach
Part of the MacKerricher State Park and accessible from the coastal trail is the famous glass beach. This actually used to be a dumping site from 1906-1967. Everything from car batteries to bottles were tossed over the cliffs into the ocean. But trash soon turned to treasure as multi colored sea glass can be now found sprinkled throughout the rocks and sand on this beach. This happened from years of waves crashing and breaking down the garbage.
My experience with this beach was somewhat lackluster from my expectations of seeing other blogs, photos and youtube videos of sparkling sea glass everywhere. When I visited this beach I had to search around to collect a handful of sea glass. Now people blame it on tourists taking the glass, but I also think it may have to do with the tide and when you visit. I recommend trying to visit the beach during low tide to have the best chance of seeing the sparkling sea glass. This is my plan next time I visit.
My husband and I did enjoy a fantastic sunset on this beach, so I would highly recommend this spot for sunset watching!
Note- look and admire the sea glass, take photos to remember, but please don’t take any of the glass home… leave it for others to enjoy.
2. Skunk Train Rail Bikes
This is a bit of a splurge activity and is a unique way to experience the forest. Ride side by side with your partner on an electric rail bike as you take in the views without having to pedal or steer. Half way through you will stop for a picnic and have a short time explore the forest by foot.
Rates for the rail bikes start at $195 for 2 bikers and the ride is about 2-4 hours depending on which of the 2 routes you choose.
There is also a train ride you can take for a more relaxing scenic experience. Rates run $20-50 per person depending on the route you choose.
Visit the website here to buy tickets.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do ride the rail bikes on my visit, but it’s first on my list next time!
3. North Coast Brewing Co
444 N Main St.
Beer connoisseurs may be familiar with this award winning brewery, known popularly for their Scrimshaw Pilsner. This is a great place to stop in for a bite to eat and a refreshing beer.
4. Overtime Brewery
190 E Elm St.
Another great spot for beer lovers and good food is Overtime Brewery which is very close to North Coast Brewery. It has nice seating area out in the back where my husband and I really enjoyed relaxing and sipping our beers. We were originally just stopping in to try the beer and ended up ordering food too.
5. Pacific Star Winery
33000 N Hwy 1 (12 miles north of Fort Bragg- mile marker 73.58)
This gorgeous winery is located just a few miles up Hwy 1. It may be a little tricky to find since it’s tucked away off the cliffs of Hwy 1 (so I included the mile marker with the address to help you find it!) We stopped in for a short tasting but you could definitely spend a few hours sipping a bottle of wine, eating a charcuterie board and taking in the views.
You may even spot whales if visiting in the Spring or Fall!
6. Van Damme State Park
There are multiple state parks to visit within the Fort Bragg/Mendocino area. Van Damme State Park is located just a couple miles south of Fort Bragg in Little River. Van Damme is rich is historical connection to the redwood lumber industry. You can explore the Fern Canyon, a pygmy forest and/or the beach.
We started our hike here around 8 am while there was still a bit of misty fog that burned off with some gorgeous sunshine.
Helpful hint– There was a small fee to enter the park and we learned that if you keep your receipt you can visit multiple parks in the same day for just the one fee!
7. Russian Gulch State Park
This state park is beloved for being the best of the Mendocino Coast. Theres’s a beach with a towering overhead bridge, pygmy and redwood forests, creeks and a waterfall, hiking trails, camping, kayaking and snorkeling. It also features the “Devils Punchbowl” on the Russian Gulch headlands which was carved by years of waves crashing into the soft rock causing the ceiling of the cave to collapse creating a punchbowl.
You could easily spend a whole day exploring this park and all it has to offer.
Be sure to stop and check out the adorable little town of Mendocino just a few miles South of Fort Bragg! It’s a quaint and charming little town with the cutest little downtown to explore shops and restaurants. We stopped in at the Mendocino Chocolate Company for some delicious local made chocolates. There are also many bed and breakfasts in Mendocino that next time I visit I am planning to stay in one.
9. Mendocino Headlands State Park
These gorgeous bluffs surround the town of Mendocino on 3 sides. There are 3 miles of trails along these winding cliff with spectacular views of sea arches and hidden grottos and beaches. This is an easy spot to park and enjoy a short stop for beautiful photos, or take some time to explore and hike around.
10. Jenny's Giant Burgers
940 N Main St.
Sometimes the best food is at the most unassuming places… this burger shack is a great stop after spending some time at Glass Beach. A simple burger and fries pretty much always hits the spot.
11. Cowlick's Handmade Ice Cream
250 N Main St.
This iconic ice cream shop is very popular amongst locals and tourists. Most likely you will see a line out the door for their delicious hand made ice cream. The store makes their ice cream with locally sourced ingredients and focus on supporting local. I promise the line is worth the wait and be sure you try the candy cap mushroom flavor!
Tip- I visited when the store first opened on a Monday morning and there was no line.
12. Botanical Gardens
18220 N Hwy 1
Explore the beauty of the botanical gardens full of the plants that thrive in the foggy and cool coastal climate. This is another activity on my list for my next visit to see. Find out what’s in bloom for when you plan to visit.
13. Point Cabrillo Light House
This light house is active duty aid to navigation located on a headland extending out into the pacific ocean. Park in the lot right inside the gate off Point Cabrillo Dr. and enjoy a 1/2 mile walk to the light house. Enjoy the views the and check out the light house museum (open 11am – 4pm)
I hope you found this post about all the best things to do in Fort Bragg helpful and inspiring for your next trip! Feel free to reach out in the comments with any questions or let me know what plans you have, I love hearing from you! You can also reach out to me on Instagram.
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