FORT BRAGG, CA. — In the tree canopy above our campsite, a group of silky black ravens are entertaining us. As the unofficial welcome crew at MacKerricher State Park tucked along the California coast, they are chattering on with their deep-throated croaks and caws. When they make a noise that sounds exactly like crashing bowling pins, we can’t help but smile in wonder.
With our campsite in order and the welcome crew moving onto tthe next arrivals, we head out to see what we came here for — Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach. From the parking lot, we follow the walking path down to the beach, and I have to admit, I’m a little worried the beach will be filled with treasure seekers like us. When the beach comes into view, my concerns evaporate. There are certainly glass hunters milling about, but not so many that it is too crowded. Having driven three days to tick this destination off our bucket list, we spend a couple of hours sifting through the sand. We pick out pieces of coloured glass, place them in our palms, and snap photos with the surf as the backdrop. Then, we lie back in the sand and soak up the warm California sunshine.
Later, after dinner, we wander down the trails from the campground that weaves through low twisted windswept trees and over grassy dunes to the beach. Here too, we are only a one of few who’ve come to watch the orange sun as it sinks into a purple coloured sea.
Above: The lighthouse has been a fixture along the Mendocino Coast since 1909 .
This marks the end of our first day and the beginning of our Fort Bragg adventure.
The next morning we are greeted by the ravens, who eye campsites from above to see if any tasty morsels are for the taking. We decide to make it easy on ourselves and head to Eggheads, which has been serving up “An Adventure in Good Taste” for over 38 years. With its Wizard of Oz décor, and an outside outhouse with a painted image of the Emerald City’s gatekeeper, it’s not one of those restaurants you’ll easily forget. Seated opposite a mural with Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and some Munchkins gazing down the yellow brick road toward the towering spires of the Emerald City, our day is inspired by this intrepid group. We fuel up with biscuits and gravy and savoury egg dishes for our own day’s journey to a location that also has a tower, Point Cabrillo Light Station.
Located a short 15-minute drive south of Fort Bragg, the lighthouse has been a fixture along the Mendocino Coast since 1909 when its kerosene-powered third order Fresnel lens was ceremoniously lit at midnight. From the parking lot, its a 15-minute walk down a dirt road to the lighthouse, which rests on rocky cliffs overlooking the churning sea below.
The active light station features a four-sided bullseye lens that rotates at a fixed speed flashing every 10 seconds. Tours up the tower are only available on select days, but the museum and gift shop are open on a regular basis. We tour the museum and I longingly eye the former keepers' residences and storage cottages turned vacation rentals. Like Dorothy, we have our four-legged companion, and she is all about exploring the trails. As we walk along the path, we admire the seascape while she sniffs straw-coloured grass and peers over cliffs. Wanting to give her a place to run free we decide not to take the trail north to Frolic Cove where a clipper brig wrecked in 1850, and instead, head to Noyo Beach Off Leash Dog Park.
Set at the mouth of the Noyo River and spread along the beach of Noyo Bay, the dog park has plenty of sand for dogs to run and play. We throw sticks, play in the surf, and skim the beach for treasure. When our breakfast starts to wear off, we opt for an early dinner at the local favourite Jenny’s Giant Burger. This iconic restaurant has been serving up juicy burgers and hot, crispy fries for over 30 years. It doesn’t disappoint.
Above: There are plenty of treasures to find along the beach in Fort Bragg or in the charming antique shops.
With the California sun still blazing, we decide it is too early to end our day. From camp, we hop on our bikes and ride the 16-km coastal trail that runs all the way to Fort Bragg and beyond. We cruise to Glass Beach and then turn back, stopping at Laguna Point Boardwalk. The boardwalk trail is short and easy and ends at a viewpoint where you can see gray and humpback whales on their annual spring and fall migration.
Being mid-summer, we don’t see any whales, but a few curious squirrels come out to watch us walk along the creaking planks. Knowing we will soon be driving home, I linger at the viewpoint, letting the scenery sink deep into my memory. It’s not easy to describe the allure. It is rugged, it is wild, and if you pressed me for an answer, I’d say there is no place quite like the California coast.