Things to Do in Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast provide excellent opportunities for all kinds of outdoor activities, and you are perfectly positioned to take advantage of them when you stay at the Surf & Sand Lodge.
There are dozens of places where you can take a hike. First and foremost, you can walk out our back door onto the MacKerricher State Park Coastal Path, a paved trail only used by foot traffic, bikes, and the occasional horse. The path follows the ocean for 9 miles up to Ten Mile Beach. Fort Bragg is adjacent to the 50,000-acre Jackson Demonstration State Forest, and you’ll find many miles of trails out in the woods.The Jughandle State Reserve, just 3 miles south of Fort Bragg, offers an excellent trail along the Ecological Staircase, a series of plateaus going inward from the shore, where each plateau supports a different ecosystem. A little further south, you can hike out to a waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park, or walk along the ocean bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands State Park. You can find out more on our Parks & Gardens page.
The MacKerricher Coastal Path provides miles of flat riding on a paved path along the ocean. The road is washed out near the northern end, so you can even ride in sand if it suits you. There are hundreds of miles of trails out in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest, some of them considered to be extremely technical. Big River, 10 miles south in Mendocino, has an old logging road that follows the north side of the river for many miles. This is a great ride along the river and through the redwoods, and it gradually climbs as you go inland. In August and Spetember, you can find blackberries lining the road a few miles inland. Some of the trails in Russian Gulch and Van Damme State Parks are open to bikes, including a 500-foot descent into the Fern Canyon at Van Damme.
This area provides a variety of habitats for birds: the ocean, forests, and rivers all support different kinds of birds. The local Audubon Society leads birding walks all the time at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, as well as at Lake Cleone in MacKerricher SP. They even go out to sea several times a year on pelagic birdwatching tours.
Whalewatching and Sportfishing
Since Fort Bragg has a working harbor with a fishing fleet, there are a bunch of outfits that will take you out on the ocean for sportfishing. During the annual migration of the California Gray Whales, you can also go out on a boat to get very close (not not too close!) to the 40-foot whales. On the return leg of the migration, they have the newborn calves along with them. You can also see the whales from the shore along the entire Mendocino Coast, including from your room and balcony at Surf & Sand.
Ricochet Ranch is only a couple of miles north of the Surf & Sand, near the entrance to MacKerricher SP. They will take you riding for miles along the ocean on the beach leading up to Ten Mile River, at the north end of MacKerricher SP. From this beach, you can see north to the Lost Coast—an area so rugged that they shifted Highway One inland for a stretch to avoid it.
In addition to ocean kayaking, there are a number of navigable rivers in the area, including Ten Mile RIver, the Noyo River, and Big River. To find out more, or to rent equipment, go to SubSurface Progression in Fort Bragg or Catch A Canoe in Mendocino. Fort Bragg Marine (964-3310) is down in Noyo Harbor, and you can rent a kayak and launch right there.
This is popular with kids and adults. The historic Skunk Train has been taking passengers through the redwoods along the Noyo River for a hundred years. They even have an open-air car that lets you really appreciate the redwood trees and the scenery. The trip takes you inland to a lovely spot in the redwoods, and then you return to Fort Bragg. They occasionally have musicians on the train, and they even do a Santa Train around Christmas.
There are quite a few surfing spots along the Mendocino Coast. Two popular spots are within 2 miles of the motel: Pudding Creek Beach, and Virgin Creek Beach. If you want to find out more about local surfing, talk to the people at Subsurface Progression—they are hooked into the local water sports scene. The best surfing here is during the winter months, from November into the spring.
One of the most popular activities on the Coast is abalone diving. According to the law, you must free-dive (no air tanks), and you are severely limited in your daily and annual take. Abalone diving requires a license and a card for recording every abaline as it is taken out of the water. Check with one of the dive shops to find good diving spots, rent equipment, etc. Be careful—people die every year while abalone diving. And the Fish & Game folks take poaching seriously, since overfishing is bad for everyone who loves the taste!
The Lost Coast
The Lost Coast, which starts about 30 miles north of us, is so rugged that the inrepid highway builders decided to shift Highway One inland for almost a hundred miles to avoid it. The area offers 4WD action, camping, and hiking in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. This area is rugged and remote, and there are bears and mountain lions—know what you’re doing when you go into the wilderness!
Avenue of the Giants
An easy way to see giant redwood trees is to drive along the Avenue of the Giants, about 50 miles north of us. Starting just south of the town of Garberville, they preserved a 20-mile stretch of the old highway through fantastic groves of redwoods. You can poke along this road, stopping at park headquarters, redwood groves, and little towns along the way. If you have never seen redwood trees before, you will literally be amazed at their height and beauty! When you’ve had enough, simply get back onto Highway 101 to return.
Parks and Gardens
North of Fort Bragg (from north to south)
The Lost Coast / Sinkyone Wilderness State Park : this section of the coast was so rugged that the highway builders went inland with Highway One for a long stretch. The area they skirted is called the Lost Coast, and the southern section in Mendocino County is mostly only available with 4WD, and only in the dry season. There's a fabulous spot 6 miles into the area called Usal Beach, site of a logging operation a century ago.
Howard Creek / Westport-Union Landing State Beach : this is the last accessible beach before Highway One goes inland to skirt the Lost Coast. The beach is 3 miles long, and there are 100 campsites right along the ocean.
Bruhel Point: this small wetlands area is just south of Westport. In addition to coastal headlands, harbor seals hang out on the rocks during the pupping season.
Ten Mile Beach and Dunes : at the mouth of the Ten Mile River, a beach and haul road start that go south for almost ten miles, through Mackerricher SP on down to Pudding Creek. There are large dunes here, but they are a protected habitat for the snowy plover and other birds.
MacKerricher State Park : this park is in the top 100 in the country for number of visitors, and it's easy to see why. It has miles-long beaches, a lot of campsites, a stocked fishing lake (Lake Cleone), and a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk out to a promontory overlooking the rocks where harbor seals live. The pupping season in April and May is fascinating and photogenic. In addition to the beaches, there are headlands areas with flat, easy walking trails. The Haul Road is popular for biking and horseback riding. This is the footpath that runs along the edge of our property. You can have your dogs on leash in the area south of Ward Ave, although you must avoid the seal rookeries during the pupping season. From the length of MacKerricher, you can see all the way up to the Lost Coast.
Glass Beach : this beach, which is now part of MacKerricher State Park, was the city dump for many years, and all that is left is the finely-tumbled bits of glass (don't take it, either!). It is colorful on a sunny day, and a beautiful spot regardless of the weather. From the Surf & Sand, walk south on the MacKerricher coastal footpath across the Pudding Creek Trestle, which was recently renovated for foot traffic. Follow the trail along the ocean until you come to Glass Beach, only a 10-15 minute walk from Surf & Sand.
Noyo Beach: this beach allows dogs off-leash. To get there, take North Harbor Drive all the way down into Noyo Harbor to the end of the road, it ends under the Noyo Bridge. Park at the end and walk to the beach.
Fort Bragg Dog Park: this off-leash, fenced dog park is a recent addition to the area parks.
Pomo Bluffs Park: this park spans the bluffs on the south side of the mouth of the Noyo River. From Highway One, turn west at the light at Ocean View Drive, and proceed all the way to the end by the ocean. The road turns to the north at the ocean, leading up to a large parking area. This is a great spot for whalewatching during the annual migration.
Fort Bragg South to Mendocino
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens : this is a botanical garden, not a park, but it should be mentioned anyway. The gardens feature indigenous plants, especially rhododendrons, they have a fabulous collection. In August, the dahlia garden is simply amazing. The gardens are host to several charity events each year, including Art in the Gardens and WineSong. They allow you to take your leashed dog into the Gardens!
Point Cabrillo Light Station & Preserve : this preserve has a restored lighthouse with a third-order Fresnel lens. This is a wonderful location from which to spot whales, since they seem to consistently come very close to shore.
Jackson Demonstration State Forest : 50,000 acres of state forest to the east of Fort Bragg and Mendocino. You'll find a beautiful waterfall in a grove of virgin redwood trees at Chamberlain Creek, and a fabulous hike at the Forest History Trail. There's excellent mountain biking at the Woodlands State Park. There are hundreds of miles of horse trails throughout the forest, as well.
Russian Gulch State Park : there is a beautiful headlands area by the ocean, complete with a blowhole. As you head inland by bike or foot, you'll find a waterfall in the redwood forest.
Mendocino South to the Navarro River (Highway 128)
Mendocino Headlands State Park : the Mendocino Headlands surround the village of Mendocino, which is a National Historic Preservation District. The headlands have foot paths all the way around, connecting up with Portuguese Beach and Big River State Beach. It's a great spot for walking by the ocean, whalewatching, and finding wildflowers.
Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park : This park unit contains 7000 acres of the Big River watershed, with a great gravel road following the river for many miles. You can ride the road on mountain bikes, and connect up with hundreds of miles of roads and trails in the Jackson Forest. You'll also find blackberries in abundance in the late summer. The river is navigable for at least 7 miles inland, and it's a popular spot for kayaks and canoes.
Chapman Point / Spring Ranch Headlands Preserve : a pleasant walk along headlands, with postcard views of Mendocino from across the bay. This connects up with Van Damme State Park at Little River.
Van Damme State Park : there's an excellent beach here where many kayaks and abalone divers set out, and a campground within the park. The park follows Little River inland into the redwood forest where the ground is covered with ferns. There's also a boardwalk through a section of pygmy forest, where the hardpan traps water just under the surface. Oxygen-starved plants grow slowly along the boardwalk, you'll find 100-year-old pine trees that are only a foot tall.
Navarro Overlook : this new preserve (day use only) is on bluffs overlooking a huge expanse of ocean. Make sure you have a windbreaker here, the wind never stops! This is on Highway One, just a mile north of where Highways One and 128 meet at the Navarro River.