Our first overnight in California on our coastal road trip was in the small town of Fort Bragg. I had visited this town before and was excited to show my girls this area’s beautiful coastline. While we only had one night to stop in Fort Bragg, it would be an excellent weekend destination. Here are my picks for the best things to do in Fort Bragg, including visiting Glass Beach and what we wished we had time to do! Thank you to Visit Fort Bragg for hosting us during our stay.
Visit Glass Beach
This is probably what the city is most known for, and it has an interesting back story. Long ago Fort Bragg had a dump station that was off the edge of a cliff, into the shoreline below. Luckily, this dumping was stopped before the invention of plastics. Because of that, everything but the glass has rusted or decomposed. The glass has hung around, continuing to get tumbled in the ocean just off the coast. Storms and high tides wash these glass stones upon a cove beach, making what we know as Glass Beach.
From the overlook, you can’t even tell that the beach is made up of glass “pebbles”. Glass Beach is a specific cove beach slightly to the left (south) of the main parking lot. It is tricky to get down to the beach as there are no stairs and there is fencing stopping you from scrambling down from a couple of spots.
You can make your way down from the rocky bluff, just make sure everyone has good shoes and is slow and careful. Use your own judgment on whether you can make the climb down. We saw a few families with young kids on the beach, but I say again, it’s a rocky and tricky scramble down.
Note: Glass Beach is considered part of Fort Bragg / California public parklands, so please leave the glass on the beach for future visitors to enjoy!
Stay at the Beachcomber Motel
Our stay was at The Beachcomber Motel, and our first stop as we entered the city. It sits directly on the beach and was the perfect spot to catch an amazing California sunset. Our room was a simple motel style double queen room, but the real treat was the balcony deck that looked out onto the ocean and cliffs. The hotel does have suites and they’re pet-friendly in case you’re traveling with your pup. They also offer a complimentary continental breakfast, perfect if you’re not a big breakfast eater or if you want to get on the road early.
Check rates at The Beachcomber
The Beachcomber also runs along the popular 10-mile MacKerricher State Park Trail. You can borrow bikes from the Beachcomber and ride them north into the State Park or ride them south to Glass Beach. The Beachcomber also has fire pits so you can watch the sunset while roasting some s’mores. They also have a spa onsite so you could book a massage in case the driving has kinked your neck or if you just want to relax a bit on your first stop.
Our real love for this property was entirely about its location. They have a small cove beach right out their back doors and with a small trek down to the water you’ll find beautiful sand to sink your toes into and crashing waves to listen to. The hotel even has security locks on the upper room sliders so you can sleep with the patio doors cracked if you’d like to listen to the waves at night. There’s also a lovely cliff overlook that would be a beautiful spot for a picnic, assuming you have no fear of heights and no wandering little ones.
Hiking & Whale Watching at MacKerricher State Park
The Beachcomber Motel actually sits at the southern point of MacKerricher State Park, and as I mentioned above, one of the main trails of the park runs alongside the motel. The park runs almost 10 miles along Highway 1 and stops just north of the city center of Fort Bragg. You can borrow (or rent) bikes and ride from Fort Bragg into the park, or drive and walk along the boardwalk paths. It offers easy walking hikes, perfect for families.
This park is a great way to explore the unique looks of the Northern California coast as it includes sand, bluffs, and dunes. You’ll see a lot of wildlife in the park including a lot of birds and harbor seals. But the real draw to look for is Grey Whales. They migrate down from the north and back again; the best months to spot them is January to April. You can make your way to Laguna Point where there’s a special whale watching platform to look out from.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
On this trip we didn’t go to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, however, I did visit during a previous trip and think it’s one of the great places to visit in Northern California. It certainly allows you the opportunity to capture some beautiful lighthouse photography. While you can’t go up into the lighthouse, except for eight days throughout the year, you can explore the vast grounds and even spend the night at one of the lighthouse cottages. This spot might also be another opportunity to spot whales from the shore.
If you are wanting to go up in a lighthouse, drive farther south on Hwy 1 to the Point Arena Lighthouse.
Smell the Flowers at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
If you’re a fan of flowers and botanical gardens, this stop should definitely be on your list. These gardens spread along the coast so you’ll follow the paths out to the coastal bluffs. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time to stop in, but I wished we could have made the stop. The gardens are rated as the #1 thing to do on TripAdvisor!
Jazz and Drink at North Coast Brewing Co. Taproom
If you’re a jazz fan and arriving on the weekend, look into booking tickets for a jazz dinner show at North Coast Brewing Co. Taproom. North Coast Brewing Co. is one of the oldest and largest employers in Fort Bragg. They host top jazz musicians on Fridays and Saturdays in their Sequoia Room. I will say this is probably best for a couples trip not necessarily something to do with young kids.
Even if you can’t make it for the jazz performance, I highly recommend this spot for dinner. They’re known for their clam chowder if that’s a favorite for you. I had the fish and chips and we also had their popular shrimp ceviche appetizer; it’s a bit like a seafood version of cowboy caviar. Lizzy had their macaroni and cheese which features a beer fondue!
We also had a flight of beers, and I highly recommend doing that, you’ll definitely want to try a few beers on their list. If you’re into ciders or fruity wheat beers, I highly recommend their seasonal Tart Cherry Berliner Weisse. Paul is an IPA fan and thought their Red Seal Ale was excellent. We all came home with some beer-inspired soaps from their gift shop.
We had breakfast at Cafe One, where the girls got some crazy topped waffles, and then it was time to continue on our west coast road trip. Hopefully, these ideas will give you plenty of activities in do in Fort Bragg. It’s a charming coastal town and a must-visit on the California coast.