Friday, January 1, 2010

The Mendocino Coast

A distant 530 miles from Edwards via I-5, the picturesque Mendocino Coast makes a great 5-7 day trip. Any less time and you'll feel like a prisoner in your car. Normally, I would choose to pick a couple of roadside diversions along the way - but there was little that would make me lengthen the drive! But on insistent advice from a coworker, I decided to stop at the ultimate roadside distraction: Casa de Fruta. Tucked along route 152 between I-5 and route 101, Casa de Fruta is the epitome of tacky, overpriced and obnoxious. Billed as a dried fruit vendor, Casa de Fruta housed a carousel, passenger mini train, wine tasting, snack shop, ice cream & fudge, panning for gemstones - and you guessed it - boards to stick your head through. Yes, the ultimate break from a long drive! But beware, visiting Casa de Fruta then forces a longer drive to Mendocino. Your likely route from Edwards would then be I-5N to rt 152 to rt 101N.

En route close to Mendocino, you'll pass through some of the finest stands of Redwoods. Then you will be treated to remarkable coastal scenes along the PCH. Mendocino itself is tiny, but caters to the tourist. On Lansing St, you'll find the Harvest Market. Load up on picnic eats and a few bottles of local wine. For those interested in local architecture and history, spend 2 hours walking around town and through the local shops. For a rest, stop into Breggo Cellars on Main Street and taste their red wines.

Take those picnic eats with you on a stroll along the Mendocino Headlands (go west to the end of Main St). You'll find stairs down to a small beach, or you can stay on top and enjoy watching the waves crash against the coastline.

Now that you've seen the town of Mendocino, you'll want to expand your ring of experience. Highlights along the Mendo Coast are the Russian Gulch and Van Damme Beach State Parks. You'll find short-to-long hiking trails along beautiful coastline and interior forests (to include several Pygmy forests). Driving 10 miles north, you'll be rewarded at MacKerricher State Park. There, you can find a nature trail leading to easily accessible tidepooling and an overlook where you'll find sea lions / seals. Unless you're a birding enthusiast, avoid the walk around the lagoon. The boardwalk ends 200 yards into the walk and you'll find yourself wondering why you didn't just stay a little longer at the seal overlook.

For a romantic touch, consider Ricochet Ranch trail rides on the beach or amongst the Redwoods. We took the $45, 90-min ride along the beach and it was perfect. Ask how many are going on the ride you book - and avoid going when there's a crowd of tourists.

Now that you've seen nature, check out a blending of man's impact on nature. Glass Beach, around 901 Glass Beach Drive in Fort Bragg, CA, is a serious enjoyment. On the site of an old dump, this beach's sand is half sand, half beach glass. Spend an hour sifting through the variety of colored glass.

Also in Fort Bragg (just north of Mendo), you'll find the Skunk Train. It has a variety of short rail trips. They were closed when I was there, but reviews are excellent. Of note, CNN named the rail graveyard behind the Skunk Train building in Fort Bragg to their top 10 Most Creepy Sites in America in 2009.

The Anderson Valley (along hwy 128) is a day-trip from Mendo. Tasting fees are reasonable (Free or $5 for ~ 6 pours) and the valley hasn't yet become a busy Napa. Pick up a map of the local wineries and be sure to try Scharffenberger (sparkling), Husch and Handley. Combine with a trip south along the PCH to the Point Arena lighthouse and the oddly curious bowling ball beach.

1. Because cell & data reception are poor in Mendocino, you may need to find Moody's Organic Coffee Bar (pay Internet).

2. You can't go wrong with the restaurants in the town of Mendocino - but expect fairly expensive entrees.

3. Pack layers.

4. Travel is slow on the Mendo coast. The roads are windy and speed limits are low.

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