Things to Do in Fort Bragg CA

Written by Mary Charlebois

February 22, 2022
The Yoast plugin is required for this function, but is missing.

Explore the other Fort Bragg on California’s wild and fragile Mendocino Coast. It is filled with wildlife, waves, wilderness, and wine.

There’s only one thing wrong with living in Fort Bragg; when you tell folks where you are from, they think you mean that lovely town on the east coast in North Carolina, which is home to the US Army. This is the other Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg, California, is on the wild and fragile Mendocino Coast of Northern California. Three hours from the Golden Gate Bridge, getting to the Mendocino Coast is a bucket-list journey with the kind of scenery you see in sports car commercials. There are so many things to do in Fort Bragg CA, with a focus on wildlife, waves, wilderness, and wine.

Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Site of the old fort in Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Rough and Tumble Beginnings

From around the globe, people came to Fort Bragg to make their fortunes, start a new life, or disappear into the hubbub of a boomtown. Some came for mill or timber work. Others came to fish the abundant North Pacific waters. Competent sailors and dock hands were in high demand. Craftsmen of all descriptions were needed. Merchants prospered. Many came to provide services to the men working on land and sea. Timbermen and seamen had to eat, sleep, get laundry done, buy new boots, and have fun after days at sea, weeks in the woods, or long hours in the mill.

The mill closed in the 1970s when cutting redwoods was sharply curtailed. You’ll still see a logging truck here and there, but the industry is small. Fishing holds on but is threatened. As a result, the Noyo Harbor fleet grows smaller each year. Today, it relies on tourism and its natural beauty.

Things to Do in Fort Bragg CA Today

Today Fort Bragg hosts visitors from around the globe. You can escape to wildlife, waves, wilderness, and wine when you visit Fort Bragg. Spend some time immersing in our off-the-hook natural world, intriguing history, and laid-back lifestyle.

Explore the Waterfront in Fort Bragg, CA

No trip to Fort Bragg is complete without exploring the waterfront. Noyo Harbor is one of the last small fishing villages left on the California coast. In this historic working harbor, you’ll see the catch-of-the-day coming in from the Pacific on fishing vessels, both commercial and pleasure craft. Packing sheds receive the day’s haul and prepare it for local and regional markets.

Noyo Harbor - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

There’s a shop with imported stone garden art and a gallery showing local work. Don’t miss the fish market or fishing from the jetties.

Get in the Water in Fort Bragg

When thinking about the best things to do in Fort Bragg CA, you simply must get out on the water. Take a kayak tour or try a charter boat. You’ll find several outfitters for kayaking. One of the best is Liquid Fusion Kayaking. They have all the gear you need and give you current details for the weather, water conditions, and tides. In addition, they offer guided or self-guided tours of the Noyo River and the Pacific Ocean.

Charter boats take folks out to fish, crab, watch whales, or for sunset and wine cruises. Use their gear or bring your own when fishing for Salmon and Rock Cod. Captain Tim of All Aboard Adventures has been exploring the coastal waters for more than 40 years.

Eat Seafood in Fort Bragg

More than seven seafood restaurants compete for your taste buds in the harbor while serving a variety of styles. Hook-to-mouth fish and shellfish, Tex Mex, casual, gourmet, seasonal, Mayan, vegan, grilled, baked, fried, and more.

Don’t be surprised to hear live music in the harbor at lunch or dinner. Local musicians often play on the river/ocean view decks. In addition, most harbor eateries have pet-friendly outdoor seating perfect for sipping the sundown.

Seafood Market - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Seafood Market in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

I suggest a harbor dine-around. Stop at the first place you see and have an appetizer, move on to the next spot for an entrée, and then dessert at the following location. You can park and walk for the entire experience. There’s no need to drive in compact Noyo Harbor.

Stop in at the seafood market to find local catch fresh or prepared for a picnic.

Rails Through Redwoods

Skunk Train Railbikes is just one of the rail experiences you can enjoy on Fort Bragg’s Skunk Train. It is an up-close and personal way to experience the Redwood Line from the classic train depot in downtown Fort Bragg to the magnificent redwood trees along Pudding Creek Estuary. Pedal-powered/electric motor-assisted vehicles that ride the rails leave Fort Bragg and ride to Glen Blair Junction. After stopping for a bit of history and nature talk, the bikes are turned around to return to Fort Bragg.

Skunk Train Rail Bikes - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Skunk Train Rail Bikes in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

The vintage Skunk Train also leaves the depot several times a day along the same roundtrip as the railbikes. Open-air and inside seating is available. The bar car has beverages for adults and kids. In addition, they offer snacks, sandwiches, and sweet treats. Special trips are popular with holiday themes, cookouts, and entertainment.

Your railbike or train ticket includes admission to the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society. It is located behind the Skunk Train Depot in Fort Bragg and depicts logging and railroad history in G-Scale. Model trains run along 1,300 feet of track, representing 6 miles of a full-scale railroad.

Occupy Nature

You will find such great nature scapes when you visit Mendocino County. Fort Bragg offers great opportunities to get close to nature.

Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail

Meandering more than 10 miles along the edge of the Pacific, the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail is a marvelous way to see the fragile, wild coastline, its many habitats, and historical sites. A hardtop path makes walking and rolling safe for all ages and abilities. Interpretive panels describe local nature and history. Handcrafted benches offer a scenic respite or an unparalleled whale-watching position when the breathtaking giants pass. This is part of the California Coastal Trail. Find details and a map of the Noyo Headlands Coast Trail online.

The Lost Coast from the Coastal Trail - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

The Lost Coast from the Coastal Trail in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

MacKerricher State Park

An extensive sand dune system borders a paved path for wheels and shoes at MacKerricher State Park. The path connects to the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail, where you can explore sandy beaches and hiking trails. A long boardwalk crosses the grasslands to a stairway down to tide pools.

Canoe and kayak in Lake Cleone. Sunrise is spectacular at the small lagoon. Soft steam hovers over the water. The loon’s call accompanies the first light of day.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are the crown jewel of Fort Bragg. Forty-seven acres stretching from CA Hwy 1 to the Pacific Ocean are covered with the native flora of Northern California. Among the gardens are rhododendrons, dahlias, conifers, heaths and heathers, camellias, magnolias, roses, begonias, succulents, mushrooms, and a vegetable garden.

botanical gardens

Catch the Dahlias in bloom in late summer at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

I plan to spend time here and communicate with nature. There’s a snack bar, gift shop, and nursery where you may buy some of your favorite specimens from your tour. In addition, operating hours, special events, classes, and ticketing can be found online.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Add Museum Hopping to Your List of Things to Do in Fort Bragg, CA

The area is steeped in history and there are a variety of museums for just about every interest. The Guest House Museum brings coastal history and cultures to life in this grand Victorian. The house, located in downtown Fort Bragg, was handcrafted from coastal redwood in 1892.

Guest House Museum - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Art covers every square inch of the Triangle Tattoo Museum. The diminutive Triangle Tattoo Museum exhibits body art from the Pacific Islands, Japan, New Zealand, Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and North America. The walls, stairwells, and ceilings are dedicated to art with a pulse.

The Sea Glass Museum is a homegrown creation explaining and displaying the bounty on Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach. The gift shop is the only place to get legal sea glass. There, you can purchase locally crafted items and unadorned specimens. Sea Glass Museum is a venerable local attraction that will share the ‘trashy’ side of life in Fort Bragg.

Creativity Fills Fort Bragg

Take the downtown Mural Walk, Fort Bragg’s newest art venue. The walk leads down alleys and behind buildings where artists have designed and painted murals depicting our town’s life, nature, and history.

Art Alley - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Art Alley in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

First Friday and Art Walk take place monthly on the first Friday. Downtown Fort Bragg galleries, shops, and eateries open their doors, bring out the wine, and bring on the music. Just show up and wander.

Festivity Abounds in Fort Bragg

Coastal folks love a good festival. We look for any excuse to celebrate Mother Nature, music, art, food, wine, and beer. Some of the most popular are Whale festivals in March, a film festival in May, a music festival in July, and a mushroom festival in the fall. Check online for the full calendar of events.

Car Show - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Car Show in Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Lodging in Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg has some great options for lodging. Everything from oceanside camping to ultra-luxury oceanfront lodges and homes is available on the Mendocino Coast. No matter what your budget or style, you’ll find a place that suits you. If you are looking for over-the-top luxury, be sure to check out Inn at Newport Ranch, about 10 miles north of downtown Fort Bragg. Another great luxury option is Brewery Gulch Inn, located in Mendocino, about 11 miles south of downtown Fort Bragg. The pet-friendly Beachcomber Motel and Spa on the Beach, located a mile north of downtown Fort Bragg, sits on the California Coastal Trail and has bikes you can use during your stay.

Beach Comber Motel - Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Beach Comber Motel in Fort Bragg CA. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Getting to Fort Bragg, CA

Fort Bragg is best accessed by auto. It’s about three hours north of San Francisco and three hours south of Eureka. First, take Hwy 101 to Willits, California, from the north or south. Then, head west on Hwy 20 for 33 miles, ending at CA HWY 1, the Pacific, and Fort Bragg.

If you don’t want to drive, you might consider cycling or local transit with county-wide connections. MTA has a trip planner online. All buses have bike racks and friendly drivers.

Articles Related to Fort Bragg CA and the Mendocino Coast

When You Visit Fort Bragg CA

Fort Bragg is your place to escape to wildlife, waves, wilderness, and wine. Unplug, unwind, and take a walk on the wild side. You can explore more great things happening in Fort Bragg CA online. Be sure to check out Wander for more to see and do in Mendocino and other great places to visit in California.

Written by Mary Charlebois

Mary Charlebois recalled that her mom called her Mary Go. One had only to mention 'going' and she would be waiting at the door. Today, her life as a travel writer/photographer suits her well. Her favorite travel destinations are 'off the beaten path', 'not well-known', and 'in the shadow of' locations. There she delves into art, music, food, libations, architecture, museums, parks, well-curated tours, history, agriculture, and the unexpected in micro-towns and big cities, domestically and internationally. Mary has been a photographer since the age of nine when she received a Brownie camera for her birthday. Photography is one of the biggest reasons she travels. She has begun tackling video the last few years—something describes as the perfect skill for an OCD person such as herself.