When traveling to Fort Bragg you may start to notice that this town has a character all its own.
After the glitz and high prices of Mendocino, it becomes clear that Fort Bragg has its own flavor, with one of the most famous beaches in California and free state parks, wild coastline, and a working harbor.
More of California’s secret places here:
Having visited twice, I find new things to love about it each time. These are the best things to do in Fort Bragg, California:
Where to Stay
Mendocino county is all about small B&Bs and inns. There are several commercial chains in Fort Bragg, but do yourself a favor and stay somewhere quaint with a beautiful view.
My friends and I stayed at the Noyo Harbor Inn, which gives you gorgeous views of the bridge, a HUGE bathtub, an opportunity to hear seals and sea lions in the water, and easy access to the best meal we had of the whole trip at their restaurant – I am not exaggerating.
You can book the Noyo Harbor Inn here, and be sure to make a reservation at the restaurant when you do!
Easily Fort Bragg’s most famous feature, the glass beach actually used to be a dump.
Over time, the waves eroded the glass that had been dumped on the beach, resulting in an entire beach with little pieces of sea glass as its sand.
I was disappointed when I visited in 2019, finding that there was little to no sea glass left. People had collected it to take it home, which had caused it to lose much of its allure.
But having just visited in 2021, for whatever reason, more glass must have washed up and at golden hour or sunset, in particular, it really glows.
But even if you don’t get lucky like we did and see the glass, you have a good chance of seeing seals, and you will have a beautiful sunset overlooking the rocks as well. So basically, you can’t lose!
You can see more of what it looked like (and everything else in this post) in the video below:
Parking is free, so enjoy!
Skunk Train and Rail Bikes
What in the world is a skunk train? And what in the world is a rail bike?
The skunk train used to be the connector for the various towns along the Mendocino Coast. It got its name for the horrible smell that the mixture of fuels used to emit back in the day.
Nowadays you can book a ticket to ride the skunk train into the Redwoods — don’t worry, it doesn’t smell like a skunk anymore — or you can opt for the rail bikes, which is what we did.
The bikes also go along an old railroad track, with two seats for each bike. You’ll have a hand brake and access to an electric bicycle to help power the bike. The ride is only about 20 minutes of peddling, and then you’ll come to a Redwood forest that you can hike through. It’s a very easy hike at only a mile, but gives you a glimpse of the tallest living organisms on earth.
Both experiences together take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. You can book the bike here and the train here.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
What I just loved about most of the parks and reserves in Fort Bragg is that they were free, which isn’t so much the case for the ones closer to Mendocino.
We went there looking for tide pools, but what we got was a beautiful walk along bluffs over the ocean, and of course, the pygmy forest!
What is a pygmy forest? Take a look:
It’s a weird, amazing walk through gnarled cypress and pine trees that are twisted in strange and glorious ways. It’s a small area that’s so fun to climb in and explore. From the parking lot, the trail will naturally take you that direction to the right on your way down to the beach.
As for the tide pools, they were just all right, but all of the different plants growing on the rocks down there were really cool to check out, along with the peaceful atmosphere.
Ten Mile Beach Dunes
Ten Mile Beach, which is actually not a whole 10 miles long, has a southern, middle, and top access point where you can go and explore the sand dunes.
Though you might not be impressed if you have checked out the Kelso dunes in Mojave, the Mesquite Flat dunes in Death Valley, or dunes abroad, it still is cool to see something different in Fort Bragg.
These are easy to access, was just a short walk from any of the parking places you might pick. Access is also free!
MacKerricher State Park
You might be noticing a state park theme here, as there are plenty of them all along the coast in Fort Bragg, but each one has something unique to discover and each is worth exploring!
That brings me to MacKerricher State Park, which has free day entry and paid overnight camping options.
I loved walking along the beach there, looking at the clam and abalone shells, and saying (an appropriately distanced) hello to the seals who were out on the rocks.
This is also a great place to take a bicycle, with many paved paths that you can take either on foot or bike all along the coastline.
Noyo Headlands Park
A former Native American reservation that operated more like a slave colony, the Noyo Headlands have a dark history, but the views are undeniably beautiful.
This is another great spot to take a bicycle, as there are paved, wide bike paths.
Or you can simply walk and enjoy the perfect positioning for sunset, or in my case, an early morning stroll. The views just keep on serving over and over! There are also a few interpretive signs that help tell the history.
Looking for some fresh and affordable fish and chips in an otherwise very expensive area for restaurants?
The Noyo harbor has several spots where you can get some clam chowder or other cheap seafood. This also feels like a very local area, where you’re hanging out with the people who live there and get a chance to get a look at the fishing ships as they come in and go out as well. You’re sure to see some seals in the water, too!
Some other honorable mentions include the Sea glass museum, which I admit I have never checked out, nor do I particularly plan to. But if you are super into the sea glass, you might enjoy knowing that it exists!
There’s also so much to see in the surrounding areas, including the town of Mendocino and the state parks near there. You can read about my favorite things to do in Mendocino here.
Interested in wine and more Redwoods? You can also drive down Highway 128 to see more. If you’re coming from the Bay Area, you’ll probably take this road in to the coast.
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Whether you prefer a more outdoorsy experience or just want to sit on the beach and enjoy the sunsets, I think you’ll find Fort Bragg a fuss-free, salt-of-the-earth type of place worth exploring.
*Some links in this post are affiliate links, which support this site at no extra cost to you! The stay with Noyo Harbor Inn was also hosted, however all thoughts on their delicious food and awesome bathtub are my own!
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