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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Fort Bragg, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Aug 7, 2019

On the Mendocino Coast, Fort Bragg has grown from its industrial roots to become a tourist destination of Northern California. Filled with ocean-side appeal and fun things to do, it's hard to believe that much of the rugged coastal landscape of Fort Bragg was once exclusively reserved for army bases and lumber operations. Places like Noyo Headlands Park, first open to the public in 2015, is a great example of the tourist magnets now revealed in Fort Bragg.

For more outdoor activities in Fort Bragg, including things to do with dogs, MacKerricher State Park is popular with locals, tourists, and canine companions alike. Featuring many of Fort Bragg's top attractions including Pudding Creek Beach and Glass Beach, MacKerricher State Park also features over 140 campsites. Other postcard images of Fort Bragg are on display at places like Pomo Bluffs Park and the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

The heritage Fort Bragg Railroad, better known as The Skunk, offers two routes through the estuaries and redwoods of the area, as well as insight into the history of the region. Other historical points of interest can be found at the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg—a preserved 19th-century residence constructed out of old-growth redwood lumber. For fun things to do during the winter, migrating gray whales can often be seen along the entire Mendocino Coast.

Plan your sightseeing adventures in and around this California coastal town with our list of the top things to do in Fort Bragg.

1. MacKerricher State Park

MacKerricher State Park

A stunning example of things to do on the Mendocino Coast, MacKerricher State Park encompasses glass beaches, vibrant tide pools, and coastal trails spanning historic railroad trestles. On the north side of Fort Bragg, this popular state park features activities throughout the year, like camping next to the ocean in the summer and spotting gray whales in the winter. The campground at MacKerricher State Park includes 150 individual sites and two large group sites able to accommodate up to 40 people.

The park's visitor center is a good place to start when visiting MacKerricher and is the meeting location for weekend Whale Watching Walks led by a naturalist. Other wildlife sightings at MacKerricher include seals, foxes, and numerous species of birds, including great blue herons. The Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve runs the northern length of the park, providing a unique wetland and dune habitat that is fun to explore.

Address: 24100 Mackerricher Park Road, Fort Bragg, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=436

2. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

In operation for over 50 years, this non-profit garden space thrives in the mild Northern California climate of Fort Bragg. Hosting thousands of visitors each year, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens most proudly displays a dazzling collection of rhododendrons, of which some hybrid species tower over the accessible trails. Other gardens and aromatic areas at the facility include dahlias, fuchsias, magnolias, and succulents.

The on-site Rhody's Cafe offers fresh fare made from the nearby vegetable garden, with table seating overlooking a perennial garden. Numerous programs and events occur at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, including the annual Arts in the Garden featuring live music, food, and regional art. With growing interest throughout the year, check out the botanical garden's website to see what's in bloom before visiting.

Address: 18220 CA-1, Fort Bragg, California

Official site: https://www.gardenbythesea.org/

3. Noyo Headlands Park

Noyo Headlands Park

A popular spot for things to do next to the ocean in Fort Bragg, Noyo Headlands Park encompasses the bluffs along the edge of the city for over three miles. Across Noyo Bay from Pomo Bluffs Park, this sprawling public space features great views of the dramatic, rocky shoreline and crashing waves. On the northern end of the park, the neighboring MacKerricher State Park offers more coastal appeal with popular beaches, shifting sand dunes, and a Glass Beach.

The stunning coastline and sunset-watching spots in Noyo Headlands Park were only recently opened to the public in 2015. Formerly private property belonging to a lumber mill, the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail connects to the surrounding state and city parks for extended bike ride opportunities. Numerous park benches and rest spots line the park and trail, providing a great place to watch gray whales migrate next to the shore in winter.

4. Glass Beach

Glass Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

At the southern end of MacKerricher State Park, this once dumpsite is now filled with smooth, little treasures. After a thorough tumbling from ocean waves, white, green, and brown sea glass fills the entire beach at this popular attraction. It is illegal to remove any sea glass from the area, but it's easy to appreciate the smooth textures during a visit. Within the city, the Sea Glass Museum has over 3,000 pieces to also appreciate, including rare and unique varieties.

Address: West Elm Street, Fort Bragg, California

5. The Skunk Train

The Skunk Train

In late 19th century efforts to expand timber operations in Mendocino County, the Fort Bragg Railroad was created to transport workers and families to logging camps. Eventually evolving into the California Western Railroad, and quickly earning the moniker, The Skunk, for its pungent fumes, this iconic passenger line shaped the culture and community of a young Mendocino County. Passengers today can experience this history on two beautiful routes offered by the now heritage railroad.

Departing from Fort Bragg, the Wolf Tree Turn Route takes passengers through the redwood-lined Noyo River Canyon on a two-hour trip. The other scenic passenger line available on The Skunk includes a route through the Pudding Creek Estuary on tracks laid in 1885. Other fun things to do surrounding The Skunk Train include embarking on a two-person railbike through a lush forest, and visiting the adjacent Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society.

Address: 299 East Commercial Street, Willits, California

Official site: https://www.skunktrain.com/

6. Fort Bragg Coastal Trail

View along the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For a fun, free thing to do seven days a week, the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail tours miles of Mendocino County coastline via a paved pedestrian path. Stretching from Pomo Bluffs on the south side of the city to the northern end of MacKerricher State Park, this continuous pathway and collection of coastal trails is popular with walkers, strollers, and cyclists—and always delivers on great ocean views. One of the easiest trailheads to reach is located off Elm Street next to Glass Beach.

7. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the southern edge of Fort Bragg, five miles north of the village of Mendocino, this outstanding natural reserve offers a unique look into the geological timeline of the coast. Navigating sea-cut terraces comprised of different forest systems, including a unique pygmy forest, visitors on the 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail witness the longstanding results of shifting tectonic plates and fluctuating sea levels. Alongside this unique natural landscape, Jug Handle also delivers one of the best ocean vistas in Northern California.

The Headland Trail includes the first seven stops on the Ecological Staircase Trail. Sprouting with small sitka spruce and grand firs growing sideways, the half-mile headlands loop overlooks the wide beach also encompassed by the park. For those interested in reaching the sand and dipping their toes in the ocean, a short trail from the parking lot leads to this postcard beach. Camping and lodging can be found at the neighboring Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center.

Address: CA-1, Fort Bragg, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=441

8. Pudding Creek Beach

Pudding Creek Beach and Pudding Creek Trestle

Comprising the southern border of MacKerricher State Park, Pudding Creek Beach is a popular seaside destination. Beneath the scenic Pudding Creek Train Trestle, now a multi-use path and part of the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail, the beach is filled with activities like estuary exploring, sunbathing, and inspecting tide pools. A popular place for residents and tourists alike, Pudding Creek Beach is relatively quiet by California coastal standards, and it's easy to find a spot on the sand of your own.

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=436

9. Guest House Museum

Guest House Museum | ilya_ktsn / photo modified

The headquarters for the Fort Bragg - Mendocino Coast Historical Society, the Guest House Museum is a 19th-century home constructed from old-growth redwood lumber. First built to entertain the family and guests of the Fort Bragg Redwood Company, the city eventually purchased this stunning home and has operated it as a museum ever since. Permanent exhibits within the Guest House relate to the lumber heydays of the Mendocino Coast, with numerous artifacts and preserved interiors on display.

Address: 343 North Main Street, Fort Bragg, California

10. Pomo Bluffs Park

Pomo Bluffs Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the south bluffs of Noyo Bay, this city-owned space offers absolutely stunning views of the ocean. Lined with interpretive information about the area, a bluff trail leads to vantage points of the dynamic landscape below. A fun and free thing to do outside, the park encompasses only 25 acres, but the views can entertain for hours. Across the bay and connected by the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail, the dramatic coastline continues up north into Noyo Headlands Park.

Address: Cliff Way, Fort Bragg, California

11. Otis R. Johnson Wilderness Park

Otis R. Johnson Park | Tom Hilton / photo modified

Named after the son of Charles Russel Johnson, known as the "Father" of Fort Bragg, this seven-acre wilderness park offers a quick escape from the city. Located a mile inland from the ocean, the main trail of the park navigates through varied, lush environments including a redwood forest. Easy for an afternoon hike or early morning surrounded by nature, Otis R. Johnson is a favorite place for locals and a hidden gem of Fort Bragg.

12. Jackson State Demonstration Forest

East of Fort Bragg and Mendocino on Highway 20, this Demonstration Forest is the largest state-owned forest in California. Serving the purpose of forest research, education, and recreation, Jackson State Demonstration Forest delivers with over 50,000 acres, including numerous second-growth redwood groves. Mountain biking and hiking are both popular things to do within Jackson State Forest, as well as backpacking, car camping, and stargazing at night.

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Northern California: Directly south of Fort Bragg, the friendly headland village of Mendocino features the heart and soul of the region. Farther north, the artistically inclined city of Eureka has unique attractions and things to do, including historic mansions and the artistic Kinetic Grand Championship. One of the most famous attractions in Northern California is Yosemite National Park, known for its dramtic scenery and great hiking trails. It has also long been a favorite camping destination.

Central California Coast: If you enjoy the rugged shoreline and dramatic views of the Mendocino Coast, a similarly breathtaking view can be found at Big Sur in Central California. Adjacent to Big Sur, the city of Monterey attracts international attention with world-class attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For a romantic weekend getaway, the lavish Carmel-by-the-Sea offers plenty of charming seaside views and cottages.

Southern California Coast: The Southern California coast is always bustling with activities and things to do. One of the top spots for Southern California attractions, Santa Monica features a stunning bluff-lined ocean and family-friendly pier close to Los Angeles. Farther south, Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City U.S.A., is especially fun to check out Tuesday nights for the weekly Surf City Nights. For extra scenic appeal and postcard images with every turn, Laguna Beach is known to attract ordinary and celebrity tourists alike.

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