Mendocino County Weekend Getaway

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Since my darling husband got an extra day off for 4th of July weekend, we decided to take a longer vacation trip than what we did so far with Daniel. We wanted to take a break from the busyness we have had going on lately, and this weekend on our calendar has helped keep us sane! We had a wonderfully relaxing and restful time together.

California is blessed with many top-notch kid-friendly tourist destinations, so it wasn’t easy to choose, but very easy to plan!

We traveled to Fort Bragg on Friday afternoon, to beat Saturday morning’s traffic, and it was a great idea! Daniel napped in the car and it seemed like only a few got there as early as we did, because hotel parking and restaurants were empty. 

The drive to Mendocino coast took us almost 5 hours, and since all roads to the coast are very curvy, I would consider traveling somewhere else if you have children who get nauseated easily.
It was very cold, even in July, so make sure you bring lots of layered clothing! We didn’t get lots of sun, and we had to buy extra fleece layers so we will be able to enjoy all that we planned.

Our days were full of discovery, hiking and relaxing, and a four day weekend flew by with so much left to do for the next visit.

Hiking in Van Damme State Park
VanDamme State Park is a classic northern California rain forest located right across from the Pacific Ocean. It is home to redwoods and fern, songbirds, mountain lions, snakes, bears and salmon.

We started with Fern Canyon Trail.
Tip: Drive to the last parking lot and start the hike at the trail-head and save yourself a 10-15 minute walk from the Visitor Center.
The trail is about 5 miles, level, wide and well-marked, made up of broken concrete and wooden bridges, so it is stroller friendly.
The beautiful trail follows the Little River into the fern-carpeted canyon filled with young redwoods, red alder, big leaf maple and Douglas fir as well as many wild berry bushes. Along the trail, there are 10 bridges to cross, but we didn’t make it all the way, since we didn’t take the stroller with us and Daniel got tired. Even without finishing the Fern Canyon hike as we planned, it is very nice, cool, with lots of spots to go into the water and lots of exploring to do. Daniel enjoyed the hike. Most exciting for him were a snake we saw, a few fallen trees he played with as slides, going into the river and banana slugs. All around, this is a very kid-friendly hike.

Fern Canyon Trail
Fern Canyon Trail

After getting back to the car, we decided to change plans, and instead of heading back, to explore the Pygmy Forest Trail. Pygmy Forest is located 3 miles away, and it is a national landmark. The trail is a ¼ mile long elevated wooden walkway, perfect for toddlers and strollers. Dwarf cone bearing cypress and pine trees are the main attractions and although they are over 100 years old, it looks like a young forest. The soil these trees grow in is between 500,000 to 1,000,000 years old. The educational signage about the Pygmy Forest were interesting, and the trail is very short, so we were able to get back to our car and drive up to our hotel in time for nap.

Pygmy Forest Trail

Skunk Train
Since Daniel is a train lover, we could not miss this popular attraction. We took the 1 hour scenic train ride. It is really pretty ride through the redwoods, along the creek. There are other and longer options, but we wanted to get back early enough for bed time.
Once we were back from our train ride, we crossed the tracks to a the model museum. It is not fancy, but lots of fun! Admission is free with a Skunk Train ticket. Daniel enjoyed walking (and running) around a large G-Scale layout with over 1300ft of track. He loved finding out that one of the model trains is the one we just came off. The kids did not want to leave! One parent after another had to carry away a crying, yelling, kicking child away. And yes, so did we.

Skunk Train

Beachcomb at Glass Beach
This beach used to be Fort Bragg’s city trash dump site, and the waves created ocean-smoothed colored glass. This is a great kid’s destination. Daniel loved playing there, so we spent almost two hours playing with seaglass, exploring the tide pools and watching seal pups playing in the water.
When browsing attractions before our trip, friends told us not to go there because it's too crowded. Well, I think that if expectations are not too high, you will enjoy your visit to Glass Beach. The parking lot was full, but we easily found street parking close by. If you don’t expect a mile-long carpet of multi-hued seaglass, you will enjoy the colorful mixture of seaglass, shells and rocks.

Glass Beach

Point Cabrillo Light Station
The Point Cabrillo Light Station was built after the 1906 earthquake to guide San Francisco-bound cargo ships carrying lumber. It’s a 10-15 minute walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse where friendly docents show the exhibits and tell the lighthouse history to kids. The tower is closed for climbing but there are hiking paths on the bluffs, and a (very) small aquarium.
The road to the lighthouse is paved and stroller friendly. If you don't want to walk 20 minutes form the parking lot to the lighthouse, drive to the handicapped parking lot right next to the lighthouse. Although the road signs don't show it, there are a few regular parking spots next to the handicapped parking spots
It’s possible to rent one of the keeper’s homes for a vacation stay. That looked like an interesting choice, so we will surely remember it for our next vacation!
Point Cabrillo Light Station

Haul Road (Silvergate Trail)
This popular beach in MacKerricher State Park doesn’t have an official name. This trail was a nice 1 mile that was perfect for stretching legs, seeing flowers, exploring beetles and getting some views – though the fog blocked most of the panoramas. There is beach access, but we stayed on the bridge/trail. We did come back to play in the beach and sand dunes later. To access the trail, park at the Beachcomber Motel and cross the bridge to the other side.

Silvergate Trail

Downtown Mendocino
This beautiful downtown features architecture which dates from the 1850s. You’ll see grand Victorians (now primarily upscale B&Bs), Saltbox houses, and the characteristic water towers. There is also a vibrant artist community: It’s the place to go for one-of-a-kind works of art, so be sure to peek in the galleries and art stores.
We visited the downtown during the 4th of July’s parade which was much fun!

4th of July Parade
Somewhere around 2000 people (double the population) line the streets of Mendocino (Main St. & Lansing St.) to watch this kooky hometown parade. Make sure to come early to get a good spot. After the parade, head to the fire department for BBQ!

4th of July Parade in Downtown Mendocino

World’s Largest Salmon BBQ
The annual World's Largest Salmon BBQ is sponsored by the Salmon Restoration Association to raise money to take positive action to restore salmon to the rivers and streams. Great food, live music and a love of the outdoors are all part of the atmosphere at the barbecue. Make sure to get your tickets in advance! At the end of the event, head to Fort Bragg’s main bridge for the fireworks over the ocean. It was Daniel’s first time watching fireworks and it was very exciting! The fireworks show is about 45 minutes, and make sure you stay all the way to the end, as it gets much nicer when it’s completely dark outside. This event happens the first Saturday of July, so the fireworks are not necessarily on Independence Day.

First time watching fireworks!

Mendocino Botanical Gardens
Beautiful gardens with an ongoing Fairy House Project where kids can let their imagination and creativity run free.

B. Bryan Preserve
African Safari tour starts in the barn, where you climb into an antiquated open-air Land Rover to drive around the preserve and see 3 types of antelopes (kudu, sable and roan), two types of zebras (Grevy’s zebras and mountain zebras) and Giraffes. This is up-close-and-personal encounter with dozens of majestic animals without having to travel 6,000 miles to Africa.
1.5 hours tours run daily at 9:30am and 4:30pm, reservations are required. They also have two lovely cottages that they rent out.


We loved Mendocino County, and with so much more to explore - we will be back soon. Do you have any coastal favorites or tips? Please share in the comments! :)


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