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Trip Report A rainy weekend in Mendocino County with beer - a trip report

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Continuing our theme, 2011 - The Year of the Beer, the following is a trip report for our north coast weekend camping trip:

My husband and I went up to Fort Bragg for a late-season camping trip. We met my dad and step-mom up there to celebrate my birthday. We took a chance on the weather and lost. It rained pretty much the entire weekend, but we had a decent time anyway. New rule (reinforced old rule?) – no tent camping in the rain or any time of year where there is the possibility of rain. If it does rain, go to a motel. Fortunately my dad and step-mom have a small camping trailer, so we had a warm, dry place to hang out.

This area is absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth the drive to get there. It is a little out of the way, but not much longer of a drive than the Big Sur coast from San Francisco.
Friday

We left San Jose on Friday morning about 9am. We went up Hwy 280 through SF on 19th Ave and over the Golden Gate Bridge – then up Hwy 101 to Cloverdale where we cut over to the coast on Hwy 128. The drive took us about 4-5 hours, not including our lunch stop. Hwy 101 is pretty scenic and then Hwy 128 is really nice. Of course once you get to the coast, the views are spectacular.

We stopped in Boonville on Hwy 128 for lunch and beer tasting. Lunch was at the Boonville General Store, which is a friendly little place serving organic and locally-sourced food. The food was good, but a little bland for my taste. I had a potato, cheese, and pear tort and some bean and potato soup. My husband had a ham and swiss sandwich. After lunch we went to the Anderson Valley Brewing Company to do a little beer tasting. The setting is very pretty and the tasting room is nice. A friendly dog greets people are you come in. We really liked the Brother David Triple and the Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, so we bought some to take with us. Maybe it was an “off” day in the tasting room or something though because the women who were doing the pouring weren’t very chatty – more like people working a regular bar than a tasting room. They didn’t have much to say about the beer or the brewery even when asked. We go to breweries to taste because we like to talk about the beer with the people who make it. So that was a bit disappointing.

The drive from Boonville to the coast was very pretty. We passed many wineries – didn’t stop at any since we needed to get up to Fort Bragg in time to set up camp before dark, but there was definitely no shortage of opportunities for wine tasting. The route also goes through some beautiful redwood forests and along the Navarro River.
Then once we got to the coast, the drive up Hwy 1 was spectacular. Absolutely breathtaking. The town of Mendocino has to have the most picturesque location of any town I have ever seen. It looks like a little New England town set down on a CA coastal headland. Fort Bragg is a larger town – more of a working town with things people need like a grocery store, drug store, tire shops, etc. There is also a nice downtown with some good shops and restaurants. I see Mendocino as more artsy, picturesque, and upscale. Fort Bragg seems to be more of a family-friendly working town with a hippy vibe.

MacKerricher State Beach was our destination, which is just a few miles north of Fort Bragg. The park has a beautiful rocky coastline with small beaches here and there along the coast. There are 3 campgrounds, but this late in the season, only one was open. It is near the ocean, back under some pine and cypress trees. Very pretty setting, and only about 10% occupied, so we had it almost all to ourselves.

Once we got settled in camp and explored the park a bit, we all went into Fort Bragg for dinner at the North Coast Brewing Company. This is a must-visit for any beer lovers in the area. We did a 12-beer sampler and really liked 10 of the 12. Quite a high percentage. The Old Stock Ale was out of this world. So good. The food was pretty good too – clam chowder was tasty, good fish and chips. They also have a great gift shop. And we bought some beer to take back to camp.

The evening was very chilly, so after we got back to the camp, we scrapped plans for a moonlight walk on the beach and opted to hang out in the trailer and play cards instead – and drink some of our lovely beer.

Saturday
It had rained overnight, but wasn’t really raining when I got up. After some coffee, my dad and I went out for a walk with the dog. There is an old logging road, called the Haul Road, which runs along the coast into Fort Bragg. We walked along there down to a look-out point in the day-use area of the park. The views are spectacular – even with windy cold weather and a few sprinkles, it was gorgeous.

Later on. we had planned to walk the haul road into Fort Bragg (it is about 3 miles), but it started raining quite a bit in the afternoon, so we decided to just go into Fort Bragg in the car and find some used book stores and other interesting shops. We spent a few hours wandering around there – found a few good things to buy and got some coffee and a light lunch at the Headlands Coffeehouse. We really liked Headlands Coffeehouse – the coffee was good, the people were friendly, and it was just a nice place to get in out of the rain. We did get a good laugh while we were there – a protester was outside picketing the coffeehouse. He seemed to believe that the owners of the coffeehouse were part of the 1%. Yeah – I understand that owning an independent, small town coffeehouse is a common way to become a bzillionaire.

Later the weather looked better, so we drove north of Fort Bragg to 10 Mile Beach. This is a very wide, flat beach with some very large rocks sticking up at various places and a creek running t the ocean. In better weather, it would be a good beach for wading in the water, picnicking, etc. We wrote stuff in the sand with sticks, and had a nice time just hanging out. Dogs are allowed on that beach, so I took the dog for a nice jog up and down the sand, play tag with the small waves, and so on.

The sun was setting and it was raining more, so we went back to camp – hung out in the trailer, had dinner, drank some more of the beers we picked up the day before, and played cards.

Sunday

Still wet and rainy, so Marty and I just packed up and headed out. My dad and step-mom were planning to stay another day. Of course as soon as we were driving away from camp, the sun came out and the rain stopped. Thanks Mother Nature. So we drove down to the point at the beach where the day-use parking lot is. My husband got his camera out (for the first time this trip) and was able to take some good shots on the waves, the beach, the cliffs, and clouds. I cannot overstate how beautiful this coastline is. Just rocky and wild – a wonderful place to come.

We spent so much extra time at the beach that it was lunch time before we left Fort Bragg, so we stopped at Jenny’s for a burger and then headed out. The burger was good – just what you expect from a small-town drive-up burger joint.

The drive back was as beautiful as the drive there – back down Hwy 1 to 128 to 101. We stopped in Santa Rosa to see my sister-in-law’s new house and take her to dinner - Russian River Brewing Co in Santa Rosa. The place was really crowded – seems to be a go-to spot on the weekends. We had pizza, which was really good, although I thought their beer was just ok. Their menu is heavily weighted toward IPAs, which I don’t care for, but they do have some good Belgian styles.

Overall, the weekend was good – the camping in the rain part was a real hassle, but we loved the north coast and got to try some great new beers. This was my husband’s first trip to the area and my first trip since I was a small child. We will definitely go back – I predict several trips to the area in our future. I’d like to check out more of the state parks in the area, and explore more of the towns, especially Mendocino.

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