Three hours north of San Francisco, nestled among the redwood forest and the Pacific Ocean sits the historic town of Fort Bragg. Here in the heart of Mendocino County are lovely beach coves filled with sparkling colorful glass pebbles and stretches of wide sandy beaches for horseback riding that offer an enjoyable day on the beautiful northern California coast.
Begin the day by packing a picnic lunch and heading to Glass Beach for a morning of searching and collecting tumbled stones. An easy walk from downtown, just head north on Main Street and then left on Elm Street. Follow the dirt road toward the ocean and when you reach the cliffs find a path leading down to one of the many coves or small beach spots to begin exploring.
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It’s hard to believe from 1949 to 1967, the area around Glass Beach was a public dump where everything from household garbage including glass to junked cars was tossed. A few decades of pounding surf turned this junkyard once commonly referred to as ‘the dumps’ into a famous Fort Bragg attraction where the worn down discarded glass has broken down into small, smooth, colored pieces that can be found on the beach.
Make sure to wear protective shoes such as Tiva’s or water shoes as you won’t want to go barefoot. The glass isn’t the concern as it is smooth and similar to little rocks. It’s some of the pathways leading down to the beach that can be somewhat treacherous. If you explore a bit off the main path there are spots that are much easier to navigate.
At first glance, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The beach may look like a regular rocky spot. But, take your time and search the area. You will find large chunks of metal fused with the rocks and sea cliffs and when you kneel down and start inspecting those rocks you will realize much of it is glass bits rolled to a dull polish by years of pounding surf.
As you recognize how many different colors of glass are hidden in the sand and pebbles, searching becomes addictive in a relaxed way. Look up and you’ll realize how many families are also scavenging for the glass bits. Different colors are harder to find and considered more valuable, even though the word is it is now illegal to take the glass pieces home with you since it is part of a protected state park.
The glass at Glass Beach is only half of the story. If you come at low tide, you will have the opportunity to discover tide pools as well. Trek out to the otherwise inaccessible areas where you will find numerous creatures of the sea. Find crabs of all sizes, sea snails, anemone, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and even eels.
Before leaving this playground for the naturally curious and adventure-minded head up to the top of the cliffs and find a nice spot to enjoy your picnic lunch. The views of the jagged coastline and ocean are spectacular and can easily be overlooked and underappreciated while focusing attention downward exploring the glass and sea life.
After your time at Glass Beach, head two miles north on Highway 1 to Ricochet Ridge Ranch for an afternoon horseback ride on the beach. Check in and watch a quick safety video focusing on mounting and dismounting a horse, then be fitted for a helmet and assigned a horse depending on your riding experience.
Starting from the ranch, a guide leads the group along a path through McKerricher State Park toward the beach and then continues along another path shared with bikes and runners at the edge of the sand. The guide keeps the group at a fairly slow pace and the scenery is so beautiful as you ride along Ten Mile Beach, that even expert riders will enjoy the experience. After a morning at the Glass Beach coves, this is a nice contrast to experience the sprawling white-sand beaches.
The guide leads the group closer to the waves looking for harbor seals that love to lounge on rocks jutting out of the ocean and sea creatures like jellyfish and sea stars that can be found on the beach. The excursion is great for families-kids six and up are able to ride-or anyone who enjoys horseback riding. It’s incredible to experience the beauty of the beach from atop a horse.
The slightly different perspective is quite magical.
After the hour and a half trip, shake out your legs-it’s amazing how stiff you can become during the ride. Head back to town to quench your thirst with some of the best craft beers brewed in Northern California.
Located on Main Street, North Coast Brewing Company restaurant serves up some great pub food such as their award winning clam chowder. They are also known for their fish and chips and brew-house burger as well as heartier dishes such as pork tenderloin Dijon and hormone and antibiotic free Brandt steaks.
But don’t forget the main attraction-beer. Brewing since 1988 this microbrewery and pub is best known for its Red Seal Ale; a full bodied pale ale. Several of their beers have won awards and they usually score well in beer tastings, so don’t limit yourself to a taste of just one; order the 10 beer sampler. Try Scrimshaw pilsner, the Belgian-style golden ale PranQster, the Russian-style imperial stout Old Rasputin, the Acme IPA or any of the other available brews.
After dinner, head two blocks north on Main Street to the Country Inn Bed and Breakfast. This 1890’s residence has been renovated into a sweet mom and pop inn with cozy Victorian themed rooms. This homey inn with lots of décor and touches offers quaint rooms at a very economical price.
After a day on the beautiful Mendocino coast discovering glass treasures, horseback riding along the shoreline, enjoying great food and microbrews you’ll certainly be ready for a good night sleep especially if you tried the 10 beer sampler.
What & Where:
Ricochet Ridge Ranch (24201 North Highway One;707-964-7669; www.horse-vacation.com)*
North Coast Brewing (455 North Main St; 707 964-2739; www.northcoastbrewing.com)
Country Inn Bed and Breakfast (632 North Main St; 707-964-3737 or 800-831-5327 ; www.beourguests.com)
*About Ricochet Ridge Ranch: Rides cost $45 – 1 1/2 hours on the trail. Trail rides take place daily on Ten Mile Beach beginning at 10:00am, Noon, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm by appointment. Departing from our ranch across from Mackerricher State Park in Cleone, two miles north of Fort Bragg. Children six years of age and older are welcome.