Aug 29, 2010

Explore California's Mendocino County

It’s our nature… when my husband and I reach a fork in the road we like to take the road less traveled. After a few days in San Francisco we headed north on Highway One instead of south, the most traveled part of Highway One. The scenery along Highway One North is just as spectacular and there are a variety of attractions that range from movie locations to coastal parks to a ride on the historic Skunk Train.

Just across the San Francisco Bay Bridge in Sausalito is one of our very favorite hotels, Inn Above Tide. It is the only hotel right on San Francisco Bay. The boutique hotel hugs the shore with views of San Francisco that can not be surpassed. Heading north our first stop was Muir Woods where we joined a walk with one of the naturalists. Muir Woods National Monument has magnificent old-growth redwoods and it is only 12 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. The main trail is an easy one-mile walk along Redwood Creek to the 1000-year old trees in Cathedral Grove.

In Bodega Bay, a fishing village made famous in “The Birds,” we dined at a seaside restaurant watching the dolphins cavort in the harbor. There are plenty of nature spots to explore on the way to Mendocino, a seaside village overlooking the Pacific. Once a lumber mill town built by transplanted New Englanders, it thrived in the 19th century but during the 1930s the town and the lumber industry declined. Luckily in the 1950s artists discovered it. Now, the entire town with its restored Cape Cod and Victorian buildings is on the National Historical Register. If it looks familiar, it is because it was the setting for “Murder She Wrote.” We found the meticulously restored Victorian MacCallum House Inn an excellent base for visiting the art galleries, walking through the nearby botanical gardens, or just sitting on the porch gazing out to sea after a game of croquette. We had dinner at Little River Inn where “Bonnie Blue Butler” the lady who played the child in “Gone With the Wind” was our hostess.

Just north of Mendocino is Fort Bragg. It is less touristy but an excellent base for exploring Mendocino County. Nearby is unique Glass Beach with many tide pools. We collected jewel-like glass shards. Years ago the offshore area was a dumping ground and included household garbage, which contained a lot of glass. Years of pounding waves turn the bottles into polished pebbles of glass.

We stayed at Atrium B&B on Main Street. It was just a short walk from the B&B to the Skunk Train station. The train got its nicknamed due to the original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em." The line runs the 40 miles between Fort Bragg on the coast and Willits on US Highway 101, making it one of the world’s premier train rides. It was originally built to support the lumber business. The train crosses 30 bridges and trestles along the scenic redwood route and through two mountain tunnels. Views from the restored rail cars as is chugs through the cathedral of trees is extremely impressive. We arrive to find entertainment and a barbecue waiting under towering trees.

Bird watchers, train enthusiasts, nature lovers, and romantics will be glad they drove “the road less taken” – and so were we.