This post was most recently updated on December 14th, 2021
Just three hours north of San Francisco lies the coastal city of Fort Bragg. My family and I had never ventured north of Sausalito, so we took it upon ourselves to plan a family friendly road trip to visit Mendocino County. We were stunned by the diversity–the stark contrast between the lush redwood forests and rugged shores. With three days to explore Fort Bragg, our little family enjoyed stroller-friendly hikes, gorgeous view points, and a historic train ride through the redwoods!
Discover the History
The city of Fort Bragg was established prior to the American Civil war, as a military garrison. With its proximity to the forest, small lumber mills started popping up across town and by 1873, Fort Bragg had an established lumber port at Noyo Harbor. In 1885, the Fort Bragg Redwood Company built a railroad line that transported redwood logs down to the coast. Today, that same rail line–known now as the Skunk Train–carries passengers along the same route.
My family and I were fortunate enough to catch a ride on the Pudding Creek Express to experience the historic railroad for ourselves. This hour-long train ride got a thumbs up from my four-year old, while my baby was gently soothed to sleep in his car seat! I appreciated the freedom to walk around the train while it was moving. That also allowed me to take pictures of the redwoods towering high above. The conductor even provided some commentary as we rode along. Too soon, the train ride came to an end!
Luckily, included in the Skunk Train ticket price is admission to the nearby Model Railroad exhibit. We spent nearly an hour watching the model trains pass through miniature forests and back into the station at Fort Bragg. I especially loved the attention to detail in creating a train that looked exactly like the one we had just rode. Kids will enjoy watching the smoke trails, hearing the train whistle blow, and spying a skunk and dog riding the trains (and perhaps a few minions, too!). Adults will appreciate the stories and facts posted around the museum; Fort Bragg and the railroad are so rich in history!
• Tickets on the Pudding Creek Express are $25/adults, $15/children, and $10/infants. This includes admission to the model railroad exhibit. • If not riding the Skunk Train, the model railroad exhibit costs $5/adults, $3/children.
Experience the Beauty
We visited the Mendocino Botanical Gardens next, just a quick ten minute drive from the Skunk Train. The gardens boasted several trails, including a stroller-friendly, half-mile trail to the coast. With kids in tow, I was sold! We spent about two hours meandering through the gardens (my favorite were the dahlias!), through tall trees to the cliff’s edge. The waves crashing on the rocks were powerful and untamed; what a beautiful sight!
On our last day in Fort Bragg, we ventured to Pomo Bluffs to get drone footage of the rugged cliffs. The bluffs made for the perfect vantage point! Not only that, there was another stroller-friendly path along the coast that allowed for easy exploration.
Then, after dinner we set out to witness our last sunset in Fort Bragg. Noyo Headlands Park was only a 3 minute drive from our hotel, so we headed there! Home of Glass Beach, we stopped first to look at the beautiful glass stones, rubbed smooth by the ocean. To finish off the night, we watched the sun dip below a cloud of fog near the horizon, casting an orange and purple hue across the evening sky.
This road trip to Fort Bragg was the perfect way to spend a weekend outdoors! We loved all that the city had to offer, from kid-friendly hikes to gorgeous vistas. Check out our video highlight reel to get a taste of what Fort Bragg has to offer you!
- We stayed at the Travelodge in Fort Bragg for three nights totaling $327, or $109/night. The suite included a king bed, double bed (in a separate room), bathroom, a good-size fridge and microwave, plus a continental breakfast. It wasn’t a luxe stay by any means, but it was affordable and comfortable! I loved the convenience of being in central Fort Bragg; everything we wanted to see was within twenty minutes of the hotel.
- We ate out at Casa del Sol and Mayan Fusion while we were in town. Both were affordable and delicious! My four year old especially appreciated the spaghetti at Casa del Sol (and even I couldn’t resist trying a bite!).
- Our family enjoyed playing disc golf at the Mendocino College of the Redwood. They have an expansive course with baskets set among the trees and tall grass.
- The Skunk Train sells tickets for the Mendocino Botanical Gardens at a discounted rate: $2 off an adult ticket, making the total $13 rather than $15. We purchased our tickets at the depot right after the train ride and headed off to the gardens for the afternoon!
Thank you so much to the Skunk Train for hosting me and my family. While we were given complimentary tickets in exchange for this post, the opinions expressed are completely my own!
Written by guest blogger, Heather Young, whose photography is featured on her blog, Heather Hiding Photography. Heather is my daughter, and I am so grateful she has caught my travel bug! I love that she is teaching my grandchildren to appreciate the beautiful world we live in!
Love trains of every size!
I have heard of Fort Bragg but have not been. Wow what a lovely place with gorgeous rugged landscapes. The train looks so cool too.
This was my first time hearing of Fort Bragg, California. Beautiful place. I always enjoy a good model railroad display and the train ride sounds very fun. Loved the variety of picture shapes in your post. 😉
what a stunning coastline. Do you know why the Skunk train was called that?
Apparently the skunk train got its name from its smell!
I have not heard of Fort Bragg before, but I am happy to know such family-friendly vacation spot. Would love to spend time with cousin and her kids. The train looks so interesting and the coastline is kill!
Experiencing the historical railroad on the Pudding Creek Express sounds like a great idea! Fort Bragg looks pretty awesome, especially the rugged cliffs at Pomo Bluffs. The glass beach at Noyo Headlands Park would also be a great place to visit, I can imagine!
We are now sorry we did not stop in Fort Bragg when we went past on our California road trip. The historic railroad looks like a great way to travel. But funny that it was called the Skunk Train. The crashing waves and sunsets are always so great on the west coast. We will keep this in mind if we visit in that area again.
I was looking at visiting here when I was in San Francisco last time but never made it. Hoping to be back in Cali next year so will try and get there. I work in the railroad here in the UK so would love to check out this train and the history. Also loving the landscape, I am a sucker for them.
I haven’t driven the coast past San Fran and didn’t know much about Fort Bragg. Glass Beach has been on my mind for awhile now and I would love to see the redwoods further north.
I had no idea the Fort Bragg area was so beautiful. And those cliffs are stunning too. I love the train haha
Those of us who live here find Ft. Bragg a cold, shabby, hardscrabble, economically depressed town with little opportunity and nothing to do. Tourists ride the Skunk train. Residents drink.
Perhaps if more people knew about its rugged beauty, it would not be economically depressed?