Up The Road: North Coast Tour: Touring More Redwood Towns
To wrap up our socially distanced tour of California’s North Coast, we’re visiting entire towns originally built of old-growth redwood, trees otherwise harvested and milled to build post-Gold Rush California.
Just south of Eureka is tiny Ferndale, first settled by Danish immigrants in 1864, when this delta plain was still heavily forested. Ferndale is famous for street after street of colorful, ornate redwood homes and businesses—Queen Anne, Eastlake-Stick, Italianate, Neo-Classic, Bungalow and Mission styles. And gawkers galore.
The town also gained fame due to the wild and wacky Kinetic Grand Championship, the “triathlon of the art world” once known as the World Championship Great Arcata to Ferndale Cross-Country Kinetic Sculpture Race. The Memorial Weekend race didn’t happen in 2020, another COVID-19 loss. Check with the Kinetic Museum in Eureka to see about this year.
Continuing south, the next redwood towns along the coast are neighboring Mendocino and Fort Bragg, in Mendocino County.
Some people love Mendocino because of the town’s Cape Cod architecture. The seaside saltbox look, odd on the California side of the continent, is because early settlers were predominantly lumbermen from Maine—one reason the entire town is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
And who wouldn’t love the town’s spectacular setting at the mouth of Big River, and at the edge of one of the most sublime coastlines in California? Start your exploration at the Ford House interpretive center, to get oriented to town, the headlands, and area state parks.
Others love Mendocino for its artistic attitude, which took root in the 1950s when nearby forests were logged over and the lumbermill closed. Prominent San Francisco painters including Dorr Bothwell, Emmy Lou Packard, and Bill Zacha dreamed of making home the once bad and bawdy doghole port of Mendocino City. In 1959 Zacha founded the Mendocino Art Center, still going strong today.
But even back then, after Johnny Belinda film crews rolled through Mendocino streets and James Dean showed up to shoot East of Eden, old-timers could see what was coming. The town’s possibilities could destroy it. Which is more or less what happened, given the tourist crush. Come in winter to sample real Mendocino.
Just north is Fort Bragg, more recently a lumber town, these days the place to find groceries, gasoline, and hardware as well as charming shops. A classic is the Northcoast Artists Gallery at 362 N. Main, a cooperative that’s been around since 1986. If it’s open, for area history pop across the street to the Guest House Museum, 343 N. Main, an 1892 redwood mansion now home to the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society.
Other options: Tour the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, or ride the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg to Willits and back. Excursion trains still run—see the trip schedule online—with social distancing and masks required.
Gain a deeper understanding of the land you stand upon, along the North Coast and elsewhere in California, by taking alongGeological Gems of California. This free digital guide was produced by California State Parks in conjunction with the California Geological Survey.
Up The Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel
Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen: