As a visitor, I’m a fan of California’s diversity of landscapes and historic sites. Over a period of some 40 years I’ve had the pleasure of savoring:
- The magnificent view of the Pacific from San Diego’s Point Loma with its seasonal whale watch, high above the harbor and the naval base;
- The awesome quiet of the ancient adobe mission of San Juan Capistrano, where the legendary swallows return each spring;
- The deepest sense of wonder at the “sky piercing” Sequoia forests with bars of sunlight slanting past their red/brown trunks;
- Sailboats with red and black striped canvas sails racing back and forth across Santa Monica Bay.
- The mystical view of sky-blue Lake Tahoe as one descends from the snow-tipped Sierras.
Until this summer, my visits have been mostly to southern California, central and the San Francisco Bay area, which I’ve heard residents say is northern California, but really isn’t, geographically. This year, however, we drove north several hours beyond Sacramento, turned west, and snaked our way through the Coastal Range and dense forests of towering redwoods and eucalyptus trees to the coast of northern California. It was an entirely new and another breathtaking view for me.
Between Fort Bragg and Mendocino, the Pacific coastline is an immense expanse of cobalt blue ocean with enormous black rocks that emerge like burial mounds above the waves. The surf curls insistently against the narrow sandy beaches. Instead of trudging over dunes to reach the Atlantic the way we do in Maryland and Delaware, a visitor must tread a challenging path down a steep cliff to arrive at the bottom where land meets the Pacific.
Far out on the horizon we could see commercial fishing boats and once, a barge towing another slowly northward. From the balconies of our lodge we could watch the tiny silhouettes of people moving along the tops of the cliffs beyond us like characters in a miniature theater play. Beyond the hiking/biking path beneath our balcony was a meadow that was dotted with fuchsia and golden wildflowers. Gulls swooped above us and occasionally we heard the lilting song of a grassland bird. It was an unforgettable scene to file away in my album of California views.
The evening of our arrival in Fort Bragg we had seafood dinners at a restaurant in Noyo Harbor and watched the fishing fleet chug homeward at sunset to anchor for the night at their moorings. This authentic fishing village hosts a popular tourist attraction we didn’t have time to take—a ride on the old-time Skunk Train through redwood forests. Another outstanding feature we had to miss was the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. But en route we stopped at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, an historic site on a headland projecting far out into the ocean. The restored building resembles both a 19th-century country schoolhouse and a New England meeting house, and instead of a bell tower, the light with its still working original lens. Inside, I spent an hour visiting the station’s mini-museum and gift shop. Nearby are restored lightkeepers’ cottages, two of which can be rented for vacations.
We set aside most of the next day for exploring the charm of Mendocino, otherwise known as “Cabot Cove” in the TV series “Murder She Wrote.” To me it seemed like a combination of Carmel, Calif., and Victorian Cape May, N.J. We could have spent days browsing through all the intriguing little shops, relaxing in the tiny pocket parks filled with colorful flowers, including pure white calla lilies, and taking advantage of waterside concerts and the Mendocino Film Festival.
A weekend along the Mendocino Coast was well worth the 4 1/2-hour drive back to Sacramento.