Get Beached in Fort Bragg, CA
Are Fort Bragg beaches the best in the world?
We think so.
Over a 12-mile stretch of Northern California’s Mendocino Coast, our beaches offer more things to do, more rugged coastline, more hidden coves and sea caves, more interesting rocks, more birds, more clear water and more solitude than anyplace else we know of.
You can picnic, run, beach comb, explore tide pools, watch whales, go birding, ride horses, or photograph big waves … and even bigger sunsets. Three of our beaches are world renown for colorful frosted sea glass, tumbled into myriad fanciful shapes by majestic waves.
Although our beaches are enjoyed by surfers, abalone divers, sea kayakers, families, couples, adventure seekers, equestrians and pet lovers, you’ll rarely see a crowd.
Fort Bragg also is proud to be the official “Gateway” to the California Coastal National Monument along the Mendocino Coast. Located off the 1,100 miles of California coastline, the California Coastal National Monument comprises more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles between Mexico and Oregon. All those beautiful rocks are home to sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, gulls and abundant marine life.
Select tabs above to get a sneak preview of our favorite beaches.
As with beaches everywhere, beware of possible hazards, including slippery rocks, crumbling cliffs, and sneaker waves (large waves that seemingly surge out of nowhere). Our clean clear waters are cold (52-54 degrees Fahrenheit) so wetsuits are essential for swimming, surfing, or diving. Keeping children (and dogs) out of the water during big surf days is just good commonsense.
“Be Swept Away by the Beauty Not By the Waves” – Mendocino Coast Water Safety Coalition
This is really a series of beaches backed by one of the California coast’s longest dune systems, the home of the rare, endangered Snowy Plover. More than 90 species of birds visit or live on the sand and along the cliffs. Seals lounge on nearby rocks, while whales feed and play year-round.
After a few miles – which begin at Pudding Creek Trestle — the paved Haul Road melts (or rather crumbles) into sand dunes. You’ll be lucky to see another living soul in this haven where the roar of the ocean replaces the din of urban traffic.
What To Do:
Walk, exercise, hunt for sand dollars, bird-watch, read, snap photos or grab some video of big waves crashing on the shore to share on Facebook or YouTube.
Laguna Point’s boardwalk (located in MacKerricher State Park near Cleone Lake) leads to two ocean viewing platforms with interpretive signs about the history and wildlife in the area. The perfect place for photography, bird and whale watching, these platforms offer sweeping views of the Lost Coast and the King Mountain Range (King Mountain is the tallest peak) to the north. Surfers like it here, too.
In 1868, Scottish immigrant Duncan MacKerricher (pronounced ma-care-a-cur) paid $1.25 an acre for El Rancho de la Laguna, a former Indian reservation. MacKerricher and his heirs worked the land until 1949 when they gift-deeded it to the state. That same year, the Haul Road replaced a railway, which for three decades carried timber from the Ten Mile River Area to the Union Lumber Company in Fort Bragg.
Follow Highway 1 a few miles north. Just past the MacKerricher State Park sign, you’ll make a left on Mill Creek Road (Purple Rose Restaurant is on the corner) and drive a half mile to the ocean where you’ll find two parking lots: one at Cleone Lake and just beyond the lake, Laguna Point. Both have restrooms.
Best Picnic Spot:
A two-mile stretch of beach just north of Ward Avenue offers warm sand dunes, storm-tossed driftwood logs to lean against, and plenty of places for a blanket.
Why Go: Sunsets from the ocean’s edge or from the Pudding Creek Train Trestle towering over the beach, are nothing short of spectacular.
The Buzz: The parking lot on the south side of Pudding Creek Trestle is a gathering place for hikers and bikers exploring the Haul Road, which cuts across MacKerricher State Park.
What To Do: A favorite for families and couples strolling along the ocean’s edge, or beachcombing.
Local Lore: Trains once carried lumber across this creek to the Union Lumber Company, but have since been replaced by trucks. The trestle fell into disrepair and was condemned for many years before State Parks rehabilitated the trestle in 2010 as a bike and pedestrian pathway.
Best Picnic Spot: Try the cove, next to the cliffs at the north end of the beach.
Getting There: Drive to the end of Glass Beach Drive and park at the Pudding Creek Trestle parking lot.
Why Go: To hunt for sea glass treasure.
The Buzz: There are actually three glass beaches — all former city trash dump sites — that cough up beautiful sea glass.
What To Do: Search for rare ruby reds (from pre-1967 auto trail lights) or sapphire gems from apothecary bottles. Snap a photo, but leave the glass behind for others to discover.
Local Lore: From 1906 to 1967, everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans and appliances were unceremoniously pushed over the cliffs into the ocean — a common practice of seaside cities for centuries. Mother Nature responded to this abuse with a nice surprise in the form of smooth, colored sea glass treasure in a rainbow of colors.
Best Picnic Spot: On the rocks and cliffs overlooking Glass Beach #3 (the most northern of the three beaches; located in MacKerricher State Park).
Glass Beach #3 – (MacKerricher State Park) From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street (Denny’s is on the corner) and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. Park at the intersection and walk down to the beach. Glass Beach #2 – Follow the dirt road down to Glass Beach #1 until the fence on the left ends and walk (carefully) about 50 yards south and climb down the steep and rocky trail to the beach. Glass Beach #1 – south of our other glass beaches, this is only accessible by kayak.
Learn More: Frequently asked questions.
Why Go: It’s a little piece of heaven surprisingly close to Downtown Fort Bragg’s shops, art galleries, restaurants and lodging: just 1.5 miles.
The Buzz: Surfers flock here for big waves and great rides.
What To Do: Families love it as a place for little kids to play, creating sand castles and good-natured mischief. Romantics find the stunning sunsets irresistible. Tide pools, best at low tide, are teeming with marine life.
Local Lore: Why is it called “Virgin”? We aren’t sure. Perhaps it’s the pure white sand, crystal clear blue-green sea and unfettered views of the Lost Coast. Or was it the virgin redwoods carried through this area where a logging train trestle once stood?
Best Picnic Spot: The whole big flat sandy beach.
Getting There: The beach is 1.5 miles north of downtown Fort Bragg on Highway 1.
Why Go: To surf or watch the surfers. Better yet, just come for the seclusion.
The Buzz: Hare Creek serves as a resting and feeding site for many migratory shorebirds and supports steelhead and Coho salmon, which spawn annually up the creek.
What To Do: Surf, bird-watch, experience the rare and exciting sight of salmon spawning in season.
Local Lore: The Mendocino Land Trust secured the Hare Creek Beach property on January 5, 2010. The property is 5.6 acres and was purchased from longtime owners, the Babcock family. The purchase was made possible by funding from the State Coastal Conservancy and matching funds from Fort Bragg resident Betty Stechmeyer, who contributed to the acquisition in memory of her late husband and botanist, Gordon E. McBride. The Mendocino Land Trust intends to permanently manage the property and will develop a long-term management plan with community involvement.
Best Picnic Spot: Settle down anywhere, but closer to the cliffs, you’ll be protected from the wind.
Getting There: The beach is located southwest of the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 20 in Fort Bragg. Access is at the North end of the Hare Creek Bridge on the west side of Highway 1, near Highway 20.
Jug Handle Beach and Coastal National Monument Rocks
Why Go: Beyond its natural beauty, the wonder of Jug Handle Beach is the location. Just two miles south of Fort Bragg city limits, the quarter-mile trail from the parking lot leads you to this quiet gem.
The Buzz: You’ll see people lounging on blankets or beachcombing in their swimsuits. Why is this surprising? Because the water is 52 degrees and the air temperature is 55. Call it Fort Bragg magic — or just a wonderful gift of nature. The azure water, warm sand, and gentle breeze might fool you into thinking you’re someplace tropical.
What To Do: Bring a portable gas grill and have barbecue. Or hike to the pygmies —some trees found in the 70-acre Hans Jenny Pygmy Forest Reserve grow nowhere else in the world.
Local Lore: Jug Handle Reserve Trail may be the only place in the world to see both giants (redwoods) and pygmies (stunted trees) in a single 45-minute forest walk.
Best Picnic Spot: Anywhere along the trail to the Hans Jenny Pygmy Forest.
Getting There: Drive two miles south of the Fort Bragg City Limit on Highway 1, watch for the Jug Handle sign on the right.
Why go: The possibilities for outdoor fun and adventure are endless.
The Buzz: Adjacent to the Caspar Beach Tent / RV Park (with market, ocean kayak and surf board rentals, and fishing gear for sale), you’ll rarely find yourself alone. No matter, there are many reasons to come: surfers struggling to catch the perfect wave (even though they are usually small), the opportunity to build a fire on the beach, surf fish, fly a kite, or launch an inflatable for abalone diving off nearby rocks.
What to do: Build a fire on the beach, surf fish, kayak, surf, bring your binoculars and spot some beautiful birds. Opposite the beach is the Mendocino Land Trust’s new (2011) Caspar Uplands Trail. The trail leads up a steep, but short grade into the shelter of big trees, skirts around the edge of the Caspar Beach Campground on the high cliffs above, then ends in a grove of Sitka Spruce. What’s remarkable about the spruce here is how healthy they are despite being on the very edge of the southern range of the Great Alaskan Spruce Forest. The trail ends on Point Cabrillo Drive about one quarter-mile north of the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park.
The Caspar Uplands trail is only 1.1 miles long, but if you complete the loop (walk from the trail’s end back down to Caspar Beach), the distance is 2.2 miles. Add a trip to the lighthouse and back and you will have covered about 3.7 miles.
Local Lore: The adjacent Caspar Creek is often filled with egrets, Western Gulls and sandpipers. During abalone diving season and on holidays, you can expect this pretty little beach to be jam-packed. Still, it has a certain character that makes all the buzz of activity an attractive hangout.
Best Picnic Spot: Just after climbing the Caspar Uplands Trail to the top of the switchback (a 100 yards or so) is a redwood bench with a view of the beach below.
Getting There: From Highway 1, exit on Point Cabrillo Drive (6 miles south of Fort Bragg) and drive ¾ of a mile to the beach.