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When Californians think of mystical, meandering roads and rugged, cliffside views, Big Sur is often what comes to mind. But if you venture up the coast — say, a solid three hours north of San Francisco — Mendocino is competitively stunning and serene.
My daughter, mother and I embarked on a road trip this past summer that included four days in the region. We were drawn to its staggering redwood groves, perhaps best seen on the historic Skunk Train, a locomotive line dating back to the area’s logging days. Wildflowers and ocean views brought us to the trails of Mendocino Headlands State Park. Driftwood collecting on the beaches of Russian Gulch State Park was also a must — a serious penchant for collecting has clearly passed on from grandmother to granddaughter.
Mendocino has a population of fewer than 1,000, so it’s not surprising that hotel options — especially kid-friendly ones — are scarce. A home rental via Kid & Coe suited us perfectly. We brought pizza home one evening for dinner, made banana pancakes for breakfast the next day and relished time in the backyard bathtub after a long day of sightseeing. The casual cafes and gift shops of Mendocino are five minutes away by car, and Fort Bragg is 10 miles up the road.
One of Fort Bragg’s most-visited sights is Glass Beach, an enclave of shore that was used as a dump for decades in the early 1900s. When the piles of waste got too big, they’d be set on fire. Despite eventual cleanup efforts, countless bits of glass were left and tumbled smooth by the sea. Our trio spent over an hour sorting through the melange of shells, rocks and pottery. And we talked as we sorted, reflecting on how, when we make a mistake, the best thing we can do is learn from it. Such are the lessons that sometimes come on the road — and that’s why we buckle up and go.