Redwoods Roadtrip Part 1 – Fort Bragg

David and Goliath (aka Roisin and a Redwood)


The further North I creep in California, the deeper I fall in love with this state. Growing up in Ireland my Dad talked wistfully of visiting the redwoods someday, it was ingrained in me, I thought it would stay in the margins of a mental bucket list, but now I am within striking distance of these gentle giants.

I have had the good fortune of making a few trips up to Redwood country (for a prior post on Nor Cal trips/tips - read here). One ‘Memorial Day’ long weekend we kidnapped Róisín from her preschool and bombed it across the Golden Gate bridge. After finally stretching past the Napa traffic we reached higher into the wooded countryside en route to the counties of Mendocino and Humboldt.

We sniffed our way through a roadside town called Hopland. They purport to grow hops, which I’m sure they do, but it looked very much like fields and fields of pot to me! They didn’t nickname it Marijuana county for nothing.

Fallen forest

Just before sunset we hit the Redwood Highway and wound and wound through the trees down and down, bouncing off the bottom of the valley to wind up clearing the trees and trucking into the seaside town of Fort Bragg. All I knew about Fort Bragg was its history as a logging town that supplied most of the wood to rebuild San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake.

The Grey Whale Inn

We stayed in a smashing guesthouse called the Grey Whale Inn. It was formerly a maternity hospital. I think I unsettled Dom with my musings of how many babies were born in the very room we were staying in, how many survived, did it all go down in the very spot where we would sleep. Sweet dreams!

The nicest, most chilled out man on earth checked us in. When we were heading up the stairs to our room having exchanged goodnights, he came rushing around the side of his desk calling "Sweetpea, oh Sweetpea" while hurrying in my direction. I froze mid step, was I Sweetpea? To be polite I was about to reply "What's up Sugarkins?" when he reached me and pressed something into my hand! Oh my god, I thought, he's just given me a joint! Outrageous carry on, with my child at my knee, even in uber liberal northern California, come on! Hang on, I realised, it's a funny shape for a cigarette. "Here's a fridge magnet of our house cat called Sweetpea, for your little daughter." Crimson with embarrassment I thanked him profusely.

With a clink and clunk of the old lock we entered our room, only to be met by Sweetpea in the flesh. He swanned around the room, disappearing when Róisín careered after him in her attempt to grab him in an amorous embrace.

The house was old and layered with history. The next morning I dragged the family on an exploration, sneaking into the basement that was tucked away down a windy back stairs. At one point I feared we might find jars with babies floating in formaldehyde but instead it was a treasure trove of old fashioned fun.

There was an antique mint-condition pool table, racked up and ready to go. A four foot tall 1930s wireless radio standing proudly in one corner, a Singer sewing machine in the other (likely not as entertaining as a pool table or music but sew what!).

"Everybody join in...'In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty..'"

In an adjacent room we found an old Wurlitzer piano, which Róisín beat the hell out of. Another turn brought us into a dark room with old 1950s hospital lamps just lying in a corner. If we turned them on would we see rows of bottled babies?!

I hurriedly declared it was time to get the hell out of the basement and explore the guts out of this old logging town.

And you sell what exactly??

We had breakfast in a funky diner with a retro pinball machine and books for kids (life saver idea). It was next to an art gallery called The Severed Head which had a severed head hanging outside?! Small California boomtowns always seem to have a few quirky inhabitants, the wild west spirit lives on!

Skunk disappearing into the misty redwoods

We immediately came upon the Skunk train. It’s an old timey train with restored carriages from the 1800s that brings tourists on a round trip through the redwood forest. It’s called ‘skunk’ because back in the day they emitted a black smoke with a foul smell, the locals decided you could smell the train before you saw it, like a skunk. In modern times skunk is slang for the smell of marijuana. Given the area has a reputation for weed lenience, it seems appropriate in every context.

"Build me up Buttercup"

It’s a bit of fun to chug a chug into the forest. At a later date, I would make my friends Shannon and Julie take a twirl on ‘the skunk’ when we visited Mendocino county on a girls weekend. I think redwoods are magical, even the young smaller trees, the train traveled among them as it wound around a creek.

Model citizens

As you get off the train they corral you into a model railway museum. I didn’t think this would be my cup of tea and shuffled in like a sulky teenager. However, it turned out to be endearing. A little version of the train we just rode choo-choo’d through a miniature redwood forest. The detail is excellent. The best part was the genuine train horn you were allowed to toot as we left the museum. That kind of thing just gives everyone who does it a case of the giggles. Róisín insisted on tooting it over and over which lead to a trainspotter pile up.

Fort Bragg came about as a settlement when a shipwreck off its coast drew help/salvagers from San Francisco. A chap called Ford "discovered" the redwoods in the area and decided they would be a great resource to rebuild San Francisco. Then the logging began <sound of my heart breaking>. Within 3 years of that first timber mill the coast was a series of timber mills.


Once you’ve tooted your toot on the skunk train the next thing to do in Fort Bragg is to visit Glass Beach. It used to be a dump, literally, and despite various clean up efforts the debris remained. Pounding waves broke down the discarded glass and ceramics making the beach shimmer and shine. The internet described it as a ‘spectacular beach cove that amazes visitors’. I thought it was a nice spot with unusual colours in the sand as you got close up, but I didn’t quite see the glitter and sparkle I had hoped for.

When I visited it again with Shannon and Julie they improved my opinion of Glass Beach by turning it into a general discovery zone from abalone shells to little gems within the sand. I must confess I had never heard of abalone before, they are sea snails and people make a season out of diving for them. The shells are like iridescent mother-of-pearl, truly beautiful, I was smitten, later that day I bought abalone earrings at a craft stall in the town.

People online have taken incredible stained glass window style photos of Glass Beach. Maybe I need to come back at sunset or sunrise or with an app on my phone that will shimmer the hella shine out of a photo! 


Once upon a lazy day in SF, I took Róisín back to Fort Bragg, just the two of us. There was a whole parade of shops and streets I had somehow overlooked before. Cafes, restaurants, cute shops selling homewares, it was all there. We had hot chocolates, split a muffin, and listened to a local band play. Good day was had.

First paleo dieter - after pic

On our family trip, we weren’t finished with Redwood country, not by a long shot. We left town with a quick roadside stop to gawp at the skeleton of a Grey Whale(when in America).

Next stop, Eureka!

<<PREVIOUS POST                    NEXT POST>>