After our two nights among the faerie trees at Big Lagoon County Park we continued 3 1/2 hours south to Fort Bragg. This is our third visit to the area, having first come in 2015 during our first full time RV year. The experience was so rewarding that we returned in 2017, and it will likely be on our itinerary any time we are RVing California.
The town is home of the famous Glass Beach, an unofficial name for the a series of nearby bays that collect the remnants from an historic oceanside dump with consistent particular tides and currents which return enormous amounts of old glass to shores. Fort Bragg is one of the premier sea glass sites. Despite noticeable declines year over year the glass collecting is still astounding.
We have previously stayed at both Mackerricher State Park and the privately owned Cleone Campground nearly next door. Though a stunning location it has become nearly impossible to secure a reservation at the state park, so we comfortably settled for Cleone, getting power, water, and an onsite convenience store at the same price we would have paid at Mackerricher. It may not have been oceanside, but our spacious site was surrounded by huge blackberry bushes, providing privacy from everyone except the horses in the pasture we backed up against.
Though a bit touristy, we enjoy the town of Fort Bragg. They have several tasty restaurants, a nice farmers market, interesting history, cool shops, a brewery, and a good assortment of quirky street art. “Artisanal” style pizza and local craft beer is always appreciated, but no visit to Fort Bragg is complete without a meal at Jenny’s Giant Burger. Though perhaps a bit gluttonous, we ate there twice in four days.
The local economy, though diversified towards as much seaside tourist activity as possible, is still significantly enhanced by the prevalence of the sea glass. In response to decades of collecting resulting in declining amounts of this tourist magnet, local government has attempted various restrictions, including a brief period where they issued citations with fines for those caught taking the glass. The premise of their legal argument was quickly shot down by the courts since California state law does not recognize old garbage as a protected resource.
In more recent years the restrictions are implied, social, and in some cases, physical. There are lots of thigh high cable runs implying you should not cross, plenty of signs warning of the danger of climging down the low cliffs, and perhaps most effective of all, they have simply not rebuilt the one set of stairs leading from the main parking lot down to a large and formerly popular bay.
While it may not be as easy or productive as it once was, if you want sea glass in Fort Bragg you need but do a slight bit of research to pick the still excellent locations and be willing to walk down rock and dirt switchbacks to the shore, preferably at low tide. Most adults and children could handle the places we went with no problems.
We also took a day trip south along the coastal highway, partly to look for the hidden beach that Ron took me too for abalone diving in 2017, but also just to explore the area. We didn’t find Ron’s secret beach, but we enjoyed exploring a couple of wonderful oceanside parks along the way. We also found one of America’s most infamous gas stations, regularly misused by media outlets when they want to talk about how high gas prices are, which is a bit like sighting the vig at Vinny’s loan shark business when talking about nationwide bank lending rates. We did not, fortunately, need to buy from there during our exploration.
Next up: Concord, Petaluma, and a little-known military campground.