Weekend in Mendocino

The sun, moon, and earth are aligned only at the new moon or the full moon. When this happens in combination with the earth’s closest approach to the sun (winter) the gravitational effects of all these bodies are combined and produce king tides. The high tide is above normal levels, and the low tide as low as it gets. This year there are two king tides in California, December and January.

We made plans to go to Mendocino during the January king tide to do some beachcombing. We love Mendocino and were happy to have a reason to visit. Our plan was to drive down on Friday, stop to walk on the beach before low tide in the late afternoon, then continue on to our B&B. The next day we’d return to the beach in the afternoon, because by low tide at 5:45 pm, the sun would be down and the sky losing light. It’s difficult to beachcomb in the dark. Some London mudlarks use headlamps and go out in the dark, but it’s not for me.

We drove south from Eureka, watching the mist rise from pockets in the hills. In Ft. Bragg we had lunch at Mayan Fusion, cochinito pibil, Mayan roast pork, served shredded with black beans and home-made corn tortillas and spicy salsa. I haven’t had home-made tortillas in ages, and they are so much better than anything you can buy at the store. It was the perfect lunch.

We were ready for beach combing and headed to the parking lot at Glass Beach then walked south. We could see people collecting beach glass all along the shore, but there are no stairs to the beach (about 50 ft below), and we had to find a place we could manage the climb down.

Though the tourist site is Glass Beach, there is a lot of beach glass along the rocky shore. The extra low king tide made it possible to see a bit more of the beach than usual. I focused on finding nicely frosted and fully rounded pieces of glass that can be used in my jewelry projects. Jonathan did the same. He has a mesh scoop on the end of an adjustable stick that lets him pick things up without having to bend. At the end our our outing, I’m sure I was more sore from crouching down and leaning over to pick pieces up than he was from scooping.

We left the beach around sunset and went to our hotel. For a short stay like this one, we didn’t get an Airbnb, but stayed at the Seagull Inn Bed and Breakfast. It’s right in Mendocino, which is a tiny town, and that meant we could walk everywhere. We emptied out our pockets and looked at our finds.

We went to dinner at Luna Trattoria, just around the corner, and had a delicious appetizer of polenta and mushrooms. We each had pasta as our main dish, mine with clams and Jonathan’s with sausage. The service was slow, but the food was good. We ended by sharing a tiramisu, a very good example of the genre.

On our short walk home, we realized that Mendocino has very few street lights and the sky was darker than we’ve seen in quite a while. The night was cold and clear and the sky was breathtaking, bright constellations everywhere, and thousands of stars. Orion was high in the sky, and we could see its stars clearly, down to the knife hanging from Orion’s belt. We stood and stared, enjoying the stars in the dark heavens.

Saturday morning after breakfast, fresh fruit yogurt parfait with home made granola, and excellent coffee, roasted in (relatively) nearby Santa Rosa, we went down to the local beach at Big River, on the south side of Mendocino. There’s a lot of driftwood on this broad beach at the river mouth. Back up the stairs, we walked a section of the shore to watch the waves. It was a sunny, clear day, absolutely beautiful. We stopped for lunch at Flow. It took a while to get seated, but the food was excellent and the service was good. I had a fried green tomato salad with a soft boiled egg on top. Jonathan had Korean tacos. It set us up for the afternoon of beachcombing.

We got back to the beach in Ft. Bragg after 3 pm, and walked a bit further south than the previous day. There was a broader range of colors in this section, but the pieces were quite small. We picked up less than on the previous day, though I now have a good quantity of material for making jewelry.

Once again, there were people collecting glass in every nook and cranny of the beach. We made our way down the steep slope, and stopped to talk to a mother and daughter who were about to leave. They live near the beach and come down to beach comb regularly. They didn’t seem to have any objection to people collecting, as that was something they enjoy themselves.

There is controversy over whether people should collect beach glass from the area around Glass Beach. We chatted with a man who calls himself Retired Ranger Rick. He answers questions about the glass deposit that has made Ft. Bragg famous, and answered one long-standing question of ours. Why aren’t there more places like Glass Beach, with a thick layer of waterworn glass? People say Glass Beach is where the city dump used to be, right along the beach, but other places had similar dumps, yet there are only one or two other “glass beaches” in the entire world.

It turns out there was a bottling plant in Ft. Bragg in the early 20th century that went out of business in the 1940s. Everything left at the plant was dumped on the shore, in the city dump of the time. Ranger Rick said that at one point the pile was about eight feet thick. Ft. Bragg’s dump had much more glass piled into in than the average landfill, especially now that a lot of glass is recycled and doesn’t get as far as landfills.

I did a little bit of reading, and the California law that protects coastal access makes it virtually impossible to prohibit glass collecting along the tide line. Anything below the mean high water mark is public land. Access cannot be prohibited, and it would be very difficult to keep people from picking up glass. There is a sign that asks people to leave the glass on Glass Beach, and to ask others to do the same. The steps to the beach have been removed since our last visit, probably to deter visitors. There are still many people who visit the beach to collect glass every day. During the summer months, there can be over 1,000 visitors to Glass Beach each day. No wonder the deposit has thinned out.

We emerged on the bluffs just after sunset and were startled by the beauty of the sun’s afterglow. We had a complete 360o view of the horizon and the sky changed color all the way around, from lavender, pink, and pale blue in the northeast, through pale blue, streaks of yellow and orange by the setting sun and more golden and peach colors over the ocean. We rarely see the entire sky lit up all around us so impressively. By the time we actually left, it was cold out and I insisted on stopping for a cup of tea to warm up–it really hit the spot.

Dinner our second evening in Mendocino was at Trillium, another short walk from the Seagull Inn. The food was delicious. I had shrimp and risotto, while Jonathan had short ribs. We have different tastes in wine. Our dessert was toasted chocolate babka with coffee ice cream. It was the most interesting thing on the menu, and I was curious after having made a chocolate babka a few months ago. It was unusual and delicious. As we ate our dinner, we struck up a conversation with the couple next to us who live in Santa Rosa and had suggestions about restaurants to try when we are there on one of our monthly visits.

Rough waters off Mendocino Headlands

Sunday morning, we were served crustless quiche, and bread from the local Cafe Beaujolais with more good coffee. We didn’t plan on any more beach combing, as low tide would be after dark. We walked the Mendocino Headlands trail around the west and north sides of town. It was bright and sunny, but cold and windy. We were glad to have our layers. We stopped at several places to watch the ocean. An occasional whale spouted, but there were so many whitecaps it was difficult to spot them. The surf was very rough, making the water among the inlets and sea stacks boil with white foam. We were happy to be on the bluff safely above the ocean. At the far end of our walk we stopped on a point where the breaking waves below us showered us with mist. When the sun caught the mist, rainbows flashed in midair. It was a beautiful end to our walk.

From the headlands, we stopped at the Mendocino Art Center to look at the current exhibit. There are a lot of talented people in this area, and we enjoyed looking at the painting, sculpture, ceramics, glass, and jewelry.

It was time to head home to Eureka, so we turned north to Ft. Bragg, making a stop at Cow Licks Ice Cream. They make a wide range of flavors, and I had to try some. I think every flavor is delicious, though I have no plans to try their mushroom ice cream.

We made good time getting home, only waiting at one spot on Highway 101 that is partially blocked while a serious landslide gets fixed. We could see the big crack in the hillside where the land slipped.

I’d forgotten to take my UV flashlight with me to Mendocino to examine all my glass to see whether any was fluorescent. Back at home, I found a few fluorescent pieces in different colors. The yellow comes from uranium, but the red-orange color was new to me. I believe it is from manganese in the glass. I’m keeping all my fluorescent pieces separate until I have enough to make a fluorescent necklace. (And no, the pieces don’t give off a harmful level of radiation.)

Now that we’re home, I already miss Mendocino, the rocky coast, beautiful walks, stars at night, and the beach combing. Maybe we’ll visit again next winter.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

2 thoughts on “Weekend in Mendocino

  1. Love your travelogue and wonderful description of beaches, local restaurants and the history of “Glass beach”. I always learn something new from your posts. Enjoy!


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