It might not have sounded like a romantic weekend, what with talk of crashing waves, plentiful ships and doghole ports. Saying that the historic timber delivery system sounds like sheer insanity is probably not helping my cause. Would it help to rave about the beautiful lighthouses and fish and chips by the water’s edge?
On a recent weekend we found history buffs flocking to Mendocino, captivated by those sun-drenched waves, fresh seafood, and the allure of maritime history. The village has long been a charming seaside destination, which combines great ocean views with fun restaurants and charming little shops.
But Mendocino’s post-Gold Rush history began with a spectacular shipwreck. The Baltimore-made Brigid Frolik, laden with Chinese porcelain, silk and what some believe is opium, was bound from China to San Francisco in 1850, when it founded Point Cabrillo. A search team was dispatched to retrieve anything salvageable. What they found then was a treasure beyond comparison: forests of old-growth redwoods.
Until 1852, Mendocino was a logging camp. Within a year, the Redwood Lumber Manufacturing Company had built a sawmill there, and soon after, ships were sailing off the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts to haul lumber from dozens of coastal camps and logging operations in San Francisco, Asia, Australia and the East. Can you America and the way the wood got from mill to ship was truly jaw-dropping.
We were fascinated by tales and lingo – a doghole port? And The Beginnings of a Maritime History fits well with our hopes of scoring some stellar seafood, preferably in a waterfront shack. So we passed along Highway 1 on a recent sunny afternoon, first stopping at the Point Arena Lighthouse, which looks like a smokestack, probably because a smokestack company rebuilt it after the 1906 earthquake.
The lighthouses that dot the Northern California coastline are here precisely because of logging operations. According to James Delgado, director of the Marine Heritage Program in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, of the approximately 200 ships along the Mendocino and Sonoma coast during this period, “wooden schooners” accounted for the majority.
Point Arena alone, the federal government had so many shipwrecks turned on a lighthouse To that point in 1866. In 1909 a light station was opened at Point Cabrillo, where Frolic’s wreckage lies on the ocean floor to this day.
Today, not only can you visit those lighthouses and roam the grounds and museums, you can even book overnight stay In one of the lighthouse keepers’ historic homes. No Fresnel-lens polishing duty required. However, there is no dearth of places to stay. Mendocino is known for its historic inn and bed and breakfast, which includes Glendaven Inn & Lodge and Brewery Gulch Inn.
As the sun went down, we took a break from our lighthouse exploration to seek sustenance at Fort Bragg, where the Noyo River flows into the sea. Its sheltered port, one of the few along this stretch of coast, is home to commercial fishing vessels – and to the Noyo Fish Company. This casual waterfront eatery offers some of the freshest, crispiest fish and chips we’ve ever had ($16) as well as chowder ($7/cup) and local craft beer.
Humans can’t live by lighthouses alone, so we spent the next day strolling the streets of Mendocino, wandering through shops ranging from the charming gallery bookshop and Bookwinkles Children’s Books to Mendocino Jams & Preserve. Oliveberry jam is the top seller out there with good reason, and the homemade mustard packs a wallop.
A few years ago, the venerable Café Beaujolais transformed its bakery — The Brickery — into a pizza spot that serves blistered, wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza with season-inspired toppings. So we ordered at the window, then grabbed a seat in the lush garden to enjoy wine, craft beer, and pizza ($16), which includes homemade fennel sausage, red onion, and spicy Fresno chili. (The spinach pesto, snap peas and chvre numbers were pretty tempting, too.)
We visited Mendocino’s Out of This World, telescopes and wonderful science toys in earlier times and convinced ourselves we didn’t really need a pair of binoculars. Except we really, really did. So this time, we dashed in, pulled out a credit card and were soon admiring the horizon, the headlands, and everything in between, including — could it? Was that weird object part of the wire chute used in the doghole port?
You knew we’d come back to that, didn’t you? In the 1850s, there were few roads and no rail lines. Point Arena did not receive a pier until 1866. The skunk train didn’t arrive until 1885. That’s why someone came up with the idea of anchoring the schooner in the unexpected swells of tiny, tiny, rocky coves – coves so small and exposed. Marine archaeologist Deborah Marx said NOAA document, Hence the name of Doghole Port. And they rigged the slopes – first made of wood, then with wire – to basically shoot logs from the vast bluffs for the ship waiting at the bottom.
We kept thinking that the rigging might not be as horrifying as the description implied. Through our new binoculars (we’re calling them Father’s Day Prezi), we can see remnants of those long-standing works on the headlands, where wood was lowered for schooners below.
So we entered the Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center and Museum, which houses all kinds of interesting artifacts, including tools used by 19th-century loggers, ship memorabilia, and a giant diorama of Mendocino, circa 1890, when water The towers of K had dotted the village as well. More than ever and filled with woodworking operations is what is now the state park’s lawn and picnic area.
A scale model shows exactly what the lumber delivery system looked like – far more terrifying than anything we’d ever accepted – and historical photographs showed that they even delivered passengers to the deck of the ship. Incredibly, they weren’t screaming.
Hours later, sitting in the twinkling fairy garden of Luna Trattoria over our seafood, we were still talking about it. Clearly, those Gold Rush-era Mendocino-ites were braver than us.
if you go
Point Arena Lighthouse: This historic lighthouse has reopened for in-person tours ($5 per person), which run every 30 minutes daily at 45500 Lighthouse Road in Points Arena, and free virtual tours. www.pointarenalighthouse.com,
Point Cabrillo Light: The lighthouse is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 13800 Point Cabrillo Drive in Mendocino; https://pointcabrillo.org,
Noyo Fish Company: Open Wednesday-Sunday Wednesday-Sunday at 32440 N. Harbor Drive at Fort Bragg from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; www.facebook.com/noyofishcompany,
Gallery Bookshop and Bookwinkle: Main and Castane Streets in Mendocino is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; www.gallerybookshop.com,
Bricks: Open Wednesday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday-Sunday from 5 p.m. to 961 Ukiah St. in Mendocino; www.cafebeaujolais.com/the-brickery.
Mendocino Headlands State Park: Open for day use at 735 Main St. in Mendocino; www.parks.ca.gov,
Luna Trattoria: Dinner seating at 955 Ukia St. in Mendocino Tuesday-Sunday at 5 and 7 p.m. (reservations strongly recommended); www.lunatrattoria.com,