Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

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Entrance to building with redwood planter boxes on either side filled with pink blossoms.
Entrance to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Located in Fort Bragg, California.

One of the things I love to do while I’m not working, or writing is travel.  I don’t do it often but, every once in a while, I do manage to get out and about.  For my birthday this year I traveled through Mendocino County in California.  Early Fall, before the rains come, everything is pale and dry in this area.  (Okay, I’ll admit that some years it looks like that midway through June. ) Even the trees, can appear to have a grayish tinge in the areas which aren’t irrigated.  The grass however, is crisp to the touch.  A kaleidoscope of shiny grays, beiges, tans, buffs, and the shades of hay between.

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To be honest, I prefer those wild places as opposed to the ordered regularity of the orchards and vineyards which sporadically frame the roadsides from Santa Rosa up to Ukiah and beyond.  Row upon row of irrigated regularity, or gorgeous Fibonacci-governed chaos.  Not a difficult choice for my random exploration.

Yet I digress.  My trip was entirely about fun.  On Saturday of that weekend we went to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens located in Fort Bragg California, and on Sunday we wound up at the Mendocino County Fair and Apple FestivalThe California Wool and Fiber Festival takes place at the same time in one of the buildings of the fairgrounds.  (BTW’s I love yarn.  I have crocheted since I was a teen and love experimenting with different textures.)

Because the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is dog friendly (At the time of my visit.  This may have changed so please check their websites for any updates to the dog policy before planning your trip there to see any changes.), I of course had to take my fur babies.  Now because I am a workaholic and spend more time working than anything else, said fur babies don’t get out as often as they should to be properly socialized.  They can be obnoxious when they are excited and will promptly forget all training they have received.  Tugging of leashes and the unrepentant desire to jump on every person they see is the result. 

View of the Pacific Ocean from inside the Cliff House at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Across the Noyo Harbor, part of the town of Fort Bragg is visible.

To prevent this, or at least mitigate it a little, we took them first to the dog park at the C.V. Starr Community Center in Fort Bragg.  It’s fenced with a big-dog and a little-dog side.  A bus-stop style shelter protects pet parents from the cool ocean wind that I’ve come to associate with the town.  Our boy and girl had a grand ole time chasing balls until we thought they had expended enough energy that they wouldn’t get over excited around all the other people and dogs.  (This was necessary because the Gardens was also hosting a dog adopting event the same weekend and I really needed my fur babies to behave as there were going to be more dogs around than they were used to.) 

Fort Bragg also has a huge Off-Leash park down in the Noyo Harbor.  The entire beach is legal to let your dog run free on.  Big logs and drift wood branches wash up on shore here and many people like to leave their mark by building tepees and other wood structures held together with nothing more than sand, gravity, and the occasional rock brace.  My dogs love it there but invariably end up in the water trying to reach the seagulls floating way further out than they will ever be able to reach. The problem is that many people frequent this beach to play and walk it who don’t like dogs.  There are also the dangers of fishing line and hooks from those who just didn’t care and left it behind or which were lost to the sea and washed up on shore.  Needless to say that the family and I did not want to bother with any of that for my birthday.

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After the dog park we made our way to the Botanical Gardens.  My favorite areas are anywhere the trees meet overhead to form a tunnel.  I grew up playing in a tropical rainforest and the treed pathways which wind along a stream that flows through the Gardens reminds me of peaceful days exploring the wilderness alone.  Something which I wouldn’t have the nerve to do as an adult anywhere near where I now live.  Snakes, cougars, bears, and the like tend to put a damper on my exploratory instincts.  Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens on the other hand is sufficiently populated and civilized (not to mention fenced) that I don’t worry about unfamiliar wildlife.   Whether or not there would ever be a danger of unfamiliar wildlife, I don’t know.  But I had a good time wandering around with my mom, my kid and my dogs who were remarkably well behaved.

There are multiple pathways through the Gardens with various levels of access.  Most of the paths in the main part of the garden are paved with bridges in all the areas visitors will need to cross over waterways.  However, once one passes through to the coastal area the going gets a little bit rougher on some paths.  For the areas where strollers and wheelchairs are not recommended to go, there are alternate paths which are flatter and easier to traverse. 

Plants for sale at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens September 2018 Plant Sale.

For the explorer who just wants to relax in the beauty (like my mom) there is an event lawn near the entrance and a small café to supply refreshment needs.  I’ve never eaten at the café, mostly because I’m too distracted by all the plants to think about eating.  (My family says I have a plant collecting problem.  I say they just aren’t committed enough to botanical diversity in the home.  It’s out and out plantism on their part.  Plant rights! And all that random nonsense.)   There was also a plant sale happening at the Gardens the weekend I went.

For anyone looking to really explore all forty-seven acres (like my son and I) there are attractions like the Cliff House, Rhododendron Collection, and the Vegetable Garden.  The Cliff House is perched on the edge of a cliff looking out to the Pacific Ocean and I wish I lived there.  The tiny cabin with one wall made entirely of a picture window, has what appears to be a whale bone in it and informational plaques about the history of the Mendocino Coast.

The Garden hosts several annual events like the Rhododendron Show, the Winter Festival of Lights, and Art in the Garden.  The Rhododendron Show is in May, and Art in the Garden is in August.  Contact the Gardens for ticket information.  Maybe Botanical Gardens aren’t for everyone.  I have a habit of visiting them while I’m traveling because I have yet to decide I’ve had enough of garden exploring.

Did I enjoy my visit?  Yes, one hundred percent.  But I tend to forget just how big the gardens are and how far apart the benches are.  If I’m not careful I end up walking for longer than I wanted to.  But I had a good time wandering around with my mom, my kid, and my dogs who were remarkably well behaved. One thing I would do differently if I go here again is to make sure that I bring a large bottle of water. Mendocino County is dry in the late summer and early fall. Even with a leisurely stroll through the gardens we were all sweating despite the cool coastal breezes.

Want to read about the rest of this weekend?

What places to you visit everywhere you travel?  Is there special restaurant chain you try every town you go to?  Are you also a huge fan of botanical gardens?

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Inside of the Cliff House at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, California.

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