Tag Archive for: Fort Bragg

Family travel inspiration from the Mendocino Coast

It's good now; it'll be even better in 2020.

It’s good now; it’ll be even better in 2020.

Most of the time, family travel is all about the ins and outs of traveling with the kids. Other times, it’s about family-oriented epiphanies, observations, and/or discoveries when traveling while the kids are back at home.

This past weekend, Powerwoman and I were lucky enough to experience the latter form of family travel. The two of us were traveling solo—my mother-in-law was watching the girls—as part of our annual unplugged and tech-free trip. We were staying just north of Fort Bragg at the Inn at Newport Ranch, a breathtaking new spot on the Mendocino Coast. And we had dinner with some wonderful people on the first night.

Our hosts, Creighton and Cindi Smith, are the innkeepers at Newport Ranch; they’re the ones who prepared the meal. In addition to us, they invited two of their friends, Guy and Sarah Pacurar.

Guy and Sarah are innkeepers, too—they own the Brewery Gulch Inn, another great spot on the Mendo County coast, much closer to Mendocino. When Guy and Sarah aren’t running their inn, they run a fledgling winery.

This is where the family part comes in. You see, the name of Guy and Sarah’s winery is Fathers & Daughters. Guy named it after his two daughters. Since Sarah’s father owns the vineyard in which the winery’s grapes are grown, Guy also named the endeavor after his father-in-law. Do the math: The label celebrates two fathers and three daughters.

You can’t get much more family-oriented than that.

I admit, I’m a sucker for the whole daddy/daughter story; I’ve got two daughters now and will have three of them by the time I turn 40 later this year. Still—the story behind Fathers & Daughters is a juicy one (pardon the pun). And the wine is great, too.

We tasted the 2012 Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir; a bright, fragrant and complex pinot made with some of my favorite clones (I won’t get too wine geeky here, I promise). I’d describe the wine as being light and full-bodied at the same time (the tasting notes use the phrase, “lean and lush”). Most important, the wine is named after Guy and Sarah’s daughter, Ella.

While I like the wine itself, the family connection is what I like best about this brand. And that doesn’t surprise me at all. Even when we’re not on a “family vacation,” we can be inspired by family-oriented experiences on the road. Even when we’re not traveling with our girls, they’re with us when we go.

Once a family traveler, always a family traveler, I guess. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Most Kid-Friendly Travel Destination Ever?

L shows off a winning handful.

L shows off a winning handful.

In my experience as a parent, the most kid-friendly travel destinations involve adventure, interactivity, constantly changing scenery (to keep things interesting), and a quest. They take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. They spark imagination. And they allow for souvenirs.

For all of these reasons, Glass Beach, part of MacKerricher State Park in the tiny Northern California town of Fort Bragg, might just be the most kid-friendly travel destination ever.

As its name suggests, the beach is known for glass—specifically, beach glass. And there’s a whole lot of it; so much so that in any given handful bits of beach glass outnumber rocks by a margin of 10 to 1. Most of the bits have been smoothed and rounded by the churning of the ocean. For kids who like hunting for treasure and sparkly stuff, it’s the perfect activity for an epic day.

Also important: It’s totally free.

I first visited the beach eight years ago with my wife (on a trip to celebrate my first section-front feature in the San Francisco Chronicle). This past weekend, as part of a 3-day road-trip along the Mendocino County coast, I went back—this time with my two daughters.

To put it simply, the girls could not believe their eyes. My older daughter, L, thought I had brought her to a secret land of jewels. My favorite of her exclamations: “Daddy, the beach is glimmering!”

It helped that we selected a cove where there were no other humans in sight. From a parking lot near the trailhead, we hiked about a quarter-mile on an access path flanked on one side by wildflowers. Then we descended a steep trail to the beach—a typical NorCal affair, complete with bull kelp, natty sea grass, sand fleas and millions and millions of tiny rocks.

We spent about an hour down there, sifting through handfuls of rocks and glass to put together a modest collection. I instructed the girls to look for the rarest types: red and blue. They came up empty on those fronts, but ended up with a Ziploc baggie full of white, green and brown.

(Technically, at least according to signs all over the place, we weren’t supposed to take the glass off the beach. To any state park officials reading this: I confess. I’m guilty. I did it for the kids. And I’d do it again.)

The beach itself has a colorful (pun intended) history. One of my travel-writing buddies, Susan Kim, did a piece for Coastal Living a few years back on the place; in it, she notes that most of the glass comes from the site’s former life as a dump.

Of course I didn’t explain the true story to my girls. Instead, I let them tell the tales. L, who is developing an imagination to rival J.K. Rowling’s, said the “glass jewels” had been sent to shore by ocean princesses who wanted little girls to enjoy them. R, my younger daughter, was content to chant, “Beach glass! Beach glass!” incessantly (until a sand flea or seagull distracted her).

Three days later (and counting), the girls are still talking about the experience.

Here at home, the glass lives in a tiny jar, and L has counted the contents at least a dozen times. If R can’t spot the jar on the counter, she yells, “Where’s [the] beach glass?” until someone points it out. There have been pictures of the beach glass. Songs about it. Even some poems.

If all of this doesn’t prove that Glass Beach is the most kid-friendly travel destination ever, I’m not sure what else could.

What are some of your favorite kid-friendly travel destinations and why?



An Ode to Solo-Parent Family Travelers

Happy times, with a tree llama.

Happy times, with a tree llama.

After two-thirds of a mommy-free, 3-day road-trip with my girls, I can tell you this: Solo-parent family travel is a LOT harder than I ever thought it would be.

In my abbreviated experience, challenges generally come in two main flavors: Kid-time and alone-time.

The ones during kid time should come as no surprise. Meals are tough because you’ve got no help to feed or discipline or disrobe crayons or put together a puzzle or cut grilled cheese or chase down that piece of fried fish one of the children just threw across the room. Bedtimes can be rough when the kids are on different schedules and there’s only one parent to wipe butts and brush teeth and read books and sing songs and snuggle.

Alone time presents its own obstacles. Because there’s nobody else to watch the kids for even a moment, you find yourself Instagramming and scribbling story notes while adjudicating a game of “Go Fish,” eating dinner (of unclaimed pasta with butter sauce, natch) at 5 p.m., and engaging in training “runs” of four miles (in circles) around the living room of your rental cabin.

(Yes, I really did that last one. I know: I am a complete and total freak.)

Months from now, I’ll look back on this experience with my girls as difficult but fun. Heck, next week I plan to write about some of the amazing stuff we have done over the last 48 hours.

Right now, however, crashed out on a couch while the gals snooze away in the other room, I see the takeaway as more visceral: nobody—I mean, nobody—deserves more credit in the world of parenting than single moms and dads who vacation with multiple children multiple times a year.

For these parents, solo-parent vacations aren’t a choice.  For these parents, help rarely is even an option. For these parents, this rigmarole is reality, on every single trip.

In my book—especially tonight—that makes them rock stars; parents from whom I’ve got a ton to learn.