by Holly Madrigal
It’s a local secret that the best time to get outdoors on the coast is in the spring or fall. Leave the socked in foggy days to the summer tourists and place your blanket or pick a bench at these stellar spots, organized from north to south.
Usal’s Candelabra Trees, Lost Coast
Very rugged dirt road is 13 miles north of Westport or 14.5 miles from Leggett. Easy to miss the turn off, so use that odometer. 6 miles to the trail. Truck or 4WD recommended. Best picnic spot to see elk. Challenging to get to but well worth the trek, this enchanted forest is unlike anything you have seen before. When the rugged dirt road descends toward Usal Beach, the trailhead to the Peter Douglas Trail is on your right. Don’t be surprised to see herds of elk grazing nearby as you step into the coolest otherworldly forest.
Provisions: Don't miss The Peg House in Leggett for their truly world famous chocolate brownies. House-made signature sandwiches and a great selection of beer and wine will fill out your picnic basket.
Pacific Star Winery, Westport
33000 Highway 1 (12 miles north of Fort Bragg)
Best picnic spot to see whales. Yes, this is on private property but has hands-down one of the best views, perched above a rock shelf that creates incredible crashing waves and blow-spouts of mist. Lean back in their Adirondack chairs, sip a glass of Pacific Star vino, and count whales to help with their ongoing whale and wildlife tally.
Provisions: Grab some delicious local cheese and crackers as well as wine at the Pacific Star tasting room. The Westport Market has a great specialty food selection.
Coastal Trail, Noyo Harbor to MacKerricher S.P.
Trail access at multiple locations throughout Fort Bragg and Cleone
The challenge here is to pick your favorite artist-crafted redwood bench along this ten-mile stretch. The benches are truly works of art (some made by Krenov Woodworking School grads). Fort Bragg has invested in developing this stunning trail that is now connected so that you can park at the Noyo Headlands or Pomo Bluffs and walk or bike on the trail, past Otsuchi Point (named for the sister city in Japan) and Glass Beach all the way to MacKerricher and Ten Mile beach. This flat, accessible trail bustles with happy families and dogs out on their afternoon walks. The entire length is peppered with sandy beaches if you want to dip your toes in the sand.
Provisions: Harvest Market is where the locals go for their plethora of ready-made salads, sushi, entrees, flavorful olive bar, and top-ofthe- line cheese display. The General Store on Redwood Avenue has great culinary finds like vintage candy, Mexican soda, and readymade sandwiches. Roundman's Smokehouse cures their own meats and can provide a tailor-made charcuterie for your tastes. You can also grab some horseradish-garlic-honey mustard and specialty cheese. Yum!
Greenwood State Beach, Elk
Across the street from the Elk Store in this tiny village 13 miles south of Mendocino.
Greenwood State Beach has a couple of sweet spots for picnicking. At the top of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, under shade-giving trees, there's a collection of wooden picnic tables. Alternatively, head down the path to the beach and spread a blanket on the sand, where you can snack as the waves nudge up the shore.
Provisions: Right across the street, Elk Store has wonderful sandwiches (including a gluten-free wrap that is truly delightful) as well as excellent local wine and cider. They have Lovers Lane Honey Lattes and Lavender Lattes by Black Oak Coffee in perfect travel-sized cans.
Pelican Bluffs Trail, Point Arena
Just about 1 mile south of downtown Point Arena.
Best picnic spot for bird watching and geology. Newly created by the Mendocino Land Trust, this mostly level two-mile walk brings you to the edge of soaring white cliffs and prehistoric geological outcroppings. The view stretches for miles, and you can watch the birds of prey and ravens dance on the wind currents.
Provisions: Franny’s Cup and Saucer offers confections that will make your taste buds swoon. If traveling from the south, Surf Market has everything you could need, including Palazzo Creamery cheese, rustic Pelican Bread, and travel sizes of your favorite local wines.