Photo: Nik Schulz

Last week I whisked my girlfriend, Natalie, away for a few days on the Mendocino coast. We’d read about a couple of nice places to stay and went up to have a look around.

In its current incarnation, Mendocino is mostly known for its new-age outlook, its hippies (which are locally avaialable in both M-series-BMW-driving and gritty-original flavors), and, according to Natalie, for a dried-seaweed snack known as “Sea Crunchies.” What is perhaps lesser known is Mendocino’s swarthy, seafaring past.

Why seafaring? One word: Timber. The town took off in the 1850s when the Gold Rush triggered a huge building boom. Money flowing down from the Sierras built San Francisco (and rebuilt it again after the 1906 earthquake) with the help of a billion board-feet of redwood taken from the nearby Big River watershed. Most of it left by sea and the remains of this seafaring history can still be seen today.

Our homebase for this trip was The Andiron Inn, just south of Mendocino. Originally built in 1959, it recently benefited from a revamp and each handsome cabin is now newly themed. Ours, “Curious,” ($199/night weekends, $159/night mid-week) offered accoutrements for the scientifically curious. A dresser housed, among other things, a 70s-era Visible Man kit, boards games, and a small library of books. The cabin even included a telescope and a handy star-viewing guide. All were a nice bonus to the essentials: a kitchenette, a wood-burning stove, and a sense of style.

Our updated 50s-era cabin at The Andiron

The company bicycle was parked outside the office

Photos: Nik Schulz

In Mendocino itself, the pleasant Ford House Museum offered a glimpse into the area’s past.

Natalie checks out an exhibit on lumber and shipping at the Ford House Museum

A vintage chart of Mendocino Bay at the mouth of Big River

Photos: Nik Schulz

The rough Mendocino coast lacked a suitable harbor so lumber was slid down chutes, loaded onto barges, and ferried to ships anchored further offshore. The chutes could be raised and lowered according to the tides and were also designed to slow the boards’ decent so that rangy roustabouts weren’t shot into the sea as they tried to grab otherwise speeding planks.

This diorama shows a lumber chute in action.

A gaff-rigged schooner model and nameplates from various ships of yore

Photos: Nik Schulz

History absorbed, we had a lunch below town at the river mouth.

A tidal flat at the mouth of Big River

Photo: Natalie Menacho

Then we headed up to Fort Bragg in search of Glass Beach, the site of a former dump where, among other garbage, a huge number of glass bottles were dumped into the sea over a period of decades.

An old trestle bridge on the way to Fort Bragg

Glass Beach is one of those rare places still accurately described by its name.

Photos: Nik Schulz

Coming up in Part 2: Cabrillo Point Lighthouse and Philo Apple Farm