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Special Events: The Skunk Train, Ft. Bragg, California
While time may not stand still, it certainly slows down on board the Skunk Train, a rail line which has been in operation through the coastal mountains and redwood groves of Northern California for over a century. Nicknamed "the Skunk" for the smelly gas engines originally in use, the historic railway switched to steam power in the 1920s with the inauguration of Old Steam Engine No. 45. Hop on board today and the only thing tickling your nose will be ocean breezes and the occasional fluttering leaf.
The Northspur route is a nearly four-hour round-trip departing from Ft. Bragg, California, a former logging community three hours north of San Francisco. The rugged Northern California coastline is in view as you pull away from the station but is soon replaced by the scenic Noyo River, which you'll criss-cross nearly two dozen times during the ride. The passenger cars are spacious and charming but no match for the open-air observation car, which provides stunning views of the towering redwood trees that reach for the sky.
Young boys will be particularly mesmerized by the clanging of the train bell, the whooshing of the steam engine and the rattling of the track, though it's safe to say that the kid in everyone will come to the fore on board the ol' Skunk. Catch a ride and it's easy to see why it's been named one of the ten best scenic train trips in North America.
The Skunk Train offers daily departures from Ft. Bragg at 10 a.m. The No. 45 Steam Engine runs Wed-Sat during the summer months; diesel engines and historic motorcars pull the train at other times throughout the year. Visit www.skunktrain.com for schedule and rate information.
Where to stay: The Grey Whale Inn is a charming bed and breakfast housed in a former hospital, which explains the extra-wide doors to each room and hallways that you could drive a truck through. Though the doctor is no longer in, care and comfort are still the byword in a rambling building that's been softened by a creamy palette, well-loved quilts and a cat named Sawtooth who purrs at every meeting. The Whale Watch and Campbell suites offer terrific ocean views from picture windows that open out; rollaway beds, along with TV with DVD player and a kitchenette, insure that families will have everything they need. The full breakfast may include an egg scramble topped with fresh spinach from the innkeeper's garden. 615 N. Main Street (Highway One), Ft. Bragg, CA (707) 964-0640. The inn is located three blocks from the Skunk Train depot. Its thirteen spacious rooms range in price from $99-$190. www.greywhaleinn.com.
Where to eat: At North Coast Brewing Company, it's not just about the beer, though that's a mighty good reason to come here. Determined to break the "pub grub" mold, the kitchen turns out exceptional food such as salmon grilled to perfection and topped with a sparkling corn and avocado relish. How to wash it down? By popping open a bottle of Le Merle, a Belgian-style beer that is pressure-packaged much like champagne. The resulting flavor is a revelation and akin to a fine wine. The ten-beer sampler features standouts with names like Pranqster and Brother Thelonius. With over seventy national and international awards under its belt, North Coast Brewing takes its craft seriously -- and still knows how to have a good time. 455 North Main Street (Highway One), Ft. Bragg, CA (707) 964-2739. www.northcoastbrewing.com.
Not to be missed: Glass Beach, near downtown Ft. Bragg, is a sparkler -- literally. Situated under a rocky cliff that once served as the dumping grounds of a glass factory, the beach is littered with millions of bits of sea glass that have been washed by waves over decades. No hunting for glass among grains of sand here, though -- the entire beach is a carpet of sea glass, with kids of all ages digging for that perfect dime-sized specimen of green, brown or white glass. Extra points to anyone who comes up with that rare piece of blue or red glass. Note to collectors: veer left (as you face the ocean) to the farthest possible cove and bring sturdy shoes for the hike down to the beach.
Elaine Sosa is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and five-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.