Few of us need an excuse to drive to the Mendocino coast. Its panoramic views of rugged cliffs and rolling waves are reasons enough. Its parks and preserves beckon with hikes, beach walks and canoe trips on rivers, not to mention the coastal towns to explore.
However, this weekend there's the added fun of the 96th birthday celebration of the Point Cabrillo Light Station and Preserve. There are guided hikes of the preserve and the lighthouse, and a literary evening tied to the lighthouse's history. The weekend's activities are being pulled together by the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association.
Hikers can walk the trails of the preserve any day, but the guided tour begins at 11 a.m. Sunday. The 0.7-mile trail along the bluffs will offer visitors the chance to see deer, turkeys and more than 30 species of birds, and guaranteed appreciation of the many wildflowers in bloom, according to Jim Kimbrell, executive director of the association. Hikers also can see the Frolic shipwreck site and maybe a few tardy whales heading north to the Arctic.
The guided hike will begin at the Farmhouse Visitors Center. No reservations are needed, but Kimbrell reminds visitors to dress for changeable weather.
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From the preserve, docents will lead hikers into the light station to see artifacts from the shipwreck and the light keepers. The free tour also includes a visit to the newly restored 1909 light keeper's home.
The weekend's other festivities are Friday evening and all day Saturday. At 7 p.m. Friday at the light station, visitors for a $5 donation can enjoy birthday cake and champagne, and hear a presentation by author James Dalessandro about his novel "1906" (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 364 pages) and its ties to the history of the lighthouse.
Mendocino grew after the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 because of the lumber being shipped along the coast and the need for lighthouses.
Saturday is one of the four days this year that the 1909 lighthouse will be open for tours conducted by Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 87 in conjunction with the association. The 30-minute visits will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and take visitors through the tower, lantern room, and out on the gantry. Cost of the tour is a $15 donation; no one under 12 is permitted on the tour; reservations are requested (see details at right).
There are two other, longer trails to explore in the preserve, one north and one south of the station.
ON YOUR OWN
Of course, hikers can find trail heaven in the Mendocino area, plus there's plenty to explore in the parks and on state beaches. Two inviting nearby areas to explore are the Mendocino Headlands State Park and the Big River State Park and beach.
Canoeing and kayaking on the calm waters of the Big River estuary are available from 9 a.m. to sunset in rental boats from Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too! at the Stanford Inn by the Sea; (707) 937-0273.
WHAT: Hikes and tours to celebrate the 96th birthday of Point Cabrillo Light Station
WHERE: Head north of Mendocino village about two miles on Highway 1, turn left at Russian Gulch State Park and make an immediate right onto Point Cabrillo Drive. Go 1.3 miles and turn into the Point Cabrillo parking lot (at sign). The lighthouse is a half-mile walk downhill.
COST: Sunday's hiking tour is free; Friday evening event $5 donation and Saturday lighthouse tours $15 donation (no one under 12 admitted)
MORE INFORMATION: (707) 937-6120
RESERVATIONS: Required for Friday and Saturday events
WHAT TO BRING: Jacket, hat, sunglasses
HOTELS AND RESTAURANT ADVICE: Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce, (707) 961-6300 or www.mendocinocoast.com
OTHER PARKS: Mendocino Headlands State Park and Big River State Park