Noyo Harbor: Mendocino Coast’s Undiscovered Sweet Spot

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Discover the charm of Noyo Harbor, a hidden gem on the Mendocino Coast. Uncover the tranquil beauty of this uncrowded deep-water port.

Noyo Harbor, the only deep-water port between San Francisco and Eureka, sits at the mouth of the Noyo River as it enters the Pacific Ocean. Situated about 170 miles north of San Francisco, the beaches are uncrowded, with no condo in sight. The windswept coast is a well-known bucket list destination.

But there is a place few visitors discover—Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor. It is a sweet spot, tucked ninety feet below Hwy 1 on the Noyo River.

A small fishing boat enters Noyo Harbor. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Noyo Harbor

Weathered pilings, fishing vessels, seafood markets, and packing sheds mingle with historical lodging, eateries, outfitters, and charter boats. A day in Noyo Harbor on the Mendocino Coast puts you in the center of a working harbor and a disappearing way of life.

A small fishing boat coming into Noyo Harbor at sunset. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Noyo Harbor has a Colorful History

Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor was home to lumber mills, cargo vessels, and fishing boats, starting in the 1880s. Before then, groups of small indigenous tribes, known as Pomo, flourished in the area for over 10,000 years.

The mills closed decades ago, and cargo and passenger ships pass the port by. Fish populations are shrinking or gone. Today, the harbor has a small commercial fishing fleet hauling salmon, cod, crabs, and urchins. Restaurants, hotels, RV parks, excursion boats, and water sports outfitters mingle with packing sheds and ice plants. New restaurants, shops, and lodgings have opened in recent years. A bourbon distillery opened in 2022.

Explore Noyo Harbor On Water, Wheels, Or Feet

There has been a substantial increase in water sports, lodging, and seafood eateries in the last two years. It’s the ‘hot spot’ on the coast for new businesses.

The harbor is an area of outstanding beauty, with abundant wildlife in the air and water, making it a center for water sports. Kayaking, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, whale watching, sunset cruises, and pleasure craft are available from professional outfitters and tour operators.

Kayaking in Noyo River. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Kayaking the Noyo River

Kayaking upstream on the Noyo River is a serene experience. The air is filled with the haunting cries of ospreys and the calls of ravens, gulls, and songbirds. Harbor seals gracefully swim and dive near your boat while otters quietly slide down the riverbank. The only human sound is the gentle rhythm of a paddle slipping in and out of the water.

Heading towards the Pacific, the scenery changes. Large commercial fishing vessels and Coast Guard boats tower over canoes and kayaks. People are dining, drinking, or lounging on docks, decks, and in restaurant window seats. Kayaks are available from Kayak Noyo, located at Epic Graphics in the heart of the Noyo Harbor.

Gift shop in Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Cycling Noyo Harbor

Take a slow, leisurely ride. Stop and visit shops, bars, and restaurants. You may find a treasure that you can’t live without on your route. The road will take you to the ocean’s edge. This is a great picnic spot to watch fishing and pleasure boats enter and exit the harbor. There is a beach for a walk along the Pacific shore. Have your camera ready! Rent a bicycle from Fort Bragg Cyclery.

Beach walkers at Noyo Harbor. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Walking Around Noyo Harbor

Park your car and take an unhurried stroll along North Harbor Drive. Being on foot allows you to explore the fish market, distillery, bars, shops, and restaurants at your own pace. On weekends, there is a big blue warehouse full of estate items. The eateries offer river views ideal for watching seabirds and seals play as boats pass, some often showing off their catch. Enjoy a cool drink at one of the harbor eateries. You may see the Coast Guard heading out to do maneuvers or come to the aid of a boat in distress. The harbor is always buzzing with excitement.

Sea Hawk, pleasure craft in Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Fishing in Noyo Harbor

Salmon, albacore, crab, and cod are some of the fish and crustaceans you might catch on a charter fishing boat. There are several charter boats available in the harbor. We suggest All Aboard Adventures with Captain Tim. Tim has been involved in Noyo Harbor fishing and chartering for over forty years. He’s a captain you can count on to take you to the fishing spots for the best opportunity to bring in your limit. His knowledge of the Pacific Ocean is extensive. When you arrive at the dock, the crew will clean and ice your fish.

Whale Watching Tours by All Aboard Adventures. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Whale Watching from Noyo Harbor

Take an opportunity to see these giant mammals up close. Many of the fishing charter boats are whale-watching boats as well. Two suggestions are All Aboard Adventures and Telstar. Both have seasoned captains and will take you whale watching, an experience you will never forget.

The best times to see Gray Whales bring their calves by the Mendocino Coast are from November to April when they go from Alaska to Baja, Mexico. The spectacular Humpback Whales follow the same route from June to September. The rarely-seen Blue Whale, the world’s largest and most scarce Leviathan, may be spotted from May to November. The charter captains know when migrations are happening. Keep in touch for the latest updates, and don’t forget your camera.

Pilings of Noyo Harbor Wharf. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Eight Hook-To-Mouth Seafood Feasts

Noyo Harbor is a seafood banquet. Eight seafood restaurants and a fish market offer locally caught seasonal fish in various styles.

Mimosas at Harbor View Bistro and Bar in Noyo Harbor Inn. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Harborview Bistro and Bar is in the Noyo Harbor Inn Restaurant and Tavern. With indoor and outdoor seating, it is an all-season eatery. The deck offers a spectacular view of the marina and Noyo River. Enjoy brunch, lunch, and dinner, or stop in for a happy hour tipple and nibble. All dishes are made from locally sourced ingredients, including seasonal Pacific seafood.

Princess Seafood Restaurant, Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Princess Seafood Restaurant—With covered and open-air seating, you will have one of the best views of boats entering and leaving the harbor. Order at the counter, take a seat, and your choice of chowders, sandwiches, or fish and chips will be delivered to your table. Enjoy live music on weekend afternoons.

Princess Seafood Market’s catch-of-the-day ready to take home for dinner. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Princess Seafood Market and Deli—Buy fresh seafood caught from their boat, FV Princess, and other local fisherfolk. Grab a quick cup of chowder, a shrimp cocktail, a fish sandwich, and a cold beer to enjoy on the patio.

Chef Guillermo Medina of Noyo River Grill. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Noyo River Grill—Formerly located in the harbor, the grill now sits above the harbor by Noyo River Bridge. Chef Guillermo Medina offers exciting choices with changing specials and an enticing, prix fixe menu.

Shrimp Louis Salad from The Wharf Restaurant and Lounge. Photo by Mary Charlebois

The Wharf Restaurant & Lounge—The oldest continuously operating restaurant in the harbor offers daily specials and an extensive menu. Enjoy a full-service bar with indoor and outdoor seating.

Diablo Shrimp Stew from Casa-del-Sol, Noyo Harbor, California. Photo courtesy of Casa-del-Sol

Casa-del-Sol—The harbor’s only Mexican restaurant, specializes in seafood with a south-of-the-border flair. Inside seating is lively and colorful. Try a Margarita with your fish tacos—yum!

Sea Pal Cove in Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Sea Pal Cove—It has one of the greatest decks in the harbor. They serve fish and chips, shrimp and chips, and one of the best burgers in town.

Fish, shrimp, and chips from Noyo Fish Company. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Noyo Fish Company—A traditional fish shack serving fish and chips, shrimp and chips, and various other seafood classics, along with wine and beer. Covered outdoor seating overlooks the Noyo River and Coast Guard Station.

All eight restaurants have varied menus to please seafoodies, meat lovers, or vegetarians. All eight serve wine, beer, cider, and non-alcoholic beverages. Many have full bars and live entertainment.

Purple Sea Urchins from the Mendocino Coast. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Noyo Harbor Festivals

Four festivals are held in the harbor: The World’s Largest Salmon BBQ, The Noyo Harbor Festival, The Urchin/Uni Festival, and The North Coast Kelp Fest.

For details about these four festivals and other celebrations in the area, visit the Visit Fort Bragg events page.

Schnaubelt Distillery spirits tasting. Photo courtesy of Schnaubelt Distillery

Libations

Schnaubelt Distillery is housed in the original icehouse in Noyo Harbor. The dream of proprietor John Schnaubelt and his father for nearly ten years became a reality in 2022. Stop in for their vodka, rum, and gin tastings, then take home your favorite for sunset cocktails.

Noyo Harbor Inn, Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Where to Sleep in Noyo Harbor

The 156-year-old Noyo Harbor Inn, a luxury hotel, innovative restaurant, and bar, reopened in 2017 after a six-year renovation and meticulous restoration. Sitting high above the docks with panoramic ocean and river views, the luxurious inn attracts guests and locals to the waterfront.

First built in 1868 by lumber baron Alexander McPherson as a family home, the inn has witnessed many changes to the Noyo Harbor below. In 1854, McPherson constructed a steam-powered lumber mill at the mouth of Noyo River, initiating the development of Noyo Harbor.

Seagulls waiting to depart. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Getting to Noyo Harbor

Flying into Sonoma County’s Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) puts you the closest to Noyo Harbor and Fort Bragg. A trip by car takes just over two hours from the airport.

Driving from San Francisco, Oakland, or Sacramento airports takes three to four hours depending on traffic conditions.

Small fishing boat coming into Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Why Immerse in Noyo Harbor?

Noyo Harbor and the Mendocino Coast are uncrowded, unhurried, and casual. There are outdoor activities, from laid-back wave watching to high-adventure open ocean kayaking. You can peddle or hike the California Coastal Trail. Explore fern and redwood forests or beach comb secret beaches. Eat some of the freshest seafood on the planet while contemplating the fascinating harbor and its abundant wildlife.

No matter what you choose to do, Noyo Harbor is an undiscovered sweet spot. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder to learn more about our favorite things in Mendocino and Northern California.

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