Words and photographs by Shelley Pittman

Mendocino is a small coastal town, less than an 100 miles north of San Francisco, with a deep respect for its history and a dedication to preserving natures playground filled with wonders, insights, serenity and exploration. It’s a place where nature puts on a grand show daily. Your choices are as vast as your imagination.

Whether your means of water transportation are kayaks, canoes, outriggers, paddle boards, boogie or surf boards, with over 88 miles of tidal river estuaries and four pristine coastal bays and sandy beaches ready to be discovered, the playground of Mendocino awaits you.

kelp fields & sea otters

It was a morning with dew still on it. The slightly thick salted sea air transformed the mist into a cigar like entrails that were curling its way through the maze of tall water reeds before rising to the sky. The silence was broken by the snap of a twig as a deer was making his way down to the wild blackberry bushes that line the muddy shore banks. Then from over head, the graceful glide of a great blue heron lands on a partially submerged log. The inquisitive river otter looked over, unimpressed, ventured back into the water. As I glided along the estuary, all creatures seemed at ease under the protection of the Centurion Redwood forest.

Eventually, all things merge west into one. Seals, otters, vibrant algae and sea stars grace the cliffside crevices, each contributing to an orchestra of sounds and sights.

Sandy coves and beaches await at the foot of the Pacific Oceans relentless waves forming the perfect canvas for surfing and boarding, summon those who seek more thrills.                                                                                      

Paddling the River Estuaries

Big River estuary is 41.7 miles of National Recognized river estuary that provides a glimpse back in time where these rivers were once a bustling mecca for the lumber industry. From old wooden shed remnants to sunken boat graves, to the fatal sinking of huge Redwood tree cuts known as ‘sinker logs,’ all still under the protection of giant century-old Redwood trees, the past still shapes what we see today. With its richness in biological diversity, marine and bird life with miles of serenity, it is paddle you’ll remember for time to come.e

Big River estuary entrance, Mendocino
rent these kayaks

Albion River estuary: This gently flowing historic waterway offers to view of birds such as Heron, Cormorants, Osprey, Ducks, and Kingfishers. Harbor Seals bask on exposed Islands and swim about curiously observing our kayaks. Paddle by funky houseboats and let the quiet of solitude melt. The Albion River is 18 -miles long. The tributaries of the river include Railroad Gulch, Pleasant Valley Creek, Duck Pond Gulch, South Fork Albion River, Tom Bell Creek, North Fork Albion River, and Marsh Creek. This is also a great option when the winds on the coast are blowing.

the mouth of the Albion river estuary

Navarro River estuary: is a 28.3-mile-long river that provides wildlife habitat including cold freshwater habitat for fish migration and spawning. It also provides recreation and navigation including 26 miles of white water suitable for rafting and kayaking upstream. Near the town of Philo, the river runs through Hendy Woods State Park, a state park with more than 800 acres, featuring two virgin redwood stands and a perfect spot to have a beach picnic or swim.

Navarro River fun
Our migthy redwoods

Paddling the Caves and Waves

Van Damme State Park has a sandy beach area which to launch your kayak or canoe, and the paddling is usually smooth and easy. Venture out to discover three different sea caves filled with sea stars and vibrant algae.The rock garden area is home to seals and otters. It’s time to play in the bay.  Guided sea cave tours are available daily from the parking lot or 707-813-7117

Caspar Beach is in a deep cove called Caspar Anchorage. The beach itself is a sandy spot snuggled between Doyle Creek and Caspar Creek. In the land between the creeks is an RV campground that is across the street from the beach. Caspar State Beach is safer for swimming, boarding and surfing than other beaches in the area, but the water is cold.

Navarro beach is located at the mouth of the Navarro River. It is part of Navarro River Redwoods State Park, a long narrow park along the Navarro River where most times it breaches through to the ocean. Surfers and boarders can spend a full day playing the waves.

Big River beach is at the spot where Big River flows into the Pacific Ocean. The beach provides access for launching canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, boogie boards and surfers. It also has a large sandy beach for those who just want to walk around or sunbathe at the edge of Mendocino Bay. Experienced kayakers can venture out into the bay when conditions are calmb

Mendocino undoubtable offers the best possible combination of geography, weather and outdoor activities around. Catch a whitewater wave, explore sea caves or meander a historical estuary, an adventure awaits every paddler. It’s an excellent experience for the family or a quiet moment to reconnect with natures glory. With so many options to play, one day may not be enough, so here are suggestions to turn your trip into a weekend escape on the cool Pacific coast.


Camping is a wonderful way to mix with nature, and there are options for both tent and RV camping sites. Camping is available at Van Damme, Casper Beach, Albion River, Navarro Beach and Hendy Woods, with both RV and tent site options.

Mendocino Grove encompassing 37 acres, with roomy Safari-style Classic and Family tents that come fully-outfitted with heated beds, down comforters, crisp cotton linens, lanterns, and more. Each tent is housed on a wooden platform with a redwood deck complete with comfy leather butterfly-chairs & table… perfect for relaxing and taking in the grand firs forest and ocean air. All campsites include a picnic table and fire ring with grill ideal for cooking, intimate fireside storytelling, and warmth during the cool mornings and evenings. Wheelchair accessible tents are also available.

9601 CALIFORNIA 1, MENDOCINO, CA, 95460, USA (707) 880-7710

View from Little River Inn

Little River Inn offers many selections of room types all dotted through their beautiful gardens. Their restaurant offers breakfast, Sunday brunch, and dinner. The lounge also offers a bar menu and libations. Locals have voted their Bloody Marys, that are garnished with a small side salad, #1 choice award. It is a wonderful spot to watch the sunset. Tennis courts, spa, golf store and a fun 9-hole course and driving range on premises.

7901 N. Hwy. 1, 707-937-5942

The MacCullum House

MacCullum House is located in the village of Mendo and is a local favorite for libations and dinner. We refer to it as the ‘Mac House’. Their rooms and suites offer tasteful luxury accommodations and they are pet-friendly. Their restaurant offer dinner nightly with selections like Niman Ranch Carpaccio followed by Seared Scallops or Korean BBQ Pork Chop. Full bar and wine list are offered. 

45020 Albion St.  800-262-7801


The Albion Store is a little treasure chest. Try their deli for that perfect picnic lunch while you play in the estuary. Ice, drinks, BBQ meats, and libations are available too. Located in the Albion village, just 7 miles south of Mendocino.

Cafe Beaujolais

Cafe Beaujolais

Quietly tucked away on a quiet tree-lined street lies one of Mendocino Coast’s premier restaurants. Cafe Beaujolais has a storied history, a legacy of incredible cuisine, exemplary service and a truly extensive beverage list. This local favorite is one of the ‘must taste’ experiences on a visit to Mendocino. Lunching in their park-like setting with the sounds of nature in the background is the perfect way to explore their culinary delights.. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy a superb fire roasted pizza or their new Smash burger, a local brew or glass of vino and adjust to Mendo time.

Read my full review about this charming restaurant here.

Mendocino Cafe

Next door to the Fire Station, the Mendo Cafe offers both inside and outdoor patio seating with superb food. All locally sourced, organic and well prepared. Try their Thai burrito with or without shrimp, chicken or beef and served with two different dipping sauces. It is fantastic but beware, they are addictive. 

45020 Albion St.  800-262-7801

Luna Trattoria

Stroll their boardwalk lit with twinkling lights to this cozy and casual northern Italian restaurant in the heart of the village of Mendocino! With Chef Massimo, Massimo and Francesco at the helm, Luna Trattoria adds a touch of Northern Italian zest to dining. The pastas and sauces are prepared with love, showcasing incredible fresh flavors from time honored recipes. Portions are generous and the staff is attentive and knowledgeable. This is a great spot to share food, wine and some tall tales. Open every day except Monday. Please call during business hours to make your advance reservations.

Open for Reservations: 2 times to choose from

1st reservation time for seating:  5 pm and 2nd reservation time for seating:  7 pm

955 Ukiah St. wwww.lunatrattoria.comt


Catch a Canoe:

Located at Stanford Inn, rentals of kayaks, canoes, outriggers and paddle boards are available at www.catchacanoe.com

44850 Comptche-Ukiah Road & Coast Hwy. 1, 800-331-8884

Kayak Mendocino:

Sea kayaks rentals and sea cave tours by a Marine Biologist are available at www.kayakmendocino.com and they launch from Van Damme beach.

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