If you were to design a place that has all the things you dream of finding in one ideal rustic coastal getaway, you'd come up with Mendocino: undeveloped coastal drives, country bistros, eccentric roadhouses, New England style cottage village surrounded by towering redwoods and an ocean dashing itself madly against crags.
Perched atop a rugged sandstone cliffside, surrounded by vast headlands dotted with blooming wild poppies and lupines blooms, while the all mighty Pacific Ocean hammers away at it’s fortress walls, sits this small village of New England style clapboard houses, picket fences, and rustic wooden water towers known as the town of Mendocino. Their narrow streets and alley ways weave a tale of history where Rip Van Winkle could quietly slumber and not be disturbed.
Not much has changed in the past hundred years or so, including the pace of life. And the locals like it this way. Let its magic carry you back in time. In fact, the whole town is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
For many people, this region also offers the best possible combination of geography, weather and outdoor activities around. The Mendo coast is dramatic and remote, with 3 state parks for hiking and camping adventures, the ‘Anderson Valley’s wine country that produces some of the most popular wines in the world, a photographers utopia, a thriving art epic center, live theatre productions, golf and spa, and protected tidal river estuaries for the paddlers at heart, just to names some of its offerings. For some this area is where people go for romance, fine cuisine, great wine, and art galleries. While for others its the dozens of hidden beaches, and untouched coastline where you can stop to play with the waves along a white sandy beach dotted with a graveyard of drift wood. The choices here are numerous and are as wide as your imagination.
I have called this Mendo home for twenty years now, and every time I drive along and turn the corner where the town of Mendocino comes into view, I am in captivated by its beauty and fall in love, again. This town is filled with delicious food, sights, watering-holes, shops and art everywhere but that is only half the experience. Mendo is about the outdoors. Nature has been very generous here offering many different types of playgrounds to spend your day playing. So as a local, I invite you to come spend some time in Mendo and then, please leave a comment and tell us about your trip.
Ways to play
Van Damme State Park is a captivating area to stroll, hike, jog or bike through 10 miles of fern lined canyons and a Pygmy Forest, where mature cone-bearing cypress and pine trees are only six inches to eight feet tall. This trail will behold the history of this unique forest. Or try sea kayaking in the quiet bay to explore the different sea caves and rock gardens. Low tide beholds gifts of sea urchins, crabs, limpets and other denizens of the not-so deep. Paddle boarding is a great option here too.
Big River is an extraordinary place of gentle tidal flows, mist-laden redwoods, obscure marshes, and a winding maze of 41.7 miles of estuary flow that is rich in histories biological diversity, brimming with worlds of both river and ocean creatures, which seem entirely at home here. Big River is the longest undeveloped estuary in northern California and the Mendocino Land Trust is its National Awarded protectors. There is a walkable path that runs alongside the rivers northern border.
Mendocino’s Art & live theatre community is the back bone to the town.
With over a dozen galleries, studios, and art centers within walking distance of town, where paintings, ceramics, sculptures, photography, fiber wearables, fired glassware, and jewelry creations, it’s a day filled with beauty and possibilities.
The Mendocino Theatre Company, established in 1976, produce plays of substance and excitement, ranging from the classics to the cutting edge, to nurture local talent, and to provide meaningful theatrical experiences for our local and visiting audiences.
Little River Inn Golf & Spa is another option for playing in nature grace. A 9 hole golf course that can also be played as 18 using additionally challenging tee options. Their golf shop offers various equipment upgrades, clothing and drinks.
LRI spa options cover various massage and body treatments, including manicures, pedicures, lash extensions, waxing and a full service hair salon.
It’s a photographers utopia of wooden water towers, spiky spheres, funky cottages, vast ocean views and natures glory all around. It is hard to imagine a more picturesque town than Mendocino. There are opportunities everywhere but here are two of my favorite spots just outside of town for photographing nature.
The hiking trail at Russian Gulch State Park. If your visit is during winter or spring time, then a superb photography opportunity is at the waterfall along this hike. Early mornings are best here and tripod is helpful. An umbrella can come in handy if its a misty morning to help keep equipment dry.
Big River estuary is accessible by canoe, kayak, outrigger or paddle board but you can also walk alongside the rivers edge for as long as you want. The centurion Redwood forest is your backdrop, fern lined canyon ways, lily ponds, and every forest creature will be watching you pass by their homes. There are several places where it is easy to get to the rivers sheltered beaches for a different angle. Mornings are worth the early rise as the slightly thick salted sea air transformed the mist into a cigar like entrails curls its way through the maze of tall water reeds, before rising to the sky.
Camping is a wonderful way to mix with nature and there are options for both tent and RV camping sites. If you wish you had an RV but don’t, no need to let that stop you. At Coast Vacation Trailers their Moto is “You rent, we park”. What could be any easier?
Van Damme Sate Park campground is extremely popular, usually requiring a reservation, but with a bit of planning your reward is a base of operations in a beautiful park with redwoods and a remarkable fern understory. The park has 10 miles of trails along a fern-carpeted canyon, crossing over Little Lake while it weaves amongst old trees. Another favorite is known as Cabbage Patch, where skunk cabbage grows in abundance and blooms in May and June. Just across the entrance is a small but beautiful coastal bay with a pretty beach, ideal for surf fishing and lunching your kayak. The park covers 1831 acres.
RV sites, facilities: There are 74 sites for up to 35 feet. Picnic tables, and fire rings are provided. Drinking water, flush toilets, limited cell-phone reception, Rv dump station, and coin-operated showers are available. Leashed pets are permitted.
Russian Gulch or RGSP is set near some of CA most beautiful coastline, but the campsites speak to the woods, not directive up front to the ocean. The sites include some of the prettiest and most secluded drive-in sites available on the Mendo coast. There are numerous hiking options, from an easy hour long walks to Russian gulch falls, a wispy 36’ f waterfall the falls into a rock basin. The park covers more than 1100 acres with about 1.5 miles of ocean frontage, with rugged headlands, thrusting into the Pacific. The Devil’s Punchbowl, along the headlands, is a large collapsed sea cove with churning water that acts like a blowhole. There are miles of trails, tide-pool exploration, swimming, diving, and rock fishing.
RV sites, facilities: there are 30 sites for up to 24 feet. Picnic table, fire rings, and food lockers are provided. Drinking water, coin-operated showers, limited cell-phone reception, and flush toilets are available. Leashed pets are permitted.
Casper Beach is a privately operated park that has ocean frontage and opportunities for beach-combing, fishing, abalone and scuba diving, and great look outs for whale watching. the park is modestly wooded with a small year-round creek running behind it. RV site, facilities: There are 59 sites, some drive through, with partial or full hook-ups (30 amps) for RV’s. Picnic table and fire rings are provided. Cable TV, modem access, flush toilets, showers (coin operated), and RV dump stations are available. A connivence store, firewood, playground, video arcade, and a coin-operated laundry are available near by.
14441 Point Cabrillo Drive, Caspar 707-964-3306
Alegria Inn: Mendocino’s down town and ocean front B&B. Fireplaces, ocean view rooms and cottages, decks, a hot tub and freshly prepared breakfast. Located in the gardens is the entrance to a private coastal trail down to Big River beach. Easy walking distance to the shops, galleries, store, live theatre, headlands, and restaurants. 44781 Main St. 800-780-7905
Brewery Gulch Inn has for the past 3 years and running, been named as one of the top hotels in the world. Imagine luxury ocean view whilst being in a treehouse atmosphere surrounded by nature. They start your day with a superb breakfast and then in late afternoon in the main room for the feast of savory bites, salads, cheeses, breads and out of this world desserts. Local wines and brews are featured alongside. 9401 North Hwy. 1 800-578-4454
Point Cabrillo Light Station is an elegant and romantic lodging option to stay in the 1909 head light-keeper’s house. Ocean views with cozy sitting areas on a 300 acre preserve. What could be more romantic than this special setting and stay. 1300 Cabrillo Dr. 707-937-6123
Pet friendly options:
Stanford Inn, each room or suite is an experience in itself – the ultimate in comfort, amenities, and extraordinary views of the Pacific Ocean, the impressive Big River, and the historic village of Mendocino. Over the years they have had a variety of non human visitors: dogs and cats, of course, but also iguanas, parrots, Vietnamese pot belly pigs, and a tortoise. Pets stay for a modest charge.
MacCallum House is a historical hotel that offers luxury accommodations, hot tubs, ocean views and fireplaces. It is located in town at 45020 Albion Street. Pet amenities include pet beds, blankets, food and water bowls. Their on premises restaurant and lounge is a favorite for locals for dinner.
Breakfast, brunch and lunch
Stanford Inn offers vegan and vegetarian dishes such as Savory Breakfast Crepe, Portobello Benedict, Stanford Herbed Polenta or their house-made cinnamon bread French Toast. After eating, take a self guided walking tour through their ‘kitchen gardens’ to witness where your meal started from.
Hwy. 1 at Comptche-Ukiah Rd. 707-937-5616
Little River Inn has the best Sunday Brunch around. Their specialty is a old fashion Eggs Benedict with avocado and tomato. Absolutely delicious! They do get raves about their Olallieberry Blintzes, too. Sue at the bar is famous for her spicy Bloody Mary’s. It’s served with so many condiments that it’s almost a meal in it’s self or at least should count as a serving of veggies for the day.
Frankie’s ice cream and pizza parlor is located on 44951 Ukiah St. and serves homemade organic pizzas and the rich goodness of Cowlicks ice cream cones.
There is inside and outdoor seating options. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 707-93702436
Paterson’s Pub is a lesser known spot for a fabulous lunch. Huge sandwiches, burgers, salads and a daily ‘specials’ board featuring dishes like Oysters on the half shell, Baja fish tacos, BBQ tri tip or homemade Mac n Cheese. Plus, if you are a sports fan, this is the place to catch up on the scores. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Located at 10485 Lansing St., next to Mendoza’s Harvest Market.
The Mendocino Cafe serves the best Thai burrito I’ve ever tasted and as hard as I try, I can’t stop ordering it. Fresh locally sourced organic produce, meats and dairy are crafted into tasty dishes to be eaten inside or on their lovely deck. Open for lunch and dinner. Located next door to the Fire Station on Lansing St.
MacCullum House has a truly talented chef, Alan Canter, who’s fine dining dishes have been tantalizing their guests with dishes like; Niman Ranch Carpaccio followed by Seared Scallops or Korean BBQ Pork Chop for years. Full bar and wine list are offered. 45020 Albion St. 800-262-7801
Cafe Beaujolais is famous for the homemade breads they produce daily in their wood-fired oven and sold directly to you via the window on the side of the restaurants entrance. Their creative French cuisine is superbly crafted and is served in a cozy atmosphere with excellent service and over 50 wines are served by the glass. My top pick! 961 Ukiah St. 707-937-5614
Stanford Inn offer inventive vegetarian and vegan dishes. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, their creations are out of this world and worth a try. Their mint chocolate torte is amazing and almost guilt free. Take a stroll through their ‘kitchen garden’ as this is where most of your meal started from.
Flow Restaurant is perched high on Main St., next to the duck pond and offer an upfront and personal view of the ocean while sipping a libation of your choice. Relax on the deck and enjoy the sunset view over the bay.
Little River Inn’s lounge is reflective of the past with the families history of the transformation of Inn since 1942. This is the best place to savor one of chef Marc Dym’s crab cakes and one of our locally crafted wines or libations with a stunning view of the Pacific ocean thats hard to beat. By far, the friendliest bar in the area. Remember to take a stroll through their spectacular gardens. It is truly a work of art.
With so many play, eat and stay options, you can see why Mendocino is the perfect place to experience natures finest in a quaint charming village where time has seemed to stop. Come celebrate life in Mendocino.
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