The Absolute Best Things to Do in Mendocino
The county of Mendocino, California is a stunning part of Northern California spanning from the dramatic Pacific coastline to the towering redwood forests and finally the rolling hills of the Anderson Valley wine country.
Mendocino County maintains its rural identity, invigorated by a new generation of artisans and upstarts looking to escape from the tech-boom culture of the Bay Area.
Whether you are camping for the weekend, planning a romantic getaway or are a wine-tasting aficionado, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Mendocino County.
Getting to Mendocino County, California
Mendocino County is located less than two hours north of San Francisco. There are two main ways you can make your way through Mendocino County. The most common way is via the Anderson Valley by taking California Highway 128 West from Highway 101 North. Along this route you first pass through wine country on your way West to the redwood forest, finally reaching the coastal Highway 1. This leg should take you about three hours.
The other route north is via Highway 1, which hugs the coast from Marin all the way to Leggett, CA. While this coastline drive is scenic it takes time, nearly six hours by car, hence it’s best to break this up if you plan to drive up this way. Traffic is also a factor during peak season in Mendocino, so ideally you should plan to drive up early on a weekday and make your bookings in advance.
Mendocino State Parks
Coastal State Parks
The natural beauty and diversity of Mendocino County is best showcased through the state parks. The Mendocino Headlands, Russian Gulch and Van Damme coastal parks are the most well known and visited in the county. Check out the Devil’s Punchbowl in the Russian Gulch State Park, the gorgeous bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands and the pygmy forest of the Van Damme State Park. For trip planning and detailed information – check out the brochure here.
California redwood trees are some of the tallest and oldest living things in the world. These ancient forests are home to giant redwoods, lush ferns and winding rivers. Mendocino County visitors have long flocked to the Navarro River Redwoods, Hendy Woods and Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve for hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and kayaking.
Our favorite redwood forest attractions include:
- Tree Spotting! The “Mendocino Tree” in Montgomery Woods. This 1300+ year old tree is the 11th tallest tree in the world, topping 368 feet. The Chandelier tree in Leggett, a 300+ foot tall tree with a 6 foot hole cut out, allows cars to drive through it.
- For avid campers, Hendy Woods is a popular attraction along Highway 128 just past Philo, California. This campsite is very accessible with over 400 campgrounds and 100 acres of virgin, old-growth redwood trees. Book Hendy Woods here!
- Lastly, we love kayaking down the Navarro River. The 11 mile stretch winds along Highway 128 and the Navarro River Redwoods. The trick is to paddle upriver with the incoming tide and return downriver as the tide recedes to the ocean. Put in at the Navarro Beach take-out and head east inland. Keep in mind your navigable distance may vary depending on river levels, flow and tidal schedule.
Fort Bragg, Mendocino and Point Arena are our favorite Mendocino coastal towns to visit year round. Enjoy the picturesque beaches, mouthwatering restaurants and charming shop fronts along this stretch of coastal Highway 1.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg has one of California’s most famous beaches known as Glass Beach. This beach is covered by small pieces of smoothed glass, formed by decades of coastal break. Originally a dumpsite in the early to mid 1900s, the site was closed in 1967 and various cleanup programs were initiated to reverse the damage. Although it may have originally existed as an environmental hazard, it attracts many Mendocino visitors. Photographers and tourists alike come from all across California to see the beautified glass in gorgeous shades of emerald, cobalt, amber and white.
Manchester Beach, Point Arena
Manchester Beach is 650+ acres of pristine sand dunes, driftwood and coastal grass and wildflowers. Enjoy open vistas with views of the Point Arena Lighthouse and camp at the KOA campgrounds.
Attractions in Mendocino County
B Bryan Preserve, Point Arena
The B Bryan Preserve is a privately-owned preservation focused on African hoof Stock including Zebras, Giraffes, Antelopes, and Kudu. This is one of the best things to do in Mendocino with kids.
Explore over 100 acres via self guided and guided tours starting at $25 per adult. More here.
The Skunk Train, Fort Bragg & Willits
Slow down and take a magical ride through the redwoods with the historic Skunk Train. Ride aboard either the Pudding Creek Express departing from downtown Fort Bragg or the Wolf Tree Turn departing from Willits. These electric-diesel powered trains wind through spectacular tunnels and over scenic bridges in the Mendocino forests. Also a great thing to do in Mendocino with kids.
If you prefer a bit of exercise, the skunk train company now has two-person, electric pedal railbikes departing from Fort Bragg. These silent, electric assisted excursions typically last around two hours, and cost $250 to rent ($125 per person). Read about the Skunk Train here!
Despite the small, rural flavor of Mendocino County, there are some seriously good places to eat both along the coast and inland. Fresh, local ingredients, seafood and a rejuvenated culinary scene make these our favorite restaurants in Mendocino:
- Princess Seafood & Deli – Looking for the catch of the day? Princess Seafood and Deli is located right in the Noyo Harbor just south of Fort Bragg. They have a great selection of fresh sashimi-grade fish, local crab, Mexican prawns, scallops and Humboldt Bay oysters.
- Harbor House Inn – A Redwood home built in 1916 is now the location of James Beard award semifinalist chef Matthew Kammerer’s restaurant, Harbor House Inn. Located in Elk, CA, the HHI features a full experience tasting menu with hyper-local and foraged ingredients.
- Trillium – For a more laid-back experience, Trillium in Mendocino is a local favorite. Inside the old Victorian home, you’ll find a seafood oriented menu with seasonal fare.
- Wild Fish in Little River – We love Wild Fish! Located behind a post office and general store off Highway 1, this hidden gem offers ridiculously fresh seafood with affordable prices and a cozy ambiance.
- Fog Eater Café – Fog Eater is a farm-inspired café that began as a pop-up combining hearty southern recipes with fresh, plant-based Northern California eating.
- Café Beaujolais – Craving French food? The upscale Mendocino eatery is another local home-converted place of gourmet cuisine. We love their duck and coconut cream pie!
- Mendocino Café – A great lunch and dinner spot with plenty of outdoor seating, fast, friendly service and, of course, delicious local food. Try their award-winning clam chowder!
- Little River Inn – Breathtaking ocean views combined with local seafood and american dishes that are both fresh and familiar.
- Ledford House – Located in the Albion headlands, the Ledford House offers spectacular views, live music, and unique food. Their speciality is Mediterranean-inspired cooking with zesty influences from Asian and Latin America.
Wine Tasting in Mendocino
Obviously we are partial to the wine tasting menu at Artevino by Maple Creek Wine – but here are some of our local favorites from friends of the Artevino Winery!
- Lula Cellars – Lula features handcrafted, limited production wines with a focus on Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Dry Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Rosato (Rosé of Pinot Noir). They are pet friendly!
- Bee Hunter – Located smack dab in the middle of Boonville, Bee Hunter sources local grapes to produce wines with a distinct Mendocino flavor.
- Smith and Story – Just like Artevino, Smith and Story is a husband, wife, and canine-run family winery! Wines sourced from the Anderson Valley and Sonoma County bring a diverse line-up of Pinots, Cab Francs & Sauv Blancs. Reservation fee is $25.