Known as the spot on the California coastline where the river meets the sea, Mendocino is all about crashing surf, magnificent headlands, and tide pools teeming with marine life.
Spend a few days in this picturesque former logging and sawmill town located along California’s iconic Highway 1, and you’re sure to be charmed not just by the natural beauty of the area, but also by the quaint architecture of the downtown and the cozy seaside restaurant and inn scene.
While you could easily spend a week or more exploring the region, a long weekend will allow time to take in a number of the main attractions in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Some information in this article was obtained during hosted visits, but all opinions remain my own.
Things To Do In Mendocino
With the Pacific Ocean and the redwood forest as backdrops, the Mendocino area has a host of fascinating activities from which to choose. Here are some of the best experiences.
Wander Mendocino Headlands State Park
From river bluffs to sea caves, the Mendocino Headlands State Park offers a delightful sample of the region’s natural treasures.
Surrounding the village of Mendocino on three sides, Headlands State Park boasts a blend of gentle trails, rugged coastline, and secluded beaches.
Be sure to check out the 4-mile Mendocino Headlands Trail and the 0.9-mile Mendocino Cliffs Trail -- both rated easy -- for walks that pass by cliffs, sea arches, and tide pools.
Another not-to-be-missed spot is the Ford House Museum, located on Main Street in Mendocino, which serves as the visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park. The house dates to 1854, when early sawmill superintendent Jerome B. Ford had the house built for his bride, Martha.
Appreciate Local Art At The Mendocino Art Center
Originating in the late 1950s when artists Bill and Jennie Zacha arrived in Mendocino with the dream of developing an art center in the former mill town, the Mendocino Art Center today serves as a local art hub.
The website notes that the center was established on the grounds of the former Preston Mansion, which was featured in the James Dean movie East of Eden. When the mansion burned to the ground in 1957, the Zachas acquired the property, and by 1959, the remaining carriage house had been converted into the art center.
The center, which overlooks the ocean from the top of the headlands, is now a haven for artists and students of all levels and offers classrooms and workshops for painting, drawing, jewelry and metal arts, ceramics, and fiber arts.
Catch A Waterfall At Russian Gulch State Park
The Mendocino area is home to a number of state parks. For a variety of experiences, head to Russian Gulch State Park, where you’ll find everything from headlands views to a fern canyon to a beautiful waterfall.
If you have a few hours to spare, consider taking the moderate 5.4-mile-to-6.3-mile Fern Canyon to Falls Loop Trail to the 36-foot-high waterfall -- a natural feature that is “worthy of a tropical paradise,” according to the park website. Or if you have just an hour or so, check out the easy .75-mile Headlands Trail that starts at the picnic area overlooking Panhorst Bridge and follows a craggy shoreline.
Visit MacKerricher State Park And The Sea Glass Museum
There, you will find coves and stretches of beach made up of pretty little pieces of glass that have been worn smooth by seawater. More information about visiting this area is available in this article. Those who love collecting sea glass and sea glass jewelry can also visit Fort Bragg’s Sea Glass Museum.
Ride The Skunk Train Railbikes
Even before you arrive at the Skunk Train station in Fort Bragg, the distinctive name is sure to intrigue you. The train dates to the 1880s, when the Fort Bragg Railroad was founded as a means of transporting timber. It acquired its unusual nickname in the 1920s when a combination of gas-powered engines and stoves burning crude oil to keep passengers warm produced a pungent odor reminiscent of skunks.
Those days are long gone, and riders can expect pure forest air these days by taking a ride on the Skunk Train’s unique Railbikes. In an experience that is pure fun, passengers zip along the old rail line on the electric-powered two-person Railbikes. Towering redwoods line the route, and friendly guides offer guidance and information along the way.
Along with the Railbikes, the Skunk Train also offers a passenger train that takes tourists deep into the redwood forest along the Pudding Creek Estuary. The hour-long, 7-mile round trip stops at the Glen Blair Junction, where passengers can stretch their legs on a short hike that goes deep into the forest.
Taste The Wines
As if the ocean and the redwoods weren’t enough, the Mendocino area is also known for its amazing wineries. I recommend taking a break from all of the brisk sea air by driving down Highway 128, where a number of iconic wineries are located.
Consider trying the signature pinot noir at Goldeneye Winery, or stop by the stylish Mediterranean tasting rooms at The Madrones. A comprehensive winery list is available on the Visit Mendocino website.
Best Restaurants In Mendocino
Mendocino and Fort Bragg offer a wide range of eateries -- everything from upscale dining rooms with magnificent ocean views to bustling harbor seafood joints. Here are several to try.
From its venue in an 1893 Victorian farmhouse, Cafe Beaujolais focuses on organically grown produce and wild-caught seafood. The cafe’s large garden filled with antique roses and edible flowers adds to the ambience. Try specialties such as the Snake River Farms pork belly tacos or the roasted half chicken marsala.
Little River Inn Dining Room
Featuring sweeping ocean views, the Little River Inn Dining Room offers a breakfast and dinner menu that specializes in creative seafood dishes as well as hearty soups and entrees. Try the Swedish hotcakes for breakfast, and the fresh steamed clam chowder or chanterelle stroganoff featuring a variety of foraged and cultivated mushrooms for dinner.
Casa Del Sol
Tucked away near the Noyo Harbor District is the unassuming little Latin-inspired seafood spot Casa Del Sol. Try the camarones a la diabla, a spicy shrimp platter, or the veggie wet burrito topped with green tomatillo sauce, pickled onions, pico de gallo, cheese, and sour cream.
Where To Shop In Mendocino
Billed as the closest thing to a New England town in California, Mendocino’s downtown sports a white-and-pastel clapboard look that beautifully sets off the deep blues of the Pacific Ocean and the rich browns of the rugged sea cliffs. Here are some of the charming shops available.
Mendocino Country Store
Crafts by local and regional artisans are the centerpiece of the quaint and aptly named Mendocino Country Store. Browse the shop for a variety of items such as candles, pottery, chutney, and mustards.
Mendocino Chocolate Company
From fudge to truffles to whimsical lollipops, handmade gourmet chocolates are the specialty of the Mendocino Chocolate Company. With locations in both Mendocino and Fort Bragg, the chocolate shop specializes in artisanal chocolates and gifts.
Mendocino Jams & Preserves
The rustic Mendocino Jams & Preserves is the spot to indulge in not just jams and preserves, but chutneys, fudge sauces, and nut butters as well. The small shop located along the bluffs of Mendocino emphasizes its natural ingredients and small-batch production.
Best Hotels In Mendocino
Atmospheric inns and hotels that showcase the region’s natural beauty are the specialty of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Here are several of the best places to stay.
Brewery Gulch Inn
Offering a combo of two of Mendocino’s main claims to fame, the Brewery Gulch Inn is located amidst a grove of pines and redwoods and also offers gorgeous views of the nearby Smuggler’s Cove and the Pacific Ocean. With a cozy layout, a soaring glass-and-steel-faced wood-burning fireplace, and a comfortable patio with a view, the Brewery Gulch Inn is the perfect spot for a peaceful retreat. A bonus? An inn stay comes with wonderful breakfasts and appetizers during their wine hour. For breakfast, try the lemon ricotta pancakes or the cheese polenta cakes.
Noyo Harbor Inn
Overlooking Fort Bragg’s bustling Noyo Harbor, the Noyo Harbor Inn provides a front-row seat to the activities of the harbor’s fishing boats and other watercraft. Guests can watch the nonstop show from the inn’s snug and stylish rooms, complete with gas fireplaces and soaking tubs. Or for some outdoor time, don’t miss the lovely tiered garden and gazebo. The location on the harbor also offers convenient and walkable access to the range of seafood dining spots in the nearby Noyo Harbor District.
Sea Rock Bed & Breakfast
Offering cottages and suites with ocean views, the Sea Rock Bed & Breakfast is billed as a romantic and luxurious spot for a getaway. Guests are encouraged to snuggle up in front of a fireplace or unwind in a soaking tub while watching the sunset. Expect panoramic views of the ocean and the dramatic rocky cliffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park. Breakfast options change daily, but among the choices are fresh-baked blueberry muffins, walnut cinnamon bread, quiche, and seasonal fruit.
What To Know Before You Go
You should not assume you will have warm beach weather in Mendocino, regardless of when you visit. The average high temperatures are remarkably similar throughout the entire year, ranging from 53 degrees in January, February, March, and April to 57 to 58 degrees in August and September. The least rainy months are July, August, and September, when there is typically just a day or two of rain. December, January, February, and March are the rainiest, with an average of 11 to 13 days of rain.