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If you are seeking a relaxing weekend getaway from San Francisco, Mendocino is an ideal destination. Located a short three hours away, you can indulge in admiring coastal views, hiking amongst soaring Redwoods and strolling within Mendocino’s historic seaside village.
Use my Mendocino travel guide to find the best things to do in Mendocino, California. Discover tasty eateries, charming boutiques and historic inns that offer expansive views.
FUN FACT: Did you know that Mendocino was founded in 1852 as a logging town?
TOP TIP: If anyone in your group is prone to motion sickness, be aware that Highway 128 is windy. I wore my Reliefband to stave off any nausea on the road, which worked like a charm! Learn more about Reliefband and my favorite motion sickness remedies.
Guy, the owner of Brewery Gulch Inn, a delightful boutique lodging option that I highlight below, describes Mendocino as “Big Sur without the crowds.”
Fun Things to Do in Mendocino: Best Hiking Trails
Whether seeking a short stroll or a more challenging route, hiking in Mendocino is not to be missed. You’ll appreciate the windswept oceanscapes, towering Redwoods, Pygmy Forests and waterfalls!
Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park – Easy (2 miles)
This two-mile, scenic trail is an ideal place to spot whales during whale watching season from November to April. Come here for sunset to have it all to yourself!
TOP TIP: Since ticks can reside in the grasses, it’s best to wear long pants to minimize the risk of any of these pests hitching a ride.
FUN FACT: The Frolic shipwreck, which you can learn more about at the Kelley House Museum, ran aground just north of Point Cabrillo Light Station in 1850. View artifacts divers have recovered, including coins, firearms and a canon, at the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, one of the many interesting Mendocino attractions.
Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve – Easy (2 miles)
TOP TIP: When you turn onto Comptche Ukiah Road from CA-1, set your odometer and drive 30 miles. Keep your eyes peeled for a hard right into a parking lot; it’s easy to miss and Google Maps directs you to the wrong place.
Wandering amongst these old growth Redwoods is best described as a spiritual experience. These definitely rank as a highlight of things to see in Mendocino County, California.
FUN FACT: This park allows you to walk amongst rare giants. Sadly, 96% of California Redwoods were harvested for timber from the 1800s to 1970s. Therefore, it’s uncommon and magical to revel at these ancient 2000 year-old behemoths that stand more than 300 feet tall and 16-20 feet in diameter!
As you are walking on this easy two-mile trail, stop and listen to the Redwoods creaking as they sway in the wind. Be sure to look up and notice the Fairy rings, or rings of Redwoods surrounding you from above.
FUN FACT: Fairy rings occur when new growth Redwoods grow in a circle around the stump of an old growth Redwood that had previously been logged. I find spinning around and admiring Fairy rings enchanting.
From 2000-2006, a 367.5-foot tree in Montgomery Woods held the record for the tallest tree in the world. Taller trees have since been discovered in Humboldt and Redwoods National Parks.
Personally, I loved the way late afternoon light filtered through the trees. You’ll stay cool on this Mendocino hike as the towering redwoods shelter you from sun and heat.
TOP TIP: When walking past the trees, note the “goose pens” at the base of some of them. As a result of fires, the bottom of the trees can be weakened and infiltrated by fungi. During subsequent fires, the eroded tree interior is burned out, leaving a gaping hole at the bottom of the tree. Funny enough, early settlers did keep their geese in them.
Mendocino Headlands State Park – Easy (4 miles)
Strolling within the Mendocino Headlands State Park is the perfect way to welcome the day while listening to waves crashing and seagulls calling.
Grab a chai from Good Life Café and walk along the trail as fog caresses the headlands and trees. Make sure to turn back and admire the historic Main Street buildings in downtown Mendocino as they are beautifully lit in the early AM light.
TOP TIP: Keep your eyes peeled for whales in the distance and seals or sea otters playing in the surf. We saw three grey whales spouting when we visited in April!
You can walk as much of the four-mile trail as you desire. Start from behind the Chevron station or across from any of the shops on Main Street. In the spring, wildflowers blanket the area, adding to the trail’s beauty.
TOP TIP: If you are nimble, take steps down to a beach with a small sea cave. A rope is affixed to help you traverse the rocks at the bottom. Even with my fear of heights, it is totally doable.
After heading back up to the bluffs, you might encounter tide pools if it’s low tide. Try to spot crabs, starfish or other small critters and remember not to touch or disturb them.
If you want more tide pooling, head 13 miles (20 minutes north) to MacKerricher State Park. This is also a great place to spot sausage-like, spotted harbor seals and migrating whales. Be sure to stop by Glass Beach and peruse the beautifully colored sea glass, rubbed smooth by years of tumbling.
TOP TIP: It’s important to know that removing sea glass is illegal. Admire and leave pieces you find for other future visitors to enjoy on this Northern California beach.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve and Ecological Staircase -Easy (5 Miles)
During this five-mile round trip hike in Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, you’ll wind your way through five distinct terraces within the Ecological Staircase that have been carved and formed over 500,000 years.
Terrace #1 is 100,000 years old and meanders along the cliffside, providing sweeping views of the wave-battered rocks and a beach where you can sunbathe or build sandcastles below.
Terrace #2 is 200,000 years old and serpentines its way through towering Redwoods, pine and fir trees.
Terrace #3 is 300,000 years old and will awe you with its Pygmy Forest. This is the first I’ve heard of or encountered a forest like this!
FUN FACT: Pygmy Forests occur only in a few places as a result of soil 1000x more acidic than soil in the Redwood forest. This stunts the tree growth, resulting in a “Bonsai” forest with dwarf Manzanita, pygmy Cypress and Bishop and Bolander pine trees.
Van Damme State Park–Old Logging Road to Fern Canyon Loop – Moderate (4.4 miles)
Van Damme State Park offers a number of trails ranging from 0.2 miles to eight miles.
Given I loved Jug Handle’s Pygmy Forest, I couldn’t wait to visit Van Damme’s Pygmy Forest via a .2 mile boardwalk trail.
TOP TIP: Since the parking area is small, arrive by 10AM. To reach the lot, head east on Little River – Airport Road for 2.8 miles.
FUN FACT: The area where the pygmy forest resides used to be submerged under the ocean. The soil is 500,000 to one million years old! Each terrace is 100 feet higher and one to two hundred thousand years older than the prior terrace.
After admiring the Pygmy Forest, continue on to the 4.4-mile Old Logging Road – Fern Canyon Loop where you’ll see wildflowers when in season, Redwoods and ferns that impart a Jurassic Park feel.
I found listening to the accompanying gurgling stream for a portion of the hike cathartic and reveled at the tiny surprise waterfall that had sprouted near the bottom of a Redwood tree just after passing over a bridge. Sit next to the waterfall and meditate or enjoy a picnic.
While on the hike, I discovered wild huckleberries exist in California too!
I’m addicted to the huckleberry flavor that I have previously only found in Montana and Wyoming. Check out my Death Valley road trip travel guide and Jackson Hole travel guide for where to find the best huckleberry ice creams!
Russian Gulch State Park – Moderate (6 miles)
If you are seeking waterfalls, the Fern Canyon to Falls Loop trail in Russian Gulch State Park is a great choice. In the spring, you’ll see pink rhododendrons. Make sure you stop and see the Devil’s Punchbowl in the park too.
Things to Do Near Mendocino – in Fort Bragg
Skunk Train Railbikes – A Unique Way to Experience the Redwoods
When visiting Mendocino, I highly recommend venturing 10 miles (15 minutes) North to Fort Bragg to pedal alongside the majestic Redwoods on a Railbike.
What exactly is a Railbike?
Two people pedal these open-air bikes along the train tracks that have been transporting people for 135 years. Not to worry, if you get tired, you can take a break and the Railbike’s motor assist will propel you forward. Dogs are welcome and can accompany you in a custom built cage attached to your Railbike.
This seven-mile journey is a unique way to experience the Redwoods. My favorite parts of the tracks were the trestle bridges above the creeks. As we pedaled past the Pudding Creek Estuary, we spied herons.
The guides will also point out one of the “goose pens” I mention in the Montgomery Woods section above, just in case you don’t make it there.
After pedaling for 30 minutes, you’ll arrive at Glen Blair Junction and can opt for a one-mile (15 minute) hike through the Redwoods. This is perfect for stretching your legs before the return journey. A new 3.5-mile hiking trail from Glen Blair Junction to the Fort Bragg depot will be opening soon.
If you want a journey without any physical exertion, you can opt to ride aboard the Skunk Train, a vintage steam locomotive, which follows the same trail as the Railbikes. In historic times, the Skunk Train transported Redwoods to the Mendocino sawmills.
Why is it called the Skunk Train?
The smell of the train preceded it, belching out foul smelling oil and gasoline that the locals equated to skunks.
In late 2022, Skunk Train plans to start offering multi-day camping adventures. The train will transport your camping equipment, leaving you with only your daypack for the 10 miles per day hiking.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
While on the Railbikes, our guide recommended stopping by the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens on the way back to Mendocino. The extensive garden blooms with myriad flowers depending on the season, including dahlias, camellias, roses and magnolias.
Things to Do in Fort Bragg : Best Places to Eat
If you want to grab any sweet treats before or after your Railbikes or Skunk Train adventures, check out these places in Fort Bragg.
Mendocino Cookie Company –The ginger molasses cookie and turmeric ginger latte are on point. I might have a slight ginger addiction.
Cowlick’s Ice Cream – Artisan ice creams! The candy store floor flavor with Snickers, Reeses Pieces and Butterfinger combines all my favorite candies in this smorgasbord ice cream. Locals rave about the Candy Cap Mushroom flavor. And, the mint chip ice cream has Guittard chocolate, our favorite chocolate chips for baking cookies.
FUN FACT: Mendocino Cookie Company makes the cookie dough Cowlick’s uses in their ice cream.
Harvest Market Bakery Department – Guy from Brewery Gulch describes the chocolate covered English toffee caramels as kryptonite. I agree as they are highly addictive.
FUN FACT: Princess Seafood is a female-led boat and business focusing on sustainable, sashimi grade, wild caught seafood.
Mendocino Travel Guide: My Favorite Restaurants
Despite its small size, Mendocino brims with numerous eateries offering innovative, organic fare. I continue to dream about some of the meals and treats I’ve had, which are detailed below. Whether you are a seafood aficionado, vegetarian or meat eater, Mendocino’s restaurants will quench your cravings.
Located in a small historic house, you can dine inside the restaurant or in the fairy light illuminated back garden.
TOP TIP: While heat lamps are at each table, I recommend bringing a warm jacket for dining outside since it’s often windy and cool in this coastal community.
Trillium’s seasonal, organic menu is sourced from local purveyors and their talented chef creates all their ice creams and sauces in-house.
We warmed up with a hearty white bean soup, followed by pillowy vegetable gnocchi and short ribs.
TOP TIP: Make sure you save room for dessert as they are all lovingly created in-house. We adored the texture and flavor of the hokey pokey ice cream with honeycomb bits, which I have only ever had in Australia. The frozen lemon mousse pie is equally decadent. Do yourself a favor and pair dessert with the Navarro Gewurztraminer, one of our favorite wines from the Anderson Valley.
Trillium is open for lunch and dinner Friday to Tuesday, so make sure to dine here at least once.
Good Life Café & Bakery
If you are looking for a mid-day snack or pick me up, Good Life Café & Bakery is not to be missed. We indulged in one of the largest and tastiest slices of apple pie EVER here, complimented by caramel sauce and ice cream.
Their apple cider, hot chocolate and Thai iced tea are divine too.
If you are craving something more substantial, they have eggs benedict (my go to brunch meal), tofu veggie stir fry, or a pumpkin coconut veggie curry.
Enjoy your meal on their outdoor patio or opt for takeout. I appreciate their compostable cups, which I pair with my metal straw, one of my favorite sustainable travel essentials.
Who doesn’t love a tasty brick oven pizza? I became addicted to this style pizza while living on the East coast and always indulge whenever I find it. The Garlicky Kale and Artichoke Pepperoni are crowd pleasers and use San Marzano tomato sauce, the best tomato sauce there is in IMHO!
TOP TIP: Order a pizza between 11:30-5 Wednesday to Sunday. All ingredients are non-GMO from free-range animals.
FUN FACT: Café Beaujolis resides in a farmhouse dating from 1893.
If you are hankering for something else, kale salad, Oaxacan ceviche, Cubano pulled pork sandwiches, bowls and burgers are offered too.
Craving Italian food? Luna Trattoria is your place. I measure restaurants by their homemade pasta and Luna delivers.
TOP TIP: Get your gnocchi with half tomato and half pesto so that you can try both delicious sauces. I always appreciate places that let me maximize my sampling.
We also split a bruschetta and Caesar salad to start, both of which are delish.
Fog Eater Café
Even if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan, this “California Cuisine with a Southern Twang” is worth trying. A non-vegetarian actually recommended Fog Eater Cafe to us! All ingredients are organic and sourced from Mendocino or Sonoma County.
Since I never make deviled eggs at home, I always indulge when I find them. After getting hooked on pimento cheese in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s fun when it appears on a menu. Of course, you can never go wrong with beignets or chickpeas and dumplings.
Frankie’s is family-owned and offers pizzas, falafel sandwiches and unique piadines, oven baked flat bread filled with salad. I’ve never met a hummus, spinach and artichoke heart combination that I don’t like.
In case you don’t make it up to Fort Bragg, you can enjoy Cowlick’s ice cream at Frankie’s. The mint chip, candy store floor and candy cap mushroom are all crowd pleasers.
Papa Bears Chocolate Haus
Craving a sweet treat? Be sure to stop by Papa Bears Chocolate Haus and ogle all the rich desserts offered. You can’t go wrong with milk chocolate sea salt caramels, chocolate covered pretzels, caramel apples or raspberry bark. The pieces are large and perfect for sharing.
Mendocino Attractions: Best Places to Shop
Spend an afternoon wandering the seaside village, perusing all the boutiques and shops.
Moore Used Books
As an avid reader, I stop in any bookstore I can find. I’ve been on a quest to find “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod for the past year. Since it’s now out of print, I pop into every used bookstore to inquire if they have it.
Kelley House Museum
Want to step back in time and learn about Mendocino’s history with artifacts and photographs? Pay a visit to Kelley House Museum, which also has original furniture from the 1800s when the Kelleys resided in the home.
Kelley House also offers guided Mendocino walking tours, allowing you to delve further into history.
FUN FACT: Remnants from the 1850 Frolic shipwreck reside in the Kelley House museum. Interestingly, the Redwoods in the Mendocino area were discovered when people attempted to salvage the Frolic wreck and encountered the behemoth Redwoods.
If you are seeking pottery, photographs or paintings, stop into Prentice Gallery.
I might have a slight candle and bath and body product obsession. Given my sustainability focus, I appreciate that many sold at Astoria Home are in glass rather than plastic. Baby gifts, stationery and wooden cutting boards are also sold here.
Looking for jewelry? Mendocino Sandpiper offers a variety of rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets with silver, mother of pearl, and other stones. If you like Victorian era jewelry, they had some interesting pieces created from old buttons.
Lodging in Mendocino, California: Best Places to Stay
Little River Inn Mendocino
The storied Little River Inn has been family-run for 80 years, with five generations carrying on the legacy. Both James Dean and Ronald Reagan have stayed on the property.
FUN FACT: The original home, which houses the reception area, was built in 1853. It was converted to an inn in 1939. Ole’s Whale Watch bar, which has an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean was a former conservatory. All the syrups they use for drinks at the bar are house made. This Mendocino bar is an ideal location to meet locals and inquire about their favorite hidden gems.
Wake up to sparkling ocean views and enjoy breakfast on your private balcony while relaxing in rocking chairs. We spotted whales breaching on the horizon while enjoying our breakfast! After breakfast, head down to the “kissing bench” between the lone pine trees to watch waves crash on the beach beneath you.
TOP TIP: Don’t miss Ole’s light and fluffy pancakes, a recipe that has been passed down through the generations.
Choose from one of 65 rooms onsite, catering to a variety of budgets. After reveling at the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, come in and warm up next to a gas fireplace in the Ocean View Deluxe rooms.
If you love golf or tennis, indulge at the nine-hole golf course or play a match onsite.
If hiking is your jam, Little River Inn has a private path down to Van Damme State Park beach where you can then continue on to the Fern Canyon Trail and Pygmy Forest, which I highly recommend. Rejuvenate in your Jacuzzi soaking tub after.
Little River Inn Dining
Don’t miss dinner at Little River Inn. Dining in the outdoor tent with fairy lights imparts a storybook feel.
I still can’t stop raving about my roast cauliflower with a Goan curry sauce. Jason commented the cioppino overflowing with crab, shrimp and clams is one of the BEST he’s ever had. The clam chowder and beet salad were incredibly tasty too.
TOP TIP: Make sure to save room for dessert. The oallieberry (a hybrid of blackberry and raspberry) cobbler is passed down from Cally’s grandmother, Cora, and the lemon sabayon tart is light and decadent. Since Oallieberry is rare, imagine my delight when I spied it on Little River Inn’s menu! I’ve only ever had it at Duarte’s and Arcangeli Grocery in Pescadero near Half Moon Bay.
Brewery Gulch Inn Mendocino
Brewery Gulch Inn, constructed from 150 year-old salvaged Redwoods, will delight you at every turn. The inn, windows, furniture and handmade bento boxes are all made from this beautiful wood.
FUN FACT: The historic Redwoods were discovered buried in river silt in the early 1990s during a nearby bridge construction project.
Whether you are relaxing in one of the 11 inn rooms, sitting by the fire in the Great Room or enjoying a glass of wine on the outdoor patio, you’ll be treated to intoxicating Mendocino coast views.
TOP TIP: Relish the rich flavor of the Le Bon Garcon classic sea salt caramels left on your bed while enjoying the views. You might want to hide these from any travel companions as they will quickly gobble them up.
Since Brewery Gulch is an Audubon Sanctuary, you’ll likely be visited by woodpeckers and Blue Jays or see hawks gliding overhead while dining or peering through the telescope on the outdoor deck.
Upon check-in, a knowledgeable Innkeeper will greet you and can apprise you about local hikes, dining and wine tasting in the area. Brewery Gulch Inn also offers “Backpack Picnic Baskets” that you take with you to enjoy while exploring.
TOP TIP: If time permits, I highly recommend partaking in Brewery Gulch’s unique Shinrin-yoku experience and forest bathing with a guide amongst the Redwoods.
Engaging all five senses while strolling through the gargantuan trees and meditating will provide you with a deeper connection and appreciation for these historic giants. Conclude the walking meditation with a relaxing herbal tea.
Brewery Gulch Dining
Every evening Brewery Gulch Inn hosts a wine hour with delectable appetizers presented in a handcrafted Mendo box made from the same eco-salvaged Redwoods.
Since the offerings are hearty, this suffices as dinner if you aren’t starving. We relished the sweet potato, pepper and carrot salad, chicken curry and mango coconut pudding. Pair the Mendo box food offerings with local craft beers or local wines, including Fathers + Daughters Cellars, which is one of the owner’s newest innovations.
TOP TIP: Try the Fathers + Daughters Zinfandel Rose. Since most Roses are made from Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel rendition is uncommon.
Before heading out for hiking, shopping or exploring Brewery Gulch Inn’s ponds, fuel up with a colorful and savory breakfast. Jason devoured his fluffy strawberry yuzu cheesecake pancakes with Millionaire’s Bacon. I am still dreaming about the Asian breakfast bowl with quinoa, tofu and a delightfully spicy sauce with just the right amount of kick.
TOP TIP: Be warned the house made Callebaut Belgian hot chocolate and mango key lime lassis are highly addictive.
In the afternoons, recharge with light snacks and iced tea.
I hope my ideas for the best things to do in Mendocino help you plan a memorable Mendocino weekend trip itinerary.
Thanks to Brewery Gulch Inn, Little River Inn and Skunk Train for hosting me – all opinions and reviews are my own.