Mendocino is tucked away on the Northern California coast just 3 hours north of San Francisco. Some are drawn to Mendocino for the art, restaurants & wineries, while others enjoy the epic outdoor hiking, kayaking, biking, and beachcombing! Mendocino was founded in 1852 as a logging community. The economy declined in the 1940s and its population shrank. It was revitalized in the late 1950s with the founding of the Mendocino Art Center. Mendocino is relatively remote, but that’s why people like it and why many escape to it for a respite from daily life.
Mendocino is an easy 3 hour drive north of the Bay Area. We took 101 North to Willits and then headed West on Highway 20 which is a super curvy road! The other option is taking Highway 1 up along the coast. That would be a beautiful drive, but would add quite a bit of time.
Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch State Park was one of our favorite spots! This park is simply gorgeous with views of the Panhorst Bridge, hiking along the Headlands Trail and Fern Canyon Trail, a sinkhole, and unparalleled coastal views!
Pygmy Forest – Van Damme State Park
The Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park is worth a stop. We did a short quarter mile hike along a boardwalk and learned about this ecological wonder. Most of the trees in this forest are over 100 years old, but because of the unconventional soil conditions most are dwarfed and no taller than 8-9 feet with a trunk circumference of just a few inches!
Where to Eat & Shop
Our favorite shop in Mendocino was Mendocino Jams & Preserves! We are still enjoying all the jams & goodies we purchased.
Our favorite place for brunch was Goodlife Cafe & Bakery and for dinner try Luna Trattoria!
Read all about our perfect day in Mendocino here.
Point Arena is about 35 miles south of Mendocino along Highway 1. Because of the winding narrow road, it takes about an hour, but the views along the drive are spectacular!
Point Arena Lighthouse
We first stopped at the Point Arena Lighthouse which sits out on a bluff. The lighthouse wasn’t open for tours, but we walked all around the area and stopped in the lighthouse store which houses a huge Fresnel lens as well as some history on the lighthouse.
Bowling Ball Beach
Bowling Ball Beach gets its name from the many perfectly round rocks exposed during low-tide. This beach is located at the Northern end of Schooner Beach State Park. The rocks are only exposed at low-tide so be sure to check the tide charts before you go!
Besides the bowling balls, our kids had a great time exploring the driftwood forts and stacking rocks too!
B Bryan Preserve
B Bryan Preserve is a private preserve committed to the breeding and preservation of African hoof Stock. They have several different tour options to see the animals. We chose a Guided Tour in an open air Land Rover. They also have a private VIP tour as well as a self-guided tour in your own vehicle.
We learned about the 3 different species of zebra, the Roan Antelope, Greater Kudu, and the Nubian Giraffe which we got to feed!
Read all about our perfect day in Point Arena here!
Skunk Train Railbikes
Riding the Skunk Train Railbikes through the redwoods was our family’s favorite activity of the trip! It was a new and fun way to see the area! The bikes have motor-assisted pedals so we didn’t have to work too hard and could spend most of our time enjoying the views. Read all about our railbike adventure here!
Glass Beach had been on my list for years! A beach full of tiny colorful glass pieces mixed in with pebbles? Yes, please! The good news is there is still a decent amount of glass left on the beach.
The bad news is that it is being severely depleted by visitors filling bags with the colorful pieces. We had been warned, but were still so surprised to see so many people blatantly doing it. Here’s what you don’t see when you look at pictures on Instagram!
Just steps to the north of the glass filled beach are huge rocks and tons of tide pools. We quickly shifted gears and explored this area instead – we had it essentially to ourselves.
And if you have more time, walk a little further to explore Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge and the beach below. This bridge has been recently restored and is part of the Ten Mile hiking trail which is great for hiking or biking. Our kids were done by the time I suggested we explore this area so we’ll save it for the next time we visit!
Where to Eat
We got ice cream at Cowlicks on North Main Street twice! They have sundaes and milkshakes too! Our family favorite was Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Look for this cool street art (above) around the corner off Redwood Ave. Our first night we stopped for dinner at Piaci Pub & Pizzeria across the street. We all thought the pizza was delicious! We also at ate Silver’s on the Wharf which was right on the water. We liked the location, but the wait here was really long and we thought the food was just OK.
Where to Stay
There are so many great places to stay in the Mendocino area. It would have been really hard for me to pick just one place! Fortunately (??) there was almost no availability the weekend we planned to go so the decision was essentially made for me! We stayed at the Noyo Harbor Inn in Fort Bragg which ended up being great. It is located at the end of the road overlooking the river. It’s adorable and is within walking distance of several restaurants, including Silvers at the Wharf. This is the only hotel we’ve stayed at since COVID-19. Our rooms were in a separate area a short walk from the main hotel. We entered one of our rooms directly from outside, the other had a shared doorway and lobby area with one other room. However, there was a hand sanitizer station right by the door. We liked that there were minimal shared spaces with other guests. Both of our rooms had balconies looking out towards the Noyo River Bridge and overlooking the restaurants below on the river. I would definitely stay here again.
There are some other options closer to downtown Mendocino: Little River Inn, Brewery Gulch Inn, and Stanford Inn. We’ll try to stay at one of these places next time!