If you are looking to escape the heat this summer, and want to enjoy beaches and solitude, head to Mendocino. Mendocino county boasts over 100 miles of Northern California’s rugged coastline, with hidden coves, sea caves, beaches, walking and hiking trails, and a step back in time. Known for its art galleries, fine dining, and sweeping views of the rugged Pacific coast, Mendocino is reminiscent of coastal Maine. It’s no wonder the quaint village of Mendocino has been used by Hollywood as a Cape Cod double. Over 43 movies and 11 television series were filmed in the area. Blair House B & B is a charming Victorian featured as Angela Landsbury’s home in Murder She Wrote. The dock scenes in Murder She Wrote, and in Overboard were filmed in nearby Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor.
There is no fast way to reach Mendocino. One of the most enjoyable routes is to take the back country road along the up-and-coming wine route. Mendocino’s wineries along route 128 in Anderson Valley have small unassuming tasting rooms, where you will often find the owner. The small towns along the winding route are nestled between sheep ranches, vineyards, apple orchards, fields of springtime flowers, and sweeping vistas. The cool coastal fog creeping into the Valley creates near perfect growing conditions for Pinot Noir, sweeter whites like Gewurztraminer, and sparkling wines. Boonville is the largest blink-and-you-will-miss-it town along the route; several wineries have tasting rooms and there is an old country mercantile. Beer lovers will rejoice in finding dog friendly Anderson Valley Brewing Company, off Boonville road, where they serve craft ales, sours, stouts, and IPAs.
Hike the Redwood Giants
At over 350 feet tall, redwood trees are the tallest, longest living trees in coastal California. These majestic giants live in three climate zones, and while their root system is not very deep, they run latterly for several hundred feet or more, intertwining with their neighbor’s as they reach skyward. Past Boonville and Gowan’s Apple Stand, is Hendy Woods, boasting an old-growth Redwood grove. In the morning, coastal fog drifts along the forest canopy blanketing the vibrant green moss hugging the tree trunks. It takes about an hour to meander the narrow intimate paths of the Upper and Back Trails, which have towering redwoods growing along broad leafy ferns and clover-like Redwood Sorrel.
See the Pygmy Forest
Found in Jackson State Forest and Van Damn State park pygmy trees are a sharp contrast in woodlands. These severely dwarfed Mendocino Cypress and Bolander’s pine are hundreds of years old. Only one to two meters tall, their trunks are often a few centimeters in diameter. The pygmy forest is as close to a stationary ecosystem as can be found in nature. The pygmy forest is a result of the rainy season, which creates high soil acidity and strips nutrients from the soil.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
For nature lovers no trip to the Mendocino coast is complete without visiting the 47 acre Mendocino Coast Botanical gardens. California’s largest rhododendron show is held in May filling the gardens with over 800 blooming rhodies. With all the color and fragrance filling the gardens, and a dramatic walk through a pine forest to a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean, it is no wonder readers of USA today voted the botanical gardens one of the top five gardens in America to visit.
Hunt for Sea Glass
Fort Bragg is a few miles north of Mendocino. In its heyday, this small town was formerly an old lumber milling town, and now is redefining itself as a tourist destination. The city recently finished a 5.5 mile paved path along the headlands, which connects to Ten-Mile beach, one of the few nesting grounds for the Snowy Plover. Visit the Noyo Center for Marine Science along the path to learn about marine conservation. Engage in the hunt for weathered and tumbled pieces of white and green frosted sea glass at famous Glass Beach located down a steep staircase at the southern end.
Visit the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and Keeper’s Cottage
History buffs will enjoy a visit to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, which has been operating since 1909. One of the keeper’s cottages is fully restored and features a museum, giving a glimpse into the life of the light keepers. The California State Lands Commission recorded 160 shipwrecks off the rocky Mendocino coast between 1850 -1900. A short walk north along the majestic Pacific path, from Point Cabrillo Lighthouse will take you to the overlook of Frolic Cove, where in 1850 the Baltimore Clipper Ship, the Frolic, was overcome by a swell and met its fate against the rocks. This silk ship from China was carrying ceramics and housewares, little pieces of which still wash ashore. The bluff between the lighthouse and Frolic Cove is a popular spot for whale watching. As you walk along the trail you may also catch a glimpse of sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, gulls and other sea birds.
At the end of the day, many restaurants in Little River, Albion, Mendocino, and Fort Bragg offer views of the crashing surf, the catch of the day, and exceptional service. For a town of 1000, Mendocino boasts two Zagat rated restaurants, both offering French cuisine with an American twist. The Café Beaujoalis and 955 Ukiah Street, like most restaurants in Mendocino, use seasonal and locally sourced produce to create a fine dining experience. With its large deck and expansive ocean views, the Flow is another popular farm-to-table fine dining restaurant. Truth be told, its difficult to find a bad meal in Mendocino. To start planning your trip visitwww.visitmendocino.com