From biking through redwoods to sledding down sand dunes, there’s tons to do on the Mendocino Coast besides visit vineyards
A trail leads to this beautiful hike along the bluffs from Elk Cove Inn — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Northern California’s Mendocino Coast might be known for its wine, but there’s so much more to discover in this stunning region. From towering redwoods and craggy headlands to beaches lined with sea glass and oceanfront botanical gardens, this peaceful refuge, just a few hours north of San Francisco, offers endless ways to connect with its natural beauty.
Thanks to unparalleled views of the stars, the sound of waves crashing almost anywhere you go, and a plethora of culinary surprises from land and sea, exploring this unspoiled area promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Cruise through redwoods on a railbike
Cruise through redwoods on a rail bike from Fort Bragg, California — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Ride from Fort Bragg through a redwood forest on a custom-built, electric-assist railbike for two. This easy and enjoyable ride on former tracks that were laid down in 1885 by the California Western Railroad is a great way to breathe in fresh air and view young redwood groves and the Pudding Creek estuary. Choose between a 7-mile romp that includes a hike up and around a creekside oasis and break for a picnic lunch, or opt for the 25-mile trip along the Noyo River for a full afternoon in nature.
If biking isn’t your thing, the historic Skunk Train leaves from the same north coast location, chugging through old-growth redwoods, over trestle bridges, and through tunnels. On weekend nights, a secret watering hole called the Glen Blair Bar sets up deep in the forest, only accessible by train or railbike.
Admire seasonal blooms in every color at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Rhododendrons planted decades ago measure over 20 feet tall at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Meander through rhododendrons, roses, and dahlias of every variety at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where 47 acres of flora, native forests, and wildflowers flourish among 4 miles of trails that take you out to flower-filled coastal bluffs overlooking the ocean. Admire numerous birds who live among the succulents, rose gardens, wild mushrooms, perennials, fern-covered canyons, and dense coastal pine forest, and find species that were planted decades ago and have grown to be over 20 feet tall. Check online for their seasonal plant and flower highlights.
Stroll through the historic village of Mendocino
The town of Mendocino has a population of 715 — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Established in the 1850s, the quaint town of Mendocino sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. It may remind you of Maine with its grand Victorians and Saltbox cottages and its weathered homes and hidden gardens in small alleyways between buildings. Appreciate this former lumber mill town — which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, thanks to its historic churches, cemeteries, and iconic water towers, many of which have found new life as B&Bs, boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.
Between the town’s edge and the Pacific Ocean lies Mendocino Headlands State Park, where you’ll find winding pathways that lead to secluded beaches. Benches for whale watching and barking sea lion viewing are scattered across the area.
Scale some of the largest sand dunes in Northern California at Ten Mile Dunes Nature Preserve
Ten Mile Dunes Nature Preserve has the some of the largest sand dunes in Northern California — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Nestled among the jagged cliffs and lush forests of Fort Bragg, Ten Mile Dunes is part of a 1,300-acre nature preserve that features a mile-wide dune and wetland ecosystem. Enjoy birdwatching, unpopulated beach walks, and horseback riding, as well as sand sledding across the largest sand dunes in Northern California — some stretch over 130 feet above the sea.
While this hidden gem deserves a visit, many more hiking and beachcombing opportunities abound along the Mendocino Coast, thanks to the area’s 10 different seaside state parks.
Dine on the catch of the day
Don’t miss a crab roll at Princess Seafood Market & Deli — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Most restaurants on the Mendocino Coast will ignite your taste buds with freshly caught seafood and locally produced organic vegetables that thrive in the area’s rich soil and temperate climate.
Locals recommend Princess Seafood Market & Deli in Noyo Harbor, where wild-caught West Coast seafood is available for takeout or dining in on picnic tables. Here, you’ll enjoy dishes like a loaded crab roll, smoked wild king salmon dip, ceviche, and calamari salad, all caught by a crew of ladies on their 42-foot vessel named “Princess.”
Just a few hundred feet away, you can watch fishing boats deliver their catch at Sea Pal Cove Restaurant with a bowl of clam chowder and perhaps the best fish and chips of your life — Tony Blair-approved, according to one of the innkeepers.
Balcony room views from Little River Inn are stunning — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
For finer dining with ocean views overlooking a rocky cove, Little River Inn has been a seaside staple since 1853. The charming restaurant at the Victorian hotel prepares meals like tomato bisque and local crispy fried whole rock cod over grits, paired with a Pinot Noir from nearby Anderson Valley or a Chardonnay from Navarro. No need to leave Little River Inn, as rooms come with fireplaces and private decks — a perfect perch for sunsets and whale watching. There’s also a private trail to Van Damme State Beach you can stroll down.
Connect with nature at a charming bed and breakfast
The room views at Elk Cove Inn are unforgettable — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Elk Cove Inn & Spa sits on a dramatic coastal stretch where the sound of waves will lull you to sleep. Gas fireplaces heat suites with large decks that hang atop a private beach cove, where secluded trails wind down to a sheltered beach or up coastal bluffs.
Innkeepers Chef Victor Passalacqua and sommelier Melissa Boon wow guests with stellar French dishes in an intimate setting: for example, breakfast options like brouilette, potato casserole, and homemade croissants with Champagne can be delivered to your room. Take a tour of the on-site farm and gardens, forage for sea urchins with the chef, or indulge in a winemaker dinner. Munch on complimentary wine and cheese (made from the inn’s goats) at Social Hour, where dramatic sunsets on their bluff-top gazebo are hard to beat.
Enjoy a picnic at one of several benches built into the cliffside at The Inn at Newport Ranch — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Situated under a canopy of stars with no light pollution, the 2,000-acre The Inn at Newport Ranch is a secluded oasis with 25 miles of hiking trails and 1.5 miles of jaw-dropping private coastal bluffs. Don’t miss the educational, 2-hour UTV excursion through seven microclimates with resident local storyteller and guide, Otis. He’ll also help you plant a redwood tree, forage for mushrooms, and bring back your bounty to include in your dinner of artful bites by esteemed Chef Patrick Meany. Lunch cliffside over crashing waves at one of the many picnic areas built along the headlands and check out their upcoming concert dinner series and seasonal foraging opportunities online.
Brewery Gulch Inn has rooms with private decks featuring ocean views — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
Set on three acres of mature pines and redwoods, wooded glens, wetland ponds, and gardens that overlook Smuggler’s Cove on the Pacific, find Craftsman-style Brewery Gulch Inn & Spa with 11 rooms (and one new cottage) featuring private decks and ocean views. Taste buds will be tantalized daily with a complimentary, gourmet breakfast that’s cooked to order; home-baked goods all day; nightly wine hour; and a three-course, locally sourced appetizer spread hosted in the lobby or delivered to your room. Consider booking their half-day Shinshin forest-bathing experience.
You can see Mendocino Bay from The Stanford Inn — Photo courtesy of Melissa Curtin
The Stanford Inn is a vegan historic farm resort that sits atop a meadow and extensive gardens with Mendocino Bay in the distance, and where the din of the foghorn can be heard from your balcony. Discover colorful plant-based dishes at their acclaimed Ravens restaurant, or retreat to their grand greenhouse solarium with a saltwater pool, sauna, and hot tub. Say hello to their llamas and donkey, grab a motivational read in their lobby, and enrich your mind with numerous possibilities like breathwork, meditation, cooking classes, sustainable gardening, and fall mushroom foraging.