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Getaway Guide: One-Tank Trip to Mendocino

Mendocino Coast

Bring your camera or your paint brushes, because Mendocino is dotted with New England-style Victorians perched on a cliff with expansive Pacific vistas. Mendocino Village is surrounded on three sides by spectacular ocean bluffs. If you enjoy ocean scenery and a slower pace of life, you've come to the right place. Founded in 1850, most of the town with fewer than 1,000 residents, is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Getting There

Turning your back on the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, continue across the Golden Gate Bridge on US-101 North until you see signs for Mendocino, which is the exit CA-128 West. The last 10 miles will have you hugging the Pacific along gorgeous Shoreline Highway, CA-1 North, and you've arrived. The drive is 150 miles, but it feels like another world. Repeat visitors are probably congratulating themselves on the decision to return to Mendocino, while first-time visitors are in for a real treat.

What To Do

Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 937-5804

Easily accessible from the village, three miles of trails wind through bursts of spring wildflowers and late summer blackberries down to the coastline, with its hidden sea grottos and arches. Big River Beach is named for the size of the first-growth redwoods which once grew along its banks. Due to a history of lumbering, these trees were lost, but a second-growth forest is maturing. Among today's happy inhabitants are two dozen rare and threatened species, including spotted owls, bald eagles and brown pelicans. Take care to stay on marked trails through the redwoods due to dead end loggers trails which are decommissioned and difficult to navigate.

Skunk Train

Skunk Train
Highway One and Laurel St.
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-6371

Price: Four hours $49 adults, $24 children (ages 2-12)

Follow the old 1885 Redwood Route on an historic train through the deer forest, along the banks of the River Noyo and through the canyon. Carrying visitors these days instead of lumber, the experience remains authentic as you zigzag through tunnels, over bridges and alongside open meadows with views of log cabins. Make it an overnight ride, add on a wine and cheese tasting, a barbecue with live entertainment, a kayak adventure; there are lots of options. In between toots of the whistle, the conductor will surely explain how the Skunk Train got its name.

Ross Ranch
Philo-Greenwood Road Mile Marker 7.88
Elk, CA 96540
(707) 877-1834

Price: From $50 for two hours

How romantic––a horseback ride on the beach at sunset. This family-owned business operated by lifelong Mendocino folks, has 18 well-groomed horses available to match to your size and ability for a private ride on Manchester Beach or a guided ride through the redwood forest. Expect a walk rather than a trot. Your horseback ride along the beach is unguided, as the horses know the way. For kids from age 6 and up, helmets are available.

Related: San Francisco's Most Romantic Parks

Point Arean Lighthouse

Point Arena Lighthouse
45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA 95468
(707) 882-2809

Price: $7.50

Adding to the quaint atmosphere of the rugged Maine-like coastline of Mendocino Headlands, there are two historic lighthouses open for tours. Stand at the continental United States' closest point to Hawaii. At 115 feet, Point Arena, re-built in 1907 after the earthquake, is the Pacific's tallest lighthouse accessible to visitors. It's 125 stairs up for the best place to view migrating whales offshore in spring and fall. It's pet-friendly and you can actually stay overnight in a house on the lighthouse grounds. Point Cabrillo Light, operating since 1909, is north of Mendocino near Fort Bragg.

Where to Eat

Mendo Burgers
10483 Lansing St.
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 937-1111

With 25 years cooking up a storm for hungry folks living in and passing through Mendocino, some say Mendo has the best burgers, freshest handmade buns and most delicious hand cut fries in Northern California. Others say the atmosphere is as good as the burgers. Owners Jeff and Barbara say come and see us: just look for the sign down a little alley behind Mendocino Bakery. This burger joint is proud to be pet friendly and has some picnic tables under umbrellas out back. No credit cards. 

Where to Stay

Joshua Grindle Inn

Joshua Grindle Inn
44800 Little Lake Road
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 937-4143

Price: Singles from $129, doubles from $189

Charles and Cindy are your gracious hosts in this historic house renovated as a bed and breakfast inn. There are views of the beach and the inn is in walking to distance to everything in town. Homemade cookies and tea await your return after a day out exploring. Enjoy breakfast on the white wrap-around porch overlooking the garden, grab an Adirondack chair and a book, or head to the shore with a picnic basket prepared by the hotel kitchens.

Related: Your Guide To The Bay Area's Best Beaches

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple's official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on

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