Located in Northern California Mendocino County is a little known section of California’s world famous coastline. With fewer crowds, beautiful beaches and quality wineries the area is perfect for a weekend getaway or an even longer escape.
Part of its charm is that the area doesn’t seem to attract a huge influx of tourists like other parts of the coast and this in part is due to the area’s more isolated location. Separated from the 101 by a mountain range the area does take a little bit of time to get to and when we turned onto Hwy 1 going south we totally underestimated how windy the road would be and how long the journey to the coast would take. An hour in and as we watched the forest around us grow darker we thought we had somehow entered a time warp every turn looked just like the one before. As the sun started to set the wildlife began appearing everywhere around us. As we drove along we spotted deer, squirrel, a skunk and even two massive elk grazing in a meadow. When we finally came out on the other side of the range the sun had set but had left a beautiful faint glow on the Pacific Ocean. We had finally arrived and after a few days we didn’t want to leave.
What to do
Visit the Anderson Valley
Now you’ve probably heard of the famous Napa Valley but have you heard of California’s Anderson Valley? No? Neither had we until we visited Mendocino. Who knew there were other amazing wineries in California at a fraction of the price of Napa with just as good world class wine. About a 30minute drive south of Mendocino the road to the Anderson Valley takes you along some beautiful coastline and estuaries as well as some small pockets of redwood groves. The drive south alone is totally worth the trip.
The area has over 20 wineries open to the public with many specialising in Pinot Noir (a personal favourite). Unlike the Napa many cellar doors are run by the owners and makers of the wine creating for a really unique experience. When we visited Lula Cellars we met with Dan one of Lula’s owners who was able to give us some real insight into the wines we were tasting and the vineyard’s history. We ended up learning a lot about the farming techniques of the area and the passion that the locals have for their own drop as Dan told us “our wines are very authentic, which is what we want to be”.
Lula Cellars is the first vineyard on your left driving south, the cellar door is open 7 days a week and charges only $5 for their tasting list (such a bargain!). The cellar door also has some picnic tables and beautiful custom made chairs sitting by the dam so bring along some cheese and crackers buy a bottle, or two, off Dan and have yourself a little picnic by the water and enjoy the sweeping views of the vineyard.
Take a ride on the Skunk Train
Located in Fort Bragg about a 15min drive north of Mendocino The Skunk Train is quite a unique way of seeing some of the surrounding area. The train itself is over 130 years old and has been following the same “Redwood Route” since 1885! The Skunk takes you past wet meadows, along trickling streams and through some of the area’s remaining towering Redwoods. The train has daily departures and runs year round with its shortest route costing $25 for one adult and goes for around 1hr. On board the train you can take your time snapping some cool pictures of the train’s carriages as it passes around the bends or even grab one of the train’s special Skunk beer while you take in the scenery.
Walk the Mendocino headland trails
Passing through town driving down to the end of Main Street Mendocino you can easily find a park. You can then walk just a few meters to the path beyond the fence line on the sea side of the road. The path is a gentle stroll which takes you around the headland and along a pretty cool looking-glass type hole which was probably previously a sea cave where the ceiling has caved in and now gives you a view down to the water below. Keep walking around the top of the headland through the long grass and you’ll find vistas of the cliffs and beaches below. After the headland don’t forget to check out the town itself which features a number of cute old buildings and water towers. Grab a coffee from one of the numerous cafes dotted around or if it’s after noon maybe even something a bit stronger.
Where to stay
When in the area do yourself a favour and stay at the Little River Inn. Located just a few minutes drive outside of Mendocino village the Inn is family run with a real emphasis on cozy luxury. Started over 75 years ago as a humble Inn, the property has grown to encompass a restaurant, spa and some adorable private bungalows all in keeping with the original Victorian style. We were lucky enough to stay in one of the private bungalows and really struggled to leave and explore the area it was that nice. Complete with gas fireplace, king bed, steam room shower, gorgeous ocean views and most importantly a coffee machine! It had everything we needed for our short stay. Check them out on their website at www.littleriverinn.com
Where to eat
There is some great local cuisine to try with an obvious focus on seafood, being a coastal town of course. Head over to the Little River Inn’s Restaurant and Ole’s Whale Watch bar. This is smart casual dining at some of its best! The restaurant and bar is still in the original Inn and holds that seaside charm. The menu has a great variety and includes a number of seasonal specials, the steak was amazing and so was everything seafood we had, especially the clam chowder. Both restaurant and bar provide some beautiful views of the ocean and the back garden room.
The area was such a nice spot to really unwind and relax, we didn’t feel like we had to go out and pursue a lot of touristy things. Instead we could take the time to stop and enjoy the wine and the views.