Mendocino Outdoors - Walk the Headlands - Canoe Big River - Stay in Town


Marquee Mendocino

It’s easy to see why Mendocino has been the location for more than 50 films, including classics like James Dean’s "East of Eden." With its small town charms and the natural beauty of redwood forests, blue-green bays, and rocky headlands, Mendocino is an ideal backdrop for your next great escape.  

Mendocino Headlands

Mendo Stroll

Downtown Delights: Overlooking the ocean, with white picket fences, tidy gardens, wide sidewalks, and wooden water towers, Mendocino mixes a starched New England style with the breezy soul of California. The 15-minute stroll from
one end of town to the other is the best way to get acquainted with this friendly place. Grab a coffee and fresh bialy—an unboiled bagel with no hole—at the Mendocino Bakery, then meander Main Street for window-shopping on one side and huge ocean views on the other. It's easy to while away an hour at the Gallery Bookshop, the town's intellectual hub and home to an impressive selection of books.

Sunset Bonus:
Surrounding the town on three sides is Mendocino Headlands State Park. Trails leave right from town and curve along the dramatic coastal bluffs, leading to a blowhole, a beach, and outcroppings with unforgettable views. Catch a sunset here, when the waves are transformed into a tangerine oasis and the town behind you looks like an old postcard photo painted in perfect indigo light.

Topic 1 photo courtesy of Oldvidhead

Canoe Big River Mendocino

Easy Explorations

The Big Easy: Part Lewis and Clark excursion, part mellow meander, the Big River invites the exploration of a wide tree-lined estuary with resident river otters, sea lions, and kingfishers. The water vehicle of choice is a handcrafted, wooden outrigger canoe that's as smooth and steady as it is swift and fun. Rent your canoe at Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too!, where the good folks will let you know the best tide-tuned times to paddle out and back. However near or far you choose to go, the canoe's outrigger and push-pedal rudder will make steering a breeze.

TIP: If you'd prefer to pedal than paddle, rent a bike and cruise the wide dirt Haul Road on the north side of the Big River. Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too! has a map and tips on other rides in the area.

Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too!, Hwy 1 and Comptche Ukiah Rd., Mendocino; 707-937-0273. Canoe rentals start at $10 per hour per person. Bike rentals start at $12 per hour. Dog-friendly!

Green Dream: This is the North Coast, where rain and fog keep the greenery moist and the leaves looking velvety lush. See it for yourself on Mendocino's prized Fern Canyon Trail in Russian Gulch State Park, where the creeks bustle and the air smells like fresh mint pines. Hike for 2.5 miles along Russian Gulch Creek, through a steep canyon blanketed with ferns, passing second-growth redwoods and ancient tree stumps to a 36-foot waterfall. At the base of the cascade, walk out on a fallen redwood log for the King Kong of the Jungle photo op.

Russian Gulch State Park is 2 miles north of Mendocino on Hwy 1. To reach the Fern Canyon trailhead, drive east through the campground all the way to the end of the road.

Eat & Sleep

Homegrown Goodness: Mendocino packs a tasty punch, with many of its restaurants showcasing locally grown ingredients. For a sit-down lunch, head for the heated outdoor patio at the Mendocino Cafe; their burly Thai burritos go especially well with the village and ocean views. For a picnic alternative, grab a brick oven baguette in town at the Brickery (a take-out located in the back garden of the gourmet favorite, Café Beaujolais), then pick up some wine and cheese at Mendocino Market and travel 5 miles up the road to Jug Handle Beach; this lesser-known crescent cove (pictured) is a tranquil place to spread a blanket and watch the waves. For dinner, the Moosse Café serves savory North Coast cuisine in an upscale-casual atmosphere. When the weather is warm, opt for a seat on the outdoor patio with views of the mouth of the Big River. End the night with drinks in the Lobby Bar at the Mendocino Hotel—the oldest hotel in town; sit in an old parlor booth and sip under the stained-glass dome.

Dreamcatchers: Mendocino has more quality B&Bs per capita than any other town on the California coast—and they're not all potpourri and doilies. Check out Alegria's A-frame cottages, which even have a private path leading to the beach. Stay in Cove Cottage if you can (and avoid noisy McElroy's Cottage). Alegria's onsite hot tub, set beneath a giant eucalyptus, warms fog-chilled bones. Home-cooked breakfasts start with organic apple juice, fruit, and fresh-baked ginger peach scones. Eric and Elaine are stellar hosts, with the local lowdown on where to go and what to do. Other good options include the comfortable Cape Cod-style John Dougherty House, and the Stanford Inn, the sprawling four-diamond flagship, where every room has an ocean view. For an economy stay, Fort Bragg is just 15 minutes north and has plenty of less expensive overnight options. The best campgrounds are at Russian Gulch State Park and Van Damme State Park; the 10 hike-in camp spots at Van Damme are among the best on the entire coast.

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