Well known for its lovely bed and breakfasts, picturesque beaches, and restaurants that specialize in seafood, the Northern California city of Mendocino has something for everyone. So, whether you are a nature lover, a foodie, or an adventure seeker, you will love surrounding yourself with pretty redwood trees, coastal cliffs, and photogenic locations. Here are our picks for the best things to do in Mendocino.
1. See the Point Cabrillo Light Station
Point Cabrillo Light Station is a beautiful landmark in Mendocino, California. Just three miles north of Mendocino Village you will find Point Cabrillo Light Station. Established in 1909, the light station played an important role in guiding ships along the coast. Today, the light station is open to the public, and visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
2. See the Pygmy Forest at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve can be found along Highway One, between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, and is named after the creek that flows through it. What is super unique about this natural attraction is its Pygmy Forest.
The trees in the Pygmy forest are stunted due to the acids that can be found on the soil. Despite their small size, these trees are very old, some over 500 years old. There are trails that wind through the forest, so visitors get a chance to see these trees up close.
3. See the 36-foot Waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park
When you travel just a couple miles north of Mendocino, you will be in awe of the grandeur of Russian Gulch State Park. In addition to a collapsed sea cave known as Devil’s Punchbowl, this park is also famous for its stunning 36-foot waterfall.
The waterfall is located on Russian Gulch Creek and can be found at the end of a 4.8 mile round trip hike. The easy hike lasts between two to four hours and provides breathtaking views along the way.
4. Be Surrounded by Redwoods on a Rail Bike
After riding the Skunk Train, it’s time to ride on the track on a two-person Railbike to see a different aspect of the famous Redwood Route. The side-by-side bikes are a unique bucket list experience that lets you explore the beautiful Pudding Creek Estuary all while getting a workout in! But don’t worry, they are electric so they are very easy to pedal.
The ride lasts about an hour and a half, and during that time there’s a possibility of seeing all sorts of local wildlife, plus of course the redwoods.
5. Enjoy the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Located 2 miles away from Fort Bragg and 7 miles away from Mendocino, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are a must-see for any nature lover. Famous for its scenic California coast, the gardens also feature an incredible array of plant life, including rare and endangered species, such as the tender and big-leafed rhododendron species and the yellow Camellia chrysanthoides.
The plant collections of Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden are diverse enough to be interesting year-round, making it worthwhile to visit in any season.
6. Take the Skunk Train
Take a trip around the countryside on an epic journey in the late 1890s with Mendocino’s Skunk Train. Enjoy an afternoon unlike any other as you take in some of the most spectacular views, tall trees, rivers, and creeks.
The train first began operating in 1885, and it has been carrying passengers through the redwoods for over 130 years. Today, the Skunk Train is a popular tourist attraction, and it offers a variety of different rides and tours. Visitors can ride in vintage passenger cars, cabooses, or open-air cars, and they can choose from a variety of different routes depending on their interests. Whether you’re looking for a scenic tour of the coastline or an adventure through the redwoods, the Skunk Train Mendocino is sure to offer an unforgettable experience.
7. Visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
If you’re looking for a truly unique beach bucket list experience, then you need to head to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California. This beach is famous for its colorful Glass rocks, which are actually pieces of sea glass that have been worn smooth by the waves.
Glass Beach is also a great spot for tidepooling, as there are plenty of interesting creatures to be found in the rock pools.
Note that this beach can get quite crowded during the summer months, so it’s best to visit early in the morning or later in the evening if you want to avoid the crowds.
8. Eat Fish at Noyo Harbor
Noyo Harbor is a little spot on the Noyo River, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy some of the state’s freshest seafood. The Noyo Fish Company is located right at the harbor, and they offer a wide variety of seafood items. The fish tacos are a must-try, and they also have an excellent selection of fried seafood. Sea Pal Cove also has some tasty seafood—you must try their fish & chips! Plus, they have a number of picnic tables where you can enjoy your meal with a view of the boats in the harbor.
9. Walk Across the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge
If you’re looking for a nice stroll with a stunning view, then take a walk across the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge. Located in Fort Bragg, California, this bridge spans over half a mile and offers breathtaking views of the nearby coast.
Walkers can access the bridge from either side of Pudding Creek, and it is also possible to walk across the creek itself on a short section of boardwalk. The bridge is open all year round, making it the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely stroll no matter what the weather is.
10. Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
What famous landmark in California has been around for 2,400 years and is still used by vehicles, specially during summer? Yes, it’s the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree.
This massive redwood is a must-see—and drive-through—attraction. At over 300 feet tall and 26 feet wide, the tree is big enough to accommodate cars, RVs, and even buses. And it’s not just a gimmick – the tree is a living, breathing organism. Visitors can park their vehicles inside the tree to get an epic photograph. Or they can simply admire the tree from the outside, marveling at its size and beauty. Either way, the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is a truly unique thing to do in Mendocino county.
11. Explore Noyo Headlands Park
Discover the beauty of the California coastline through exploring Noyo Headlands State Park. This beautiful park offers breathtaking views of the coast, as well as plenty of opportunity to explore the natural wonders of the area.
You can go on a trek along the lovely Fort Bragg Coastal Trail when you visit the Noyo Headlands Park. The 8-foot-wide asphalt trail, which is surrounded by open fields and headlands, serves as the park’s main attraction.
12. Hike the Redwood Groves at Hendy Woods State Park
Hendy Woods State Park is another one of the outstanding places in California’s world-class state park system. Particularly if you’re planning a weekend visit to Mendocino, this charming little park on the Navarro River is very accessible. It is home to more than 80 redwood trees, some of which are more than 500 years old.
Visitors can hike through the redwoods, picnicking and camping along the way. The park also has a small creek that flows through it, providing a refreshing place to cool off on a hot day.
13. Ogle the Masterpieces at the Mendocino Art Center
The Mendocino Art Center is a local treasure that offers year-round art classes, workshops, and events for all ages, as well as a Gallery Store and a world-class art museum. They feature ceramics, fiber arts, fine art, jewelry/metal arts, and sculpture.
The Art Center’s mission is to foster the creation, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts. The programs are designed to appeal to both novice and experienced artists alike.
In addition to its educational offerings, the Art Center also plays host to a number of special events throughout the year, including art fairs, exhibitions, and performances.
Whether you’re an artist looking to hone your skills or simply someone who enjoys exploring the world of art, the Mendocino Art Center has something to offer.
14. See the Temple of Kwan Tai
Founded in 1854, the Temple of Kwan Tai is one of the oldest Chinese temples in the state. It was built by Chinese immigrants who came to work on the nearby lumber mills and farms. Today, taking a peek at the temple is a popular thing to do in Mendocino. It won’t take more than a couple minutes, but it’s worth a quick stop.
15. Shop in Downtown Mendocino
For a small town, Downtown Mendocino has a lot to offer in terms of shopping. There are a variety of unique shops, ranging from art galleries to antique stores.
Art enthusiasts will definitely pique their interests at the Highlight Gallery and Mendocino Art Center. The Gallery Bookshop will get book lovers lost in their thoughts with their wide selection of books. For other souvenirs and the like, Rubaiyat and Astoria are the places to be.
There is also a good selection of restaurants and cafes, such as Silver’s at The Wharf and Cafe Beaujolais, making it a great place to spend a day exploring.
The downtown area is also home to the Mendocino County Museum, which features a wide variety of historical artifacts and exhibits.
16. Visit the Ford House Museum
The Ford House Museum is housed in a Victorian-style home that was built in 1854 by Jerome B. Ford, one of Mendocino’s founding fathers. The house has been carefully preserved and is furnished with period pieces that belonged to the Ford family. The museum also features a collection of photographs and artifacts that tell the story of Mendocino’s early settlers.
Visitors can learn about the area’s indigenous people, the logging industry, and the town’s role in the coastal trade. So whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for a unique place to visit, be sure to add the Ford House Museum to your Mendocino bucket list.
17. Tour the Kelley House Museum
The Kelley House Museum, founded in 1973 and situated in the center of Mendocino City, provides visitors stunning views of the ocean, one acre of lush gardens, and a tranquil pond in addition to sharing the fascinating history of the Mendocino Coast. The museum is housed in a Victorian-style home given to William Kelly by William Kasten (the original owner of the home) back in 1854, and features a variety of exhibits on the region’s early days.
Visitors can learn about the area’s Native American inhabitants, the first European settlers, and the timber industry that once thrived here. The museum also has an extensive collection of photographs and artifacts from Mendocino’s past. Best of all, the Kelley House Museum offers a unique glimpse into what life was like in this small town during the 19th century.
18. Eat Local
Who says a little town can’t suddenly explode into the food scene and rise to the top of today’s hotspots for foodies? This picturesque city is home to some of the best wine in the nation as well as quaint yet spectacular vineyards and locally caught fresh seafood that is used in a variety of restaurants to prepare delectable cuisine. Here are some of the restaurants we can recommend:
- Trillium is a restaurant that offers a variety of food items, including sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and pastas. Don’t miss out on their Wild Gulf Prawns and Scallops and Crispy Duck Confit on their dinner menu!
- Cafe Beaujolais is located in an 1893 Victorian farmhouse and serves some delicious French cuisine. Their Liberty Farm Duck Breast and Sous Vide Filet Mignon will surely delight your taste buds.
- Fog Eater Cafe is a vegetarian eatery whose menu specializes in healthy recipes from northern California, as well as the deep South—think fried cauliflower & waffles or fried tofu crabbie cakes.
19. Hike at Mendocino Headlands Trail at the State Park
One of the most well-liked hiking routes in the state park of the same name is the Mendocino Headlands Trail. The 6.4 km hike is easy, and offers breathtaking views of the water and shoreline as it meanders through the lovely coastal scenery.
You can also take pleasure in cool beach breezes and colorful flowers that are in bloom throughout the warmer months. Dolphins might even be swimming in the surf below, or you can also participate in one of the famous activities—whale watching.
20. Sunbathe at Big River Beach
Big River is an expansive sandy beach ideal for some seaside fun, sunbathing, or splashing in the ocean. It is situated down the cliffs from the settlement of Mendocino and is well known for its dramatic views of the coastline. Sun bathing here is perfect as it isn’t too hot and there is a refreshing breeze. The view of the ocean is breathtaking, making this an ideal spot to relax and forget about your troubles.
21. Go Glamping at Mendocino Grove
Glamping at Mendocino Grove is the ideal weekend vacation if you want a getaway that is surrounded by nature while also enjoying some fancier amenities—like warm showers, flushing toilets, and large beds with a heated mattress pad.
I am typically not a lover of camping. It just seems like the level of work vs. fun doesn’t line up for me. But, this sort of glamping I can totally do! The property includes 60 spacious safari tents, each outfitted with a king-size bed, bedside lamps with USB ports, heated blankets, and an outdoor deck.
22. Hike Spring Ranch
The Spring Ranch Trail is a beautiful hike with pathways that run along a rocky intertidal shelf. It is a moderately easy hike that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
23. Paddle an Outrigger Canoe on Big River
There is really no better way to enjoy Big River’s beauty than by getting on the water and traveling its entire length. From single/double kayaks to standup paddleboards to mountain bikes, you’ll have plenty of ways to go around Big River.
The unique one, however, is on an outrigger canoe, which is a canoe with lateral floats on both sides. This makes it more stable (and virtually impossible to tip!), especially when paddling through rough water.
Catch-a-canoe provides kayak, standup paddleboard, and bike rentals in addition to stunning, handcrafted redwood outrigger canoes.
24. Stay at an Inn
We already know that the quiet seaside community of Mendocino is ideal for a weekend getaway in Northern California, but it is also home to a number of beautiful inns. Here are our top picks for lodging in Mendocino, California, for a romantic getaway or even a peaceful family holiday.
- Glendeven Inn & Lodge is a Luxury oceanfront inn that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Andiron Inn is a cozy bed and breakfast located in the heart of Mendocino.
- Harbor House Inn is a historic inn that overlooks the Mendocino harbor.
25. Have a Spa Day
Mendocino and relaxation go hand in hand, either because of the soothing sounds of the ocean or the peaceful surroundings that feel so far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Sweetwater Inn and Spa is a lovely spa that offers a variety of treatments, including massages, facials, and body treatments. For a soothing and refreshing experience, you can try out their Signature Sweetwater Spa Treatment.
- The Stanford Inn & Resort on the Mendocino Coast is another excellent choice for a spa vacation. This spectacular resort features Massage in the Forest, a world-class spa with an extensive menu of services. Melt the stress away with their Forest Massage, or their ancient Indian Ayurvedic Massage.
With so many incredible spas to choose from, Mendocino is the perfect destination for a relaxing and rejuvenating getaway.
26. Eat at a Michelin Starred Restaurant – Harbor House
If eating at a Michelin starred restaurant is on your bucket list, then you can check it off in Mendocino. Harbor House is a Two Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of Mendocino, California. The restaurant is known for its stunning waterfront views, inventive California cuisine, and impeccable service.
Harbor House is the perfect place to enjoy a special occasion meal or intimate dinner with friends. The menu features seasonal produce and ingredients sourced from local farms, as well as fresh seafood from the nearby harbor.
South Mendocino (Hwy 128)
27. Go Wine Tasting
Mendocino is home to some of the best-tasting wines around, especially in Anderson Valley, where the cool, foggy climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Some of the must-visit wineries for wine tasting include Roederer Estate and Handley Cellars.
- Roederer Estate is a California outpost of its parent company, Champagne Louis Roederer, which is a family-run champagne house with a long history of winemaking dating back to 1776. As one of California’s best producers of sparkling wine, you will surely be in for a treat with their Brut and Brut Rose wines.
- Pennyroyal Farms offers a variety of local wines, as well as cheeses made from the milk of their own goats (and sheep). You’ll have the opportunity to sample a variety of different flavors and pairings, and you might just find your new favorite wine or cheese.
- Handley Cellars is a family-owned winery located in Philo, Mendocino County. Being in the business of winemaking since 1982, they have a great selection of high-quality wines, such as the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc.
28. Shop at the Philo Apple Farm
Are you looking for a place to get the freshest apples around? Look no further than Philo Apple Farm. Located in Anderson Valley, the farm has been growing and selling apples for over a quarter century.
During the season, the farm stand is open daily and features a wide variety of fresh apples and apple products (like chutney and juice!). Whether you’re looking for a bag of apples for baking or just want to enjoy a crisp, juicy apple straight from the farm, Philo Apple Farm is the place to go.
29. Swim at Caspar Headlands State Beach
Looking for a beautiful spot to swim in Mendocino? Caspar Headlands State Beach is definitely one of them! What awaits you are stunning cliffs surrounding the beach, panoramic ocean views, and lots of water activities. There’s also plenty of room to relax on the sand or a stroll along the water’s edge. And if you get hungry, there are several picnic areas nearby. So what are you waiting for?
30. Play Disc Golf at Anderson Brewery
If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy some beer and a game of disc golf, then you’ll want to check out Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The brewery offers a variety of different beers, including IPAs, pale ales, and stouts. And the disc golf course is one of the best in the area, with 18 holes that wind through the brewery’s stunning grounds.
South Mendocino (Hwy 1)
31. Kayak the Caves at Van Damme State Park
Found near the town of Little River, Van Damme State Park is the perfect place to be if you’re looking to explore sea caves in Mendocino. Aside from being easily accessible, its sheltered location makes it a prime spot for sea cave kayak tours. The water inside is only about 20 to 35 feet deep, making it safer for beginner kayakers.
The sea cave kayak route is about 2.7 km in length, with different caves and inlets scattered along the coasts. Inside the sea caves, you’ll wind through different tunnels ripe for exploring. As you traverse the water, you’ll also see the area’s resident wildlife, such as seabirds, abalones, and seals.
32. See the Point Arena Lighthouse
The Point Arena Lighthouse in California is one of the most beautiful and recognizable lighthouses in the world. It’s also one of the tallest in the US, at 115 feet!
The lighthouse was first built in 1870, but unfortunately, it was damaged in the 1906 earthquake, but was rebuilt in 1908, and has been operating ever since.
Visitors can take a tour of the lighthouse and even stay overnight in one of the rooms on the Keeper’s Quarters. From the top of the lighthouse, you can get a stunning view of the coast.
33. Bowling Ball Beach at Schooner Gulch Beach
If you’re looking for an unusual beach experience, head to Bowling Ball Beach at Schooner Gulch State Beach. This beach is known for its round, smooth rocks that resemble bowling balls. The 2-3 foot diameter rocks are actually concretions that formed from the sandstone beds on the side of nearby cliffs.
34. Take the Gualala Buff Trail
The Gualala Bluff Trail is a scenic hiking route that offers stunning coastline views, and visitors can also enjoy spotting wildlife, including deer, whales, and birds. The trailhead is located at the Gualala River Bridge, and the trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
Although it is only a half mile long, the trail includes a few challenging sections with steep inclines. However, these sections are short, and the overall hike is suitable for most fitness levels.
35. Visit the Sea Ranch Chapel
The Sea Ranch Chapel is a quirky-looking little church located on the California coast. The chapel was completed in December 1985 and is made almost entirely of redwood, with large windows offering stunning ocean views. What’s also unique about the chapel is its sweeping, wave-like design, harmonizing art with the natural elements.
As it is a small church, the Sea Ranch Chapel can only accommodate up to 20 guests. However, the chapel’s simple yet elegant design makes it a popular choice for couples looking for a unique and intimate setting for their wedding.
Other Things To Do in Mendocino, California
36. Go Whale Watching
Whale watching is an activity people of all ages can enjoy. There are many different ways to go whale watching, but one of the best places to see these magnificent creatures is Caspar Headlands State Beach. The beach offers stunning ocean views, and is also a great place to spot migrating gray whales. Other fantastic whale watching spots include the Point Arena Lighthouse and Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Whale-watching tours are also offered around Mendocino, providing an up-close look at these incredible animals. Regardless of where you choose to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants, Mendocino is a great place to enjoy the beauty of nature and learn more about these fascinating creatures.
37. Horseback Ride on the Beach
There’s something magical about riding a horse along the beach. The sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean, and the feel of the wind on your face as you gallop off into the sunset together create an unforgettable experience.
And because Mendocino is such a beautiful place, you’ll want to take plenty of pictures to remember your trip. So whether you’re an experienced rider or a first-time Pony Express guest, be sure to add a horseback ride on the beach to your Things to do in Mendocino itinerary.
. . .
Though often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, Mendocino County has plenty to offer visitors.
The picturesque town of Mendocino is a great place to start, with its well-preserved Victorian architecture and scenic waterfront. For those looking to get away from it all, the redwood forests of Navarro River Redwoods State Park provide the perfect setting for a peaceful hike. Or, for a more adventurous experience, head to the coast to explore the dramatic cliffs and sea caves of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands.
No matter what your interests are, there are lots of things to do in Mendocino that will surely fit every traveler. So come and explore all that this beautiful region has to offer.
Best Tips for Visiting Mendocino California
Getting There: Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can use the take a taxi, public transportation buses or rent a car.
Where to Stay in Mendocino: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Headlands Inn Bed and Breakfast is a great choice in Mendocino. For something on the less expensive side, try Seagull Inn Bed & Breakfast located in Mendocino. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Agate Cove Inn, Deluxe Suit With Sea View. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Driving in a new destination can be a bit of a challenge, but if you choose to rent a car, RentalCars.com has great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of other options. Taxis and Lyft are available all over the city. For a more budget friendly option, you can take the public bus/transit.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
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