Mendocino County is a magical gem of a destination, one that flies under the radar of many San Franciscans, which honestly doesn’t make much sense given it has everything we love. A burgeoning food scene with an emphasis on seasonal fare and local products, a wine region to rival Napa’s, outdoor activities ranging from hiking and biking to canoeing and kayaking; endless nature complete with redwood forests and frequent wildlife encounters; and a stunning coastline with rocky beaches, cliffs and picturesque vistas. It’s an authentic version of unpretentious, rugged California that’s yet-to-be ruined by hordes of tourists.

Pack layers because it’s a coastal area that tends to get a bit chilly, drizzly and foggy. And make sure to bring hiking boots, active wear and a sense of adventure because this is a place best for those that want to explore.

Where to Stay

Brewery Gulch Inn

Words simply don’t do this place justice. A welcoming, accommodating and attentive staff makes you feel right at home at Brewery Gulch Inn the moment you step into its enormous redwood doors. This rustic ocean-facing property is located atop a windswept bluff-top nestled with redwoods and forestry so keep your eyes open for packs of deer, hawks flying overhead and more wildlife. Our suite was absolutely lovely with a cozy fireplace; plush beds that you sink right in to; amenities like a Keurig, microwave and fridge; Molton Brown products and more. And they welcomed us with some bubbly!

At the heart of Brewery Gulch Inn is the cozy The Great Room which features a four-sided glass and steel fireplace, along with a lovely view of Smuggler’s Cove. In addition to a homey area to play games, read books, do puzzles and watch DVDs, this space is also where you enjoy your meals. The top-notch dining is included with your hotel stay. Both breakfast and dinner buffets incorporate locally-sourced products and seasonal fruits and vegetables as much as possible; don’t miss out!

Brewery Gulch Inn

Little River Inn

Right on Highway 1, Little River Inn is a charming, historic property that overlooks the Mendocino coast. Our room had an unobstructed view of the ocean and a perfect little deck to enjoy our morning coffee on, or alternatively to catch the sunset with a glass of wine! They welcomed us with a bottle, alongside truffles, so you know we indulged. The fire place kept things nice and toasty, despite a few days of overcast weather. One of my favorite things about the room was definitely the private jacuzzi! Little River Inn is also home to one of the area’s top restaurants. Delicious food, excellent service and the fact that it was located at the Inn made the decision of where to eat too easy. Definitely get the steak Diane, oysters, scallops and the bouillabaisse!

Little River Inn
Breakfast with a view!

Where to Play

B. Bryan Preserve

For an unbelievable animal experience, head over to Point Arena and go on a safari with B. Bryan Preserve. This private reserve is committed to the breeding and preservation of African hoof Stock, along with educating their guests on their animals and the dangers they face. You’ll get up-close-and-personal with giraffes, zebras, antelope and more, including rare and endangered species. My favorite part of the tour? The chance to kiss giraffes at the end of the experience!

Skunk Train

The Skunk Train is a quintessential Mendocino activity that’s been taking passengers for rides since 1885! Riding the Skunk Train is a great way to immerse yourself in the majestic redwoods, over rustic trestle bridges and into the tranquil Noyo River Estuary.

Railbikes

This is a new excursion that I absolutely loved! On the very same route that the train takes you on, you now get the chance to ride these super cool, two-person railbikes. Pedaling through the Pudding Creek Estuary was so peaceful and absolutely gorgeous with the sun peeking through the redwood coverage! We were surrounded by wildlife and saw blue herons, osprey and more!

Big River Estuary

If you want to canoe, stand up paddleboard, kayak or something similar, stop by Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too to rent one for the day! We decided to get a canoe—something we’ve never done before and honestly, it was not easy! But being on the estuary was quite an experience. Surrounded by Mendocino’s natural beauty and the breeze of the ocean was awesome. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and get some exercise! Best moment? Canoeing past a horde of harbor seals! They were the cutest!

Glass Beach

You can’t make it this way and not check out the famous Glass beach! Once a trash dump, today this beach is full of treasures! Be on the lookout for smooth, pretty little pieces of sea glass that cover the sand.

Hiking

There are so many great spots to hike in Mendocino! Redwoods, cliffs, salty sea air… you get a little bit of everything on these spectacular trails! Here are a few good areas to start:

  • Sinkyone Wilderness State Park
  • Lake Mendocino Rec Area
  • Jug Handle State Reserve
  • Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

Where to Eat

Harbor House Inn: fancy dining with 8-12 course tasting menus in an ocean-facing rustic dining room.

Noyo Habor Inn: upscale California coastal cuisine with a selection of wild caught fish and seafood coming straight from the nearby harbor.

Little River Inn: an elegant restaurant serving seafood, steaks and classics like Dungeness crab cioppino.

Mosswood Market: super cozy, perfect for grabbing a pastry, empanada or light bite and coffee.

Princess Seafood Market & Deli: casual seafood shack serving freshly caught seafood.

North Coast Brewing: awesome for pizza and brews!

Cowlick’s Ice Cream: artisan ice cream made from milk from happy California cows.

Franny’s Cup & Saucer: a super cute bakery serving cookies, cakes, bars and more.

Where to Drink

Pennyroyal Farm: part creamery, vineyard and farm with roaming sheep, exceptional wines and pairing options.

Maple Creek Winery: a peaceful winery for those that love fine wine and art—try the Zinfandel, it’s one of my favorites!

Fathers & Daughters Cellars: a multigenerational vineyard based out of the Anderson Valley.

Lula Cellars: a quaint boutique winery specializing in handcrafted Pinot Noir.

Have you been to Mendocino before? Anything I should check out next time?

Heading to Mendocino soon? Pin this for later!

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Chelsea Davis
Chelsea Davis

Chelsea is a bicoastal freelance journalist whose passion revolves around exploring the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious.

Her work can be found in Travel Weekly, Forbes, This Is Insider and more. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine.

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