Much like the state of California, Mendocino County is a collection of diverse and stunning landscapes, from seaside bluffs and sandy beaches to dense redwood forests and the rugged peaks of the coastal range. Beautiful wine countries, charming towns, and incredible food round out this enchanting getaway on the Pacific Coast that, sooner or later, will cast a spell on you. If you’re into camping, kayaking, biking, hiking, foraging, or any other outdoorsy delights, you’ll be right at home. Prefer to cozy up in a B&B and watch the fog roll by in between bites at local restaurants? You’ll have a blast, too. There’s so much to see and do here, everyone can tap into something wonderful.
Where is Mendocino County? 📍
Mendocino County is sandwiched between Humboldt and Sonoma Counties on the foggy and forsaken North Coast of California. If you’re driving from the Bay Area, you’re looking at a little over 2 hours to get into the county and just over 3 hours to reach the village of Mendocino — much of it on windy two-lane roads cutting through redwoods, wineries, and coastal bluffs.
What’s the weather like? ⛈️
It all depends on where exactly you are. Mendocino County is huge, with a range of mountains separating the warmer, drier inland valleys from the cooler, moister coast. If you’re venturing inland, like to Anderson Valley or Ukiah, be ready for sun and heat. Temperatures can top 100 in the summer. On the coast, however, the weather is pretty glorious, with highs pretty much in the 50s and 60s all year. Late fall through early spring is the rainy season, though it’s becoming less so with the acceleration of climate change. Fog drifts in and out whenever it feels like it, usually when inland temps sizzle. And don’t forget about the wind. It can really blow in Mendo, especially in spring when those chilly northwesterly gales are whipping off the water. The TLDR? Bring layers.
Is Mendocino County dog-friendly? 🐶
Just about as dog-friendly as a place can be these days. The coast, especially, is blessed with trails and beaches where you’re pooch can tag along and stretch all four of their legs. Many hotels and inns let pets stay with their humans. And there are plenty of restaurants where you can eat and drink outside with your furry homie in tow. If there’s one spot to check out for sure, it’s Big River right next to Mendocino village. There’s a huge beach where dogs can play and swim, plus a long, well-maintained trail running alongside the river. Mosey on over after grabbing some coffee or a bite to eat in town.
What’s there to do in Mendocino? 🚲
What isn’t there to do? Eat awesome food. See redwoods. Hike. Forage for mushrooms or berries. Cast a line for salmon or rockfish. Shop all the unique stores in Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Taste some wine. Smoke some amazing locally-grown cannabis. Paddle a kayak or peddle a bike. Cozy up in your own sacred spot with a coffee and a novel from Gallery Bookshop. Scour desolate beaches for sea shells and sand dollars. We could go on forever. Keep scrolling for some more ideas.
Camping in Mendocino
It doesn’t matter if you’re RVing, living the van life, or pitching a tent — there’s a campsite for everyone in Mendocino County. Here are some favorites to check out on your next road trip.
Hendy Woods State Park
The Azelea and Wildcat Campgrounds offer the rarest of opportunities to pitch a tent amongst redwoods in the heart of wine country. Expect spacious sites, clean facilities, and a surprisingly wild setting perfect for sipping world-class Pinot Noir.
Russian Gulch State Park
Tucked into a verdant canyon within earshot of the booming surf, the campground at Russian Gulch is a gorgeous place to pitch a tent. It’s also conveniently located just a couple of miles up the road from Mendocino village.
Navarro Redwoods State Park
A lesser-known, first-come first-served option offering two campgrounds. Navarro Beach Campground, which has a Goonies sorta vibe, is open year-round. A little further inland, Paul Dimmick Campground has sites along the Navarro River in beautiful second-growth redwoods — but it’s only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Van Damme State Park
Russian Gulch is filled up, Van Damme is a great backup option. It’s a similar setup, tucked into a protected canyon right next to the ocean just a couple miles south of town. The Little River Inn is next door, offering food and drinks if you want a night off from cooking.
MacKerricher State Park
Surfwood and Pinewood Campgrounds are hidden gems. Fall asleep listening to the surf crash and spend the day in the shade of coastal pines. Nearby trails, beaches, and tidepools are teeming with wildlife.
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park
Ready for an adventure? Usal Beach Campground in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is off the beaten path, but make the bumpy drive into this remote campground and you’ll be rewarded with grazing elk, stunning ocean views, and easy access to the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail.
Publicly accessible trails and beaches are everywhere on the Mendocino Coast. Look for signs as you cruise up and down Route 1. The Mendocino Land Trust Trail Guide is a great point of reference. If you’re looking for some quick suggestions, here are three hikes with easy access and beautiful scenery.
Stop here, where coastal Route 1 pops out of the redwoods and meets the sea, for a quick jaunt to stretch your legs on the way in or out of Mendocino. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks, wildflowers, berries, and whales.
1.2 miles / dirt and grass / dog-friendly
Point Arena Stornetta Public Lands
Hike along beautiful seaside bluffs with views of Point Arena Lighthouse. This is one of the best whale watching spots in Mendo, so stay on the lookout for water spouts and breachers.
5 miles / dirt and grass / dog-friendly
Beginning on the beach just below Mendocino village, this flat, well-maintained, out-and-back trail takes you along Big River estuary, where seals, otters, and magnificent bird life abound.
10 miles / sand, pavement, and dirt / dog-friendly
Mendocino County’s Redwoods
While not as famous for its redwoods as Humboldt and Del Norte Counties to the north, Mendocino boasts the southernmost groves of truly impressive old-growth trees.
Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
Lying farther inland than most redwood parks, Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve is tucked into the heart of Mendocino County’s coast range.
Things to Do in Mendocino
You’re going to have to visit Mendocino County a few times to experience it all. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Grab some pizza and beer at Cafe Beaujolais
Enjoy brick-fired farm-to-table pies, craft beer, and local wine in a relaxing garden setting.
Look for sand dollars at Ten Mile Beach
Explore miles of driftwood-laden dunes along the rugged Pacific coastline.
Go mountain biking in Jackson State Forest
Ride steep trails winding through second-growth redwoods and ancient Doug firs.
Stuff your face at Princess Seafood
Enjoy local crab, salmon, cod, and more as you watch fishing boats trundle in and out of Noyo Harbor.
Find something to read at Gallery Bookshop
Browse the stacks at this thoughtfully curated bookstore in Mendocino village.
Gawk at ancient redwoods
Visit Hendy Woods or Montgomery Woods to see beautiful groves of old-growth trees.
Go wine tasting in Anderson Valley
Sip pinot noir and white Alsace varietals at dozens of down-to-earth tasting rooms.
Forage for Mushrooms
Fall and winter are the best times to look for the myriad edible varieties that occur in Mendocino. Chanterelles, candy caps, and porcini are some favorites.
Ride the Skunk Train
Take the family on an antique train ride into the heart of Mendocino County’s redwoods.
Savor some locally-crafted Chocolate
Mendocino Chocolate Company offers next-level truffles and confections in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Try sea kayaking
Rentals are available via Kayak Mendocino at Van Damme State Beach in Little River.
Hike to Point Cabrillo Light
Coastal trails abound near this picturesque little lighthouse known for its rare fresnel lens.
Swing by a farmstand
Small Mendocino farms — like Nye Ranch, Fortunate Farm, Wavelength Farm, and Mist Farm — produce some of the most beautiful fruits and veggies you’ll find anywhere.
Hit the links
There’s a fun little track open year round at the Little River Inn. Staying inland? Try Ukiah Valley Golf Course.
Have a campfire on the beach
Big River is a great spot to watch the sunset. There are even fire rings on the beach and plenty of driftwood to burn in the winter — just bring some friends and cold beer.
Grab some local bud at Sol de Mendocino
This dispensary on Main St. in Mendocino has an incredible selection of local, organic, and sun-grown cannabis — plus the friendliest folks to help you find what you need.
Go tide pooling at MacKerricher State Park
Starfish, sea anemones, abalone, and other fascinating sea creatures abound in this natural playground. Try to explore during low tide and keep an eye out for rogue waves.
Enjoy an Italian meal at Luna Trattoria
Locals and tourists rave about this quaint spot in Mendocino village that serves up delicious homemade pasta and other dishes.
Backpack the Lost Coast Trail
While the most famous section of this trail is in Humboldt County, the southern section in Mendocino’s Sinkyone Wilderness is one of the wildest, most remote (and strenuous) backpacking experiences you can imagine.
Go whale watching
Several outfits in Noyo Harbor — like All Aboard Adventures — will take you for a whirl to get up close and personal with California Gray Whales.
Make like a local…
Life is a little slower and simpler on the foggy coast of Northern California, but in all the best ways. When in Mendo, just keep it chill and go with the flow. 😉
Skip the Trip to Glass Beach
In theory, it sounds like something you’d want to see (and put on your IG feed): A cozy beach blanketed in a layer of colorful sea glass smoothed by time, splashed by the waves, and glistening in the sun.
There are blues, greens, browns, ambers, and if you’re lucky, maybe a rare red piece, rumored to come from the taillights of forsaken cars pushed over the bluffs to disintegrate in the salty sea. It’s all ocean litter, really, the more mundane colors included — beer bottles, jars, and other glassy objects tossed into the waves after losing their luster.
Beyond the questionable decision to spend your time visiting a shrine to trash, a bigger problem looms. There’s hardly any glass left. See that photo up there? I had to go foraging for 5 minutes to find all those pieces and stage that shot. And that was in 2016.
The glass isn’t being swept away by the tides or carried off in the talons of junk-picking seabirds. You know who’s to blame. That’s right: people. Specifically folks who made the pilgrimage to this touristy hot spot and couldn’t resist bring some of it home. Glass Beach has been disappearing one pilfered piece of glass at a time. Now, it’s pretty much gone.
There’s no doubt it used to be a unique cultural site on the North Coast with arresting visuals and some cool history. Something beautiful to attract tourists, born unexpectedly out of an old submarine dump. But now it’s just one more place that’s been abused by many and ruined for all. It’s certainly not Glass Beach anymore. More like a beach with some bits of glass on it… if you search hard enough.
The next time you’re in Mendocino County and feeling tempted to swing by Glass Beach, please reconsider. You’re bound to be disappointed. More importantly, this county has so many eye-popping places to see, fun things to do, and delicious food to eat. Why would you want to spend your time looking for pieces of trash in the sand? Skip the trip to Glass Beach. You won’t miss a thing.
For Real is a series of short editorials about tourism, conservation, and other issues relevant to California’s natural world.
Wineries in Mendocino
Mendocino’s 500+ vineyards are on the small and sustainable side, offering intimate tastings in what is still a mostly undiscovered wine country. Here are three favorites.
Offering a huge portfolio of varietals to taste in a picture-perfect setting, Navarro Vineyards is guaranteed to be a good time. Make sure to try the dry Gewürztraminer.
This is the only organic winery in the world growing all six Bordeaux varietals on the same property. Buy a bottle of the Carménère or Petit Verdot for something that’s rare and special, but still affordable.
Come here for the exceptional Champagne-style sparkling wine, but don’t sleep on their soft, velvety Pinot. It’s one of the best values in Anderson Valley.
Mendocino has a couple of rad lighthouses to explore, and they couldn’t be more different from one another.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Known for its rare fresnel lens, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse has guided ships along Mendocino’s magical coast for more than a century. It makes up for its lack of height with character and history.