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Photograph: Courtesy Mendocino County

The 15 best things to do in Mendocino

The best things to do in Mendocino offer up New England charm with a side of rugged California coastline

Written by
Clara Hogan

Mendocino appears plucked out of a storybook—a place that mixes charming New England architecture and the romance of California's rugged northern coastline. Situated a couple of hours north of San Francisco, the county remains relatively remote, which only enhances its allure. Here you'll find stunning scenery wherever you look, from soaring redwoods to coastal bluffs and rocky beaches.

The best things to do in Mendocino include sipping some of the world's greatest pinot noir in the Anderson Valley wine region, dining at restaurants that operate at the peak of a farm-to-table ethos and getting out into nature. If that doesn't keep you busy enough, stroll the independent shops in Mendocino Village or downtown Fort Bragg, jump on the historic Skunk Train or hit the spa. When it comes to where to stay, Mendocino offers everything from cozy inns to luxurious resorts. Ready to travel up the coastline? Here's what's in store.

Best things to do in Mendocino

While it's often overlooked for its more popular next-door neighbor, Napa, Anderson Valley is one of the best wine-growing regions in California with a more relaxed and casual vibe. The area is especially famous for its pinot noir and sparkling wine production. Many vineyards and tasting rooms are located along Highway 128. Some of our favorites include Goldeneye Winery, Navarro Vineyards and Winery, and Lula Cellars.

Mendocino Village appears plucked out of a New England town and plopped onto the rugged coastline of California. In other words, it's postcard perfect. The village is located directly next to the oceanside bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park. Stop by the Mendocino Art Center to browse works from Northern California artists or stop by the Kelley House to learn about Mendocino's history through the eyes of one of its first resident families, the Kelleys. The area's charming Victorians have been converted over the years into oceanside dining, independent shops and charming inns. 


Located along Highway 128 in Boonville, this family-owned and sustainable farm, dairy and vineyard is a perfect stop on your way to or from the coast. All wines and cheeses are produced on-site—reserve a table for a tasting that pairs both in addition to other food items made from ingredients grown on the farm. Don't forget to stop and say hi (and feed!) the many animals on the property, including chickens and goats. 

Step back in time for a magical ride through the redwoods on this historic train, which dates back to 1885. On the most popular route, the Pudding Creek Express, you'll take a 7-mile roundtrip into the redwoods, departing at the Depot in downtown Fort Bragg and ending at the scenic Glen Blair Junction before turning around. At the Junction, you'll have half an hour to explore the area before hopping back on the train. On board, you'll find a snack car complete with freshly popped popcorn and a bar.  


This swath of bluffs and beach sits directly next to Mendocino Village, which makes it convenient to grab a meal or coffee to go and head out for a stroll or picnic. The state park is comprised of more than 300 acres of gentle trails, rugged coastline, secluded beaches and spectacular views. It's also a good idea to stop by the Historic Ford House Visitor Center nearby to learn about the history and ecology of the region before or after you go exploring. 


Six generations of Gowan family members have grown apples on this property for over 145 years. Today, the Gowans are able to ship 90,000 boxes of high-quality apples to leading produce retailers, in addition to bottling award-winning ciders. Stop by for a $15 orchard tasting experience Friday-Monday where you'll relax among the 100-year-old apple trees as you try cider made onsite with sustainably harvested, organic heirloom apples. 

A good day in Mendocino involves lots of exploring, and Goodlife is the ideal place to fuel up on hearty food that's locally sourced, organic and filling. Situated in the heart of the village, stop by for breakfast—with dishes such as eggs benedict, a chili verde burrito or housemade pastries—or lunch, when you can choose from a selection of sandwiches, grain bowls and more. It's also a solid spot for your morning coffee run. The outdoor patio offers heat lamps and plenty of seating. 


Mendocino is full of charming places to stay, but Heritage House takes the charm to the next level. This historic inn sits on 37 acres directly on the rugged coast in the town of Little River just a few minutes south of Mendocino Village. In 1949, the 1877 New England-style farmhouse was turned into a small inn and it's grown over time to include dozens of cliffside rooms and cottages. Nearly everyone has in-room fireplaces, luxurious soaking tubs and arguably one of the best views of any California hotel out there. Enjoy breakfast and dinner at the onsite restaurant that of course features stunning views or journey into Mendocino nearby for more options. 


Just a few miles south of Mendocino in the town of Little River, this state park offers a large beach, a scenic river, 10 miles of peaceful trails through the redwoods, and even the opportunity to kayak through sea caves. The Fern Valley Trail (not to be confused with the trail of the same name in Russian Gulch State Park) offers a challenging and worthwhile hike taking in Mendocino's beauty. 


If you'd describe Mendocino Village as quaint, Downtown Fort Bragg is more quirky. Head here to browse a wide variety of unique and locally produced products at independent shops that line the street. The shopping district is easily walkable, making for a fun afternoon outing. Go thrifting at Clothshop home decor and gifts at Ficus & Fern or learn more about astrology, Eastern religions and more at metaphysical bookstore Kama LokaThe Fort Bragg Farmer's Market is also held here every Wednesday.

Perched directly seaside in the tiny town of Elk, the historic Harbor House Inn is not only one of the most luxurious stays in the area—it is also home to a two Michelin Star restaurant. Helmed by Chef Matthew Kammerer, the restaurant became the first-ever in Mendocino to receive a Michelin Star. The 8 to 12-course tasting menu changes daily and is hyper-local, with all ingredients sourced from within 20 miles, focusing on seafood and vegetables cooked using fire, steam and smoke. The 20-seat renovated dining room overlooks the coast and is at once sophisticated and warm, in large part due to the use of redwood throughout. Dinner is $275 per person, while lunch will run you $95. 


If you're looking for a quintessential Mendocino meal—that is—fresh, local, and elevated yet relaxed—look no further than Trillium Cafe. Situated in the heart of Mendocino Village on the ground floor of a historic inn, the cafe captures the region perfectly. Here you'll find friendly service, organic produce, grass-fed meats, and local wines. Opt for the indoor dining room for plenty of charm, or grab a seat on the patio which is nicely tented and heated in the colder months.

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