A Peaceful Getaway to Mendocino, California
- Written By:Christina Valhouli
When San Franciscans are in need of a quick getaway, many of them hit the Pacific Coast highway and head to Mendocino. This small coastal town around 150 miles north of San Francisco offers a little bit of everything to recharge and unwind in a ruggedly beautiful landscape.
There is no shortage of picturesque spots in Mendocino, but one of the prettiest is the clifftop Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The 47 acre property is a peaceful place to meander among blooms. Depending on the season, you’ll spot colorful roses, rhododendrons, dahlias and succulents. Budget to spend a few hours here and be sure to follow the Coastal Bluff trail out to the cliff edge for views of the churning Pacific. On a windy day, pop inside the viewing hut there to warm up and scan the ocean for migrating whales, depending on the time of year. Rhody’s Garden Café, which is open seasonally, serves up plenty of healthy options for a quick refuel. The organic vegetables are grown on site and end up in the made-to-order sandwiches and salads. Or take your pick from coffees, teas and coconut coated “energy balls.”
Heading to the beach in Mendocino is a must but keep in mind that Northern California has fickle, foggy weather, so pack a down jacket along with your sunscreen. For a beach experience with a twist, drive to Sea Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park in nearby Fort Bragg. The beach is covered in sea glass as the site was once a dump. It’s an ideal spot for a photo, but keep in mind that no glass can be removed from there.
Another way to experience the Pacific is to sign up for a sea cave kayak tour with Kayak Mendocino. The guided tours bring visitors inside Van Damme State Park, where they may spot seals and plenty of starfish while getting a workout — and soaking up the scenery. The company also offers surfing lessons and stand up paddle board tours. A dry option for a workout is Yoga Shine in Mendocino, where the classes include Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga as well as sound healing circles.
While the area is known for its coastline and dramatic cliffs, it’s also a prime spot for redwoods. A leisurely way to take them in is to head Fort Bragg, the home of the Skunk Train. Hop on the Pudding Creek Express, a one hour vintage train ride that winds through old growth redwoods. If you’d like to see redwoods and get your heart rate up at the same time, another option is to try the rail bikes, which are pedal powered bikes on the train tracks.
Stick around Fort Bragg for a simple lunch at Sea Pal Cove. Bundle up and sit outside on the dock to enjoy fresh fish and chips or hand battered fried shrimp, washed down with local craft beer such as an IPA from the Eel River Brewing Company. Fort Bragg is also where you’ll find the North Coast Brewing Company. Some of the autumnal beers include Cranberry Quince and Tart Cherry. The craft brewery also happens to be Zero Waste Platinum Certified. If you have a sweet tooth, Cowlicks is a legendary local, artisan ice cream parlor. The ice cream is made by hand using local ingredients where possible, such as the locally harvested candy cap mushrooms. Keep it light with a pear or mango sorbet, or indulge in a creamy ginger ice cream.
Back in Mendocino, carve out time to wander around this compact but charming town. It’s packed with art galleries and independent boutiques, which are perfect for an afternoon of browsing. The Gallery Bookshop is the kind of place where you could curl up for hours, thanks to a plush window seat that overlooks the ocean. Settle in with a good book and watch the fog roll in. For a cheeky souvenir, the bookstore also sells mugs with the slogan “Bitch, please. I’m from Mendo.” Pop into the Sallie Mac housewares shop for a little taste of France. The boutique is located in a Victorian building that feels more like a home than a store, with vintage wooden armoires stocked with French linens and Diptyque candles.
Mendocino has long been a draw for artists, given its dramatic landscapes and quality of light, and some of the best places to see art in town are the Mendocino Art Center, which has been around since 1959. The center has exhibition space as well as classes in ceramics and fine jewelry. The Highlight Gallery is in a bright, airy space and showcases the work of Northern Californian artists.
One of the most picturesque places to stay in Mendocino is the MacCallum House, a former Victorian home located right in the heart of the village. Kick off your stay in the hotel’s jewel box of a bar, the Grey Whale. Cocktails are made with fresh juices, herbs and flowers so they are as beautiful as they are delicious. Try the elderflower martini before heading into the casually elegant dining room. Everything is made in house, from the bread to the smoked meat and fish. Menus change depending on what is in season but could include Pacific rim oysters, Point Reyes blue cheese salad and broiled Neiman ranch pork chops. Guest rooms are spread among the historic mansion as well as a newer building just a short walk away. MacCallum House also offers the Mendo Wine Tour, a guided tour of four local Anderson Valley wineries.
As you leave MacCallum house, make a detour one hour south to the B. Bryan Preserve. The privately owned preserve is dedicated to breeding and preserving giraffes -- they have a high risk of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and their population has dropped 40% in 30 years. B. Bryan also breeds zebra and antelope. Reservations are essential, and the small group tours of the 100-acre property take place on vintage Land Rovers.