Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Check out the Artsy Village of Mendocino
- Climb into History at the Point Arena Lighthouse
- Experience Time Travel at Jug Handle Creek
- Explore the Beauty of Glass Beach
- Snap Photos in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
- Catch a Ride on the Skunk
- Drive through a Really Big Tree
- Feed the Giraffes…Yes, in California!
- Hike and Picnic in Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Food for the Family
- Lodging Options for the Family
- Sleep at a Farm
- Camp Near a Pygmy Forest
California has a little bit of everything. From the thriving cities of San Diego and Los Angeles in the south to San Francisco in the north, there’s plenty to see. But let’s face it, Northern California hit the jackpot when it comes to landscapes. Here the Pacific Ocean crashes onto miles of coastline. Ancient redwoods tower over the land. And the always enticing Highway 1 beckons all road trip lovers to get behind the wheel. It starts with all the things to do in San Francisco and continues north to the Mendocino Coast.
If you’re spending two days in San Francisco (or more) consider tacking on a few more days to check out the Mendocino Coast. Traveling the winding HWY 1 north, a new world unfolds. The tech-loaded cities of the Silicon Valley fade away as you transport your family to one of California’s best getaways. We’ve got the scoop on where to eat, sleep and play.
Check out the Artsy Village of Mendocino
Originally settled by New Englanders around 1850 as a logging town, Mendocino found new life in the 1950s with the founding of the Mendocino Art Center. Today this quaint village with a Bohemian vibe still boasts colorful Victorian home and charming wooden cottages.
Climb into History at the Point Arena Lighthouse
In charge of the coastal lookout since 1908, Point Arena Light House stands 115 feet high. Guided tours take visitors to the top by way of a winding staircase. Climbing efforts are rewarded with 360-degree views of the picturesque surroundings and sea life. Bonus—the climb will use some of the kids’ energy! Housed in an 1896 fog signal building, an onsite museum displays historical artifacts tracing the light station’s past. For a truly unique lodging experience, check out the vacation rentals on the property. The lighthouse keeper’s house offers 3 bedrooms and 2 baths plus a full kitchen.
Experience Time Travel at Jug Handle Creek
In one of the most unusual beach experiences anywhere, you and the kids can literally climb through time at Jug Handle State Preserve. On the beach you’re in the present but start the climb up the “staircase” made up of five uplifted ocean terraces and you’ll climb back in time 100,000 years on each level. If you make it to the top, you’re 500,000 years in the past. Now that’s a hike to remember!
Explore the Beauty of Glass Beach
The devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake left far-reaching destruction on the California coastline. As a result, massive amounts of broken glass were dumped into the ocean. Fortunately, the power of the ocean turned that human disregard for the environment into a thing of beauty. Today, smooth rounded pieces of colorful sea glass lay strewn across Glass Beach making it one of the most unusual beaches in the world. Keep the kids occupied for hours as they comb through the sandy treasures. While you’re there take a hike on the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail and soak up the views.
Snap Photos in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Whether you have a green thumb or not, it’s hard not to be impressed with the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Here you’ll find 47 acres idyllic situation between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. Showcasing more than 125 species of spring-blooming rhododendrons and a stunning array of multichromatic dahlias that appear each fall, family photos taken in the gardens are sure to be frame-worthy. Add to that the magnificent backdrop of the coastal bluffs and you’re going to need more than one frame.
Catch a Ride on the Skunk
Named for the smelly fumes originally emitted from the old-time trains of the late 1800s, the Skunk Train is a coastal treasure. Besides, who can resist a ride on an old-fashioned steam train? Departing from Fort Bragg, the Pudding Creek Express chugs through the Pudding Creek Estuary for a scenic 1-hour ride. The Wolf Tree Turn departs from Willits traveling 2 hours round trip from the Willits valley floor to the line’s highest point before descending into the Noyo River Canyon. If you’re looking for some exercise, consider the 2-person rail bikes along the Pudding Creek route. It’s a fun way to experience the wonder of the redwood forests using your own pedal power.
Drive through a Really Big Tree
We’ve all driven through many things in our travels, but that usually doesn’t include a tree. But in Mendocino County a tree that dates back 2,000 years, stands over 300 feet high and displays a portly 70 feet circumference awaits your arrival. Located in Leggett, the Drive-Thru Tree continues to be a favorite vacation photo op. Often referred to as the Chandelier Tree due to its massive branches protruding from the sides of the trunk, this is one drive-thru experience you don’t want to miss.
Feed the Giraffes…Yes, in California!
Committed to the breeding and conservation of African hoofstock, wildlife conservations, Frank and Judy Mello, established the B Bryan Preserve. Bringing a piece of the African savannah to the California coast, the Mellos harbor Greater Kudu Antelope, Grevy’s, Harmann’s Mountain Zebra and Rothschild’s Giraffe. Spend some time touring the preserve and you’ll have the opportunity to view and feed the animals.
Hike and Picnic in Mendocino Headlands State Park
Understandably, hiking takes center stage at the Mendocino State Park where rugged cliffs, warm ocean breezes and breathtaking ocean views come together. It’s possible to spot dolphins frolicking the ocean below or even whales in the fall and winter months.
History has a role here too. Check out old photographs and artifacts dating back to the days of the Pomo Native Americans in the Historic Ford House which also serves as the park’s Visitor Center.
When you’re ready for a break from hiking, enjoy a picnic at Big River Beach. Specializing in deli sandwiches made with fresh meats and cheeses along with custom side dishes, the charming Mendocino Market in the village packs picnic lunches to go. If you time it right, you just might get a stellar sunset to accompany your picnic.
Food for the Family
In addition to the picnic fixings at Mendocino Market, the northern coast has numerous seafood restaurants, diners, brew pubs, pizzerias and markets to feed the family. For classics like hot dogs, burgers and milkshakes, check out the Be Bop Diner in Ukiah. Also in Ukiah, Isi’s serves up unique pizza sandwiches crafted from handmade sauce and handcrafted dough. Family owned and operated, Frankie’s in Mendocino offers organic foods including falafels and pizzas—now available gluten free. For wild caught west coast seafood, check out the Princess Seafood Market & Deli in Fort Bragg. It’s the perfect drop-in spot to pick up seafood to go. Or, enjoy a seafood lunch on the outdoor dining deck. And when you’re in Fort Bragg, be sure to stop by Cowlick Ice Cream because…well, ice cream!
Lodging Options for the Family
The Heritage House on Hwy 1 in Little River puts you in the front row for ocean views. Accommodations include standard hotel rooms, suites and vacation rentals. For larger families, the Redwood house with 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, an open kitchen with a cozy nook, living room with fireplace, and a private outdoor dining area provides plenty of space.
Family-owned and operated for over 80 years, Little River Inn extends that family-friendly hospitality to guests. With options for every budget and sweeping ocean views, it’s an ideal place to rest up for your next Mendocino Coast adventure.
Sleep at a Farm
Tucked away in a private valley along the coast, Oz Farm offers a unique sustainable working farm and retreat combination for families. There are nine lodging options including cabins, yurts and Domes. This double-dome geodesic structure provides a living space, fully equipped kitchen, five double beds and a wraparound deck.
Camp Near a Pygmy Forest
With so many things to do in the great outdoors along the California North Coast, why not expand your outside time by camping. The Van Damme State Park has numerous year-round drive-in campsites for RVs and tents. The park also has an abundance of hiking trails along with a trail that leads through the 100-year-old pygmy forest. The Fern Canyon Scenic Trail beside Little River also provides an excellent place for hiking and biking.
Several additional state parks offer camping too including Mackerricher State Park just three miles north of Fort Bragg. With headlands, beach, bluff, dunes and forest, there’s a variety of habitats and the possibility of spotting seals on the rocky shoreline. At Russian Gulch State Park you’ll discover a mix of coastal and forest hikes spanning 15 miles just steps from the campsites.
There’s really no end to the family fun you’ll find along the picturesque Mendocino Coast. From kayaking to swimming to stargazing from your campsite. And at the end of the day, there’s always s’mores.