When we were invited up north to Mendocino to stay at the Little River Inn, my reaction was a big YES! We moved to San Francisco about 2.5 years ago and kept hearing whispers of Mendocino from friends or at events. We heard the ocean is so blue up there, the forest so green and everything is peaceful. To reach Mendocino, you have to drive first through Sonoma, so most Californians and tourists only go north for wine tasting and stop there. So in a way, Mendocino is a bit off the radar, a hidden gem that most locals know about but haven’t actually visited. Well, little hidden gems are my favorite type of place to visit.
As usual, below I’m writing up our exact itinerary if you want to follow it. But first Mendocino at a quick glance.
Stay: Little River Inn
Ride: The Skunk Train
Walk: Glass Beach
Visit: Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Eat: Frankie’s Ice-cream
Drive: 101 for ocean views, 128 for redwoods.
Wine Taste: Lula Cellars in Anderson Valley
Shop: Apple Farm
Bring: Cash! Many places don’t take credit cards and we couldn’t find a single working ATM anywhere. We ended up having to go to the one bank in Fort Bragg to get cash!
Noon: We left San Francisco around Noon to give us time for unexpected traffic around Petaluma/the wineries (happens every. time.) We decided to take hwy 128 up because our first stop was at Lula Cellars to kick off the weekend with a little vino and I was also eager to drive through Redwoods, which this highway gives you. You can also take hwy 1 for sweeping ocean views, but note that it’s very windy and will probably take a little longer to drive. We downloaded Murder on the Orient Express on our iPad to listen to and head off!
2:30pm: We arrived in Boonville around 2:30pm and were STARVING. It’s a small town and doesn’t have a lot of quick dining options. We chose Redwood Drive In for burgers which were good, but I felt like were a tad overpriced for what you got ($8 for just a burger, no fries) As we were sitting down to eat, we noticed the store across the street and popped over for a visited. It’s a very charming little co-op that also serves food in the back deli-style. They have an adorable front porch area and if I could do this lunch again, I’d pick this place over burgers. Here, we picked up some fresh peaches, and hopped back in the car.
3:00pm: Next up – a visit to Hendy Woods State Park! We only wanted to walk around it for a bit before our wine tasting appointment at 4pm. Redwoods are so darn beautiful! My favorite part of this area was the little Apple Farm off the road, near the entrance to Hendy. Follow the signs for an adorable little stand full of local apple cider (hard and normal!) It was so peaceful and quite, I loved how old world this spot feels. they didn’t have any hard cider, so we each bought a little bottle of apple juice and guys, it was the best apple juice I have ever had. Note – they only take cash.
Lula Cellars is an adorable little winery that quickly made my list of favorites in California.
4:00pm: Lula Cellars time! Anderson Valley is another robust wine valley, but as stated before, most people get caught up in Sonoma and Napa, so it’s by far less crowded up here. No complaints! Lula Cellars is an adorable little winery that quickly made my list of favorites in California (and that says a lot considering how frequently I find myself in wine country!) When you walk through the tasting room door, you’ll quickly be greeted by Honey, the resident wine dog. You’ll also probably find one of the founders behind the counter – they like to treat everyone like family here. We loved their pinots, make sure to try their Docker Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir and take a bottle or two home. Lula Cellars is quaint but growing. I can’t wait to come back after they’ve built out an outdoor patio area next to their pond!
6:00pm: We checked into Little River Inn, our home base for the weekend. This hotel is BEAUTIFUL. The actual property is spacious and filled with flowers, but my favorite aspect it the amazing sweeping view each room has of the ocean. Our room had a private patio as well, perfect for cuddling and watching the sunset. When you check in, make sure to see how they decorated their front room (I loved the wallpaper and decor!)
7:00pm: Little River Inn has a great main dining room on site. It can be packed on weekends, so makes sure to get a reservation! If you aren’t feeling a formal dinner, grab bites in the Whale Watch Bar. I ordered the Confit Pork, which was so tender and juicy. Robin ordered the burger. We both shared an order of bacon sliders and hot dang, these are so tasty. Think bruschetta, with with bacon. Everything is better with bacon, I’m telling you. We came out of dinner stuffed, in a good way.
8:30pm: Porch time! We poured some wine and sat out on the porch, enjoying the fresh air and sound of the ocean.
8:30am: We wanted to explore Fort Bragg a bit before taking a ride on the 10:45am the Skunk Train, so we got up early and head to Fort Bragg, about a 25 minute drive from the Little River Inn. The town was sleepy when we arrived and we rolled up to the Home Style Cafe only to find that they don’t take cards and their ATM was broken. Also, there were no working ATM’s in the city. So, we headed to Cafe One instead. Learn from our mistakes – bring cash on your weekend trip! This cafe looked like a local favorite and I was bummed we couldn’t eat there.
Learn from our mistakes – bring cash on your weekend trip!
10:30am: Riding the Skunk Train was next on the list! The route we took was the short one, just about an hour roundtrip. It was relaxing just sitting on a train for 60 minutes next to Robin while watching the redwoods fly by. Next time we come up I want to ride the 4 hour trip that goes farther – I think it must be very, very beautiful. They sell some snacks and drinks (including boozy ones) on the train, just remember to bring cash!
12:30: Visiting Glass Beach was next on our list. Due to years and years of dumping garage on the coast near Fort Bragg (not cool), the waves slowly turned all that garbage into beautiful glass pebbles (cool). There’s lots of rocks and coves to climb around – so go crazy!
2pm: We were starting to get a little hungry, but we didn’t want to slow down so we swung by a grocery store to pick up fresh fruit and cheese, then drove down to the Noyo River Wharf, a cute little area bull of fishing boats and seafood spots. We drove by Django’s Bar & Grill and I loved their decor and outdoor patio area – it would be a great spot for lunch or a sunny evening.
Make sure to peek over the sides of the cliffs into the water to spot sealions!
2:30pm: Finally – time to visit the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse! This spot has been on my list of California costal sights for a long time. I’ve always found lighthouses very interesting, especially the history. This one has multiple houses on site, one which you can tour as it’s set up to display what it may have looked like when the keeper’s families lived there. They also have a small aquarium on site and a gift shop that has more old photos and bits of history. We spent a good chunk of time hear walking around and taking it all in. Note: you have to park at the parking lot at the top of the hill and walk down, so wear comfy shoes!
4:00pm: We were getting hungry, so we headed into Mendocino to grab an early dinner and tour the town. First, we walked all over. It’s small, but has many cute shops and sweeping views of the ocean. We dined at the Trillium Cafe on their patio for a fancy dinner. I had mixed feelings about this spot. I love their patio and the service was good, though I felt like my dish was under seasoned and the price for food was a tad overpriced. Next time we come to Mendocino, I’d prefer to instead grab food from a more casual place or pick up picnic fixings and dine by the water.
6:30pm: After dinner, we walked over to Frankie’s for ice cream! They have standard flavors but I went for the candy cap mushroom flavor for something fun and unique. Robin grabbed a milkshake and we walked around the town more, enjoying the many gardens and wooden towers.
7:30pm: We had a long day out, so we grabbed a six pack of beer and headed back to the Little River Inn to curl up with a blanket on the porch and watch the sunset over to ocean. Almost everyone was out on their porch or out on the lawn with their dogs. Since I’m in the city all the time, it was so relaxing to just sit outside for a bit.
8:30am: After waking, we headed right to Good Life Cafe in Mendocino to grab coffee, bagels and pastries so we could bring it back to our porch for breakfast. This place is HOPING in the morning with locals. Robin got a bagel with garlic cream cheese and I grabbed a blueberry pastry. All so tasty!
10:30am: Sadly, it was time to check out of the Little River Inn, but we loved this place and already vowed to visit Mendocino once a year to get more fresh air and no cell service.
11:30am: We took hwy 128 home and on the way pulled over in the Redwoods to walk a bit among the trees. WE eventually had to flee because of all the bugs biting us, but I still found it so peaceful.
Use this time to to stop at Anderson Valley brewery or a winery in Sonoma on the way back to San Francisco.
I hope this helps you plan your trip to Mendocino! Remember that cell service and wifi isn’t guaranteed and having cash on hand is a must. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or tips to add!
Thank you to Little River Inn for a complimentary stay, Lula Cellars for a complimentary wine tasting and the Skunk Train for complimentary rides.