You know that song “I left my heart in San Francisco“? Well, I left my heart in Mendocino.
Of all the town we’ve visited on the West Coast, Mendocino is a magical place we keep finding ourselves visiting again and again. This fall marks the 5th time visiting Mendocino and Fort Bragg, so all the travel tips and recommendations I’m about to give you are thoroughly tested in person!
Keeping reading for all my favorite things to do in Mendocino California & tips for having the perfect weekend trip!
We seem to find ourselves in Mendocino twice a year. The rugged Northern California coastline can only be described as majestic and keep pulling me back. The old logging style buildings in town are cute and I get giddy over all the unique wooden water towers in backyards. Mushroom candy cap ice cream is something I never knew I loved but now I get a cone every time we visit.
There’s all sorts of hotels but it’s the luxury inns that stand out here in Mendocino County & help make the area extra relaxing. The usual lack of cell service also helps with that! We’ve stayed in everything from glamping tents to luxury inns, there’s something for everyone here.
Mendocino and Fort Bragg (just North of Mendocino) are old logging towns. There’s a lot of Redwood trees up here and early settlers made their living through timber that they shipped down to San Francisco. Once a railway was built, the area grew. But not too much, don’t worry. For some reason, Mendocino County is still a bit hidden (even to Bay Area natives!)
Top Things To Do In Mendocino California (And Fort Bragg!)
It never feels crowded when we visit yet there’s always something fun to do. Whether you’re a foodie, a hiker, a photographer or just looking to chill out, there’s always plenty of Mendocino activities to do.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
One of my favorite lighthouses on the California coast! You need to park at the top and walk down about a half-mile to the lighthouse, which you can tour the inside of. There is also a small aquarium and houses you can explore.
I think this is one of those romantic things to do in Mendocino CA – lighthouses have this cool romantic history via the families that kept the light lit way back in the day. I always imagine it being 1900 and having a closet full of sweaters & drinking whiskey each evening with Robin while looking out on our lighthouse.
- Check out the Point Arena Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in California that you can actually climb!
Jug Handle State Park is a beautiful park that is known for it’s 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail. Hikes range from 1 hour to a full day, so there is plenty to explore!
Riding the Skunk Train was a fun way to spend the morning. 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. They sell some snacks and drinks (including boozy ones) on the train, just remember to bring cash!
- If you’re looking for things to do in Mendocino when it rains, the Skunk Train is a fun activity that still gets you out without getting wet!
Just a quick drive outside of Mendocino is Russin Gulch. You can do a 1-hour exploration around Devil’s Sinkhole and the beach, which takes you under the Hwy 1 bridge. Or, you can explore deep into valley floor and forest to find the Russian Gulch waterfall for a longer hike.
Of all the things to do in Fort Bragg CA, the glass beach is probably the most famous! Due to years and years of humans dumping garbage on the coast near the city (not cool), the waves slowly turned all that garbage into beautiful colored glass pebbles (cool!).
There’s lots of rocks and coves to climb around – so go crazy, just don’t take the sea glass home or there won’t be any left!
It’s not scary at all! We found our sea kayaking expedition to be very relaxing. Guides will take you in various sea caves around the coast, past beautiful mansions and into little nooks you can’t see from the coastline. We spotted a lot of wildlife like seals!
Walk The Beaches
There are plenty of beaches to choose from if you want sand and water. My favorites to explore at Van Damme State Park Beach and Big River Beach. Go at low tide to access hidden sea caves that flood with water during high tide.
There are about 2 miles of trails right on the edge of Mendocino called the Mendocino Headlands. Grab our mushroom ice cream and stroll along the trails for beautiful coastal and town views.
Mendocino and Fort Bragg have a bunch of local shops. From woodworking, art studios, local clothing shops and bookstores, you’ll be sure to find local treasures here.
My Favorite Mendocino Hotels
There are a wide range of hotels in the Fort Bragg and Mendocino area. From 5-star retreats to campsites, you’ll be sure to find accommodations to suit your desires. Below are my recommendations that I have personally slept at!
A glamping site 2 minutes outside of Mendocino proper. Fall asleep to the sound of waves and wake up to birds chirping, all while staying in stylish safari tents. Each tent has outlets, lamps, a heated bed, a fire pit and a lantern, along with other amenities. This is a great choice for those looking to reconnect with nature. I didn’t want to leave!
The Inn At Newport Ranch
This inn is on our list of top 5 favorite hotels we’ve ever stayed at, it’s baically a luxury Mendocino bed and breakfast. Newport is a beautiful inn on a working ranch, with miles of coastal access and luxury rooms. Each night there’s a free happy hour at the ranch that’s served in the dining room off the porch so you can watch the sunset while sipping cocktails or wine.
Breakfast is also included, and boy, I can’t rave enough about the food at the ranch. Their chef is probably the best on the Mendocino coast and their staff is very friendly. Go on an ATV ride in the morning and take a soak in the rooftop hot tub under the stars at night. Learn more here.
Little River Inn
The Little River Inn 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!)
We love using Airbnb when traveling. If you have a large group, or these hotels aren’t tickling your fancy, make sure to check Airbnb. There are a lot of beautiful, unique homes (like this cabin!) listed in this area!
- Use THIS link for $40 off your first stay.
Places to Eat in Mendocino
Mendocino and Fort Bragg has so many charming dinning options. From cheap burgers to local cafes to fine dining with ocean views, you can spend weeks eating your way up and down the coast.
Frankie’s: When visiting Mendocino, you must stop at Frankie’s to pick up a cone of their Mushroom Candy Cap ice cream! It sounds strange, but it’s my favorite thing to treat myself to when visiting the area. It tastes less like mushrooms and more like brown sugar. Nevertheless, it’s an adventurous local treat you must try!
The Inn At Newport Ranch: As mentioned earlier, the food at the ranch is some of the best you’ll find on the coast. You have to be a guest to dine there and they require at least a 24-hour notice, so make sure to let them know ahead of arriving if you are staying at the ranch.
- This is one of my favorite things to do in Mendocino in the winter! This ranch feels so cozy & there’s nothing more relaxing than a dinner while watching a winter storm roll in the coast.
Good Life Cafe: Our favorite little cafe in downtown Mendocino for a quick lunch or breakfast. They usually have daily soup options to choose from and make a great BLT.
Trillium Cafe: When it comes time for dinner, head to Trillium Cafe in Mendocino! Make sure to grab a seat on the back porch which has a beautiful view of the garden (don’t worry, there’s heat lamps!) All their food is outstanding, though we especially love their Goat Cheese Tarts and Ginger Chicken.
Django’s Rough Bar Cafe: For lunch on a sunny day, head up to Django’s in Fort Bragg for a seafood meal! This hidden spot is funky and right on the water in the fishing district. Grab a Blood Orange Cider and a Po Boy for a tasty locally caught fish lunch.
Little River Inn: The 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 were so tasty.
Route 128 & Anderson Valley
To get to Mendocino, you have to drive on Route 128 which takes you through the heart of Anderson Valley. 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.
Or, take 128 for Redwoods and a chance to stop by the cute little towns and wineries in Anderson Valley valley. Really, you could make a weekend trip out of Route 128 alone.
Boonville is the major town of the valley with a small downtown stripe and an array of dining options. It makes a great place to stop for lunch before your remaining drive to Mendocino. The first trip to Mendocino we stopped at the 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). This last time, we grabbed homecooked food at Boont Berry Farm which was tasty and affordable.
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!
There’s also Navarro Vineyards, which is a must-stop. We love their Sav Blanc and Pinots. The tasting room has a back porch so you can sit outside and enjoy the views.
A beautiful state park full of Redwoods. You can camp here, or go hiking! I’ve been hiking in the Redwoods in other parts of California (Fern Canyon, Guerneville) but haven’t visited this park yet. But I’m sure it’s beautiful, all Redwoods are! It cost about $8 to enter.
A new edition to the Boonville lineup is Pennyroyal Farms, the place to go for a cheese tasting! They also do wine and food pairings, but, I’m here for the cheese (I am a Wisconsin girl after all!)
Anderson Valley Brewing
Love beer? Stop here for a tour or tasting of craft beer! We love their beers and drink them all the time whle at home. You can usually find a few beers on tap at breweries that aren’t available in store!
My favorite stop of this area is 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 quiet, I loved how old world this spot feels. We usually buy a little bottle of apple juice for each of us and some hard cider for later.
- Note – they only take cash.
I hope this helps you plan what to do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg! This area has a special place in my heart and I’ll keep coming back as long as we live in California.
If you have any tips to add, leave a comment below so everyone can read! If you have questions, leave a comment or dm me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll be happy to help!
Other posts you may like
- Inside the Inn at Newport Ranch, a Fort Bragg Luxury Hotel
- What it’s really like glamping!
- Our road trip from San Francisco to Oregon (& back!)
- Cute California seaside towns to visit before you die
- The tallest lighthouse you can climb in California