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 6th 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!
Mendocino At A Glance
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!)
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 of homes. 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 relaxing vibe. We’ve stayed in everything from glamping tents to luxury inns, there’s something for everyone here.
17 Top Things To Do In Mendocino And Fort Bragg This Weekend
Fort Bragg and Mendocino California never feel 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.
1. Visit Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Point Cabrillo Light Station is my favorite lighthouse on the California coast and yes I have a favorite lighthouse. (I’m kind of a lighthouse nerd). Don’t get this confused with Cabrillo National Monument down in San Deigo. Instead of sandy beaches, this lighthouse overlooks the rugged Mendocino coast and it’s simply stunning.
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 lightkeeper houses you can explore around it. There’s also a few trails you can stroll and we always spot something fun (wildlife, flowers, etc).
I think the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park 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.
2. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
Jug Handle State Reserve is a beautiful park that is known for it’s 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail where hikers can explore three wave-cut terraces formed by the continental glaciers, rising seas, and tectonic plates that built the Coast Range.Or, head more inland to see the Pygmy Forest inside Jughandle State Park. Hikes range from 1 hour to a full day, so there is plenty to explore here!
3. Skunk Train
Guys, I loved the riding the Skunk Train! It was a such fun way to spend the morning aboard an open air train that slowly make its way through the Redwoods of Mendocino.
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!
4. Hike Russian Gulch State Park
Just a quick drive outside of Mendocino is Russian Gulch State Park. I recommend you do that 1-hour exploration around Devil’s Sinkhole and the beach, which takes you under the Hwy 1 bridge. The sinkhole is super wild to gaze down into and always something I swing by whenever I’m visiting Mendocino.
Or, you can explore deep into the valley floor and forest to find the Russian Gulch waterfall for a longer hike!! This is best done when it’s not raining as it can get slippery up there.
5. Breakfast At Goodlife Cafe
GoodLife Cafe is 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. We always stop by here for a bite at least once during our trip. Usually, we take our coffee and pastries to go and eat them while strolling around the Mendocino Headlands State Park. This brings me to…
6. Wander Mendocino Headlands State Park
As if this charming town couldn’t get better, there’s coastal bluff trails that wrap around the town itself, making it super easy to slip into the trails without driving or hiking far. I recommend starting on the south side of town near Portuguese Beach and hopping onto the Point Mendocino Trail. This wraps around town and spits you out in the Headlands Park. You’ll see great views of the town but also Goat Island!
7. Visit Glass Beach
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 exploring this famous beach. Just don’t take the sea glass home or there won’t be any left.
8. Go Sea Kayaking
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love to go kayaking! And, a sea kayaking expedition from Van Damme State Park is the best way to experience the water and rugged coasts of Mendocino from a whole new view.
Kayak guides will take you to 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 and it was so much fun. This makes a great morning or afternoon activity. Plus, you’ll get to see Van Damme State Beach which is one of the top Mendocino attractions!
If Sea Kayaking isn’t your thing, opt instead for a canoe rental on the Big River. It’s a little slower and more relaxed for beginners.
9. Try Mushroom Ice Cream
Whenever we drive up to Mendocino, I spend the entire drive drooling over the thoughts of the Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream up there. I know, it sounds strange, but it’s SO tasty and unique! You simply must try a cone or bowl of this flavor. In Mendocino, Frankie’s has the best mushroom ice cream. If you’re in Fort Bragg, Cowlick’s is the spot to visit!
10. Walk The Beaches & Explore Sea Caves
There are plenty of beaches to choose from if you want sand and water! My favorites to explore are Van Damme State Park Beach and Big River Beach. The latter is especially neat for sea caves (so wear waterproof shoes like Tevas!) Go at low tide to access hidden sea caves that flood with water during high tide. Sea cave exploring is one of those unique things to do in Mendocino that you can’t easily do in other parts of the state.
11. Visit The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a special place. It’s on over 47 acres of land and works to preserve public access to the coastline and showcase the best of the Northern California coastal ecosystem. This little garden by the seas is open year-round, but is my favorite to visit in the springtime when all the flowers are blooming!
12. Go Shopping
Mendocino and Fort Bragg have a bunch of local shops that are just so dang cute. From woodworking, art studios, art centers, local clothing shops and bookstores, you’ll be sure to find local treasures here. I always try to pick something up, maybe a book or a piece of jewelry.
13. Dine At Trillium Cafe
When it comes time for dinner, head to Trillium Cafe in Mendocino! It’s one of the best restaurants in Mendocino and we always book dinner here at least once on our weekend to Mendocino trips.
Make sure to grab a seat on the back porch which has a beautiful view of the garden and ocean (don’t worry, there’s heat lamps for winter!) All their food is outstanding, though we especially love their Goat Cheese Tarts and Ginger Chicken.
14. Tide Pooling At Mackerricher State Park & Laguna Beach
Looking for more stunning things to do near Mendocino? Head to Mackerricher State Park & Laguna Beach, just north of Fort Bragg and Glass Beach. This park features a beach, bluffs, headland, dunes, forest and wetland. And, during low tide, you can find tide pools along the shore!
15. Lunch At Django’s Rough Bar Cafe (Currently Close)
For lunch on a sunny day, head up to Django’s Rough Bar Cafe 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. It’s one of those secret spots that most tourists miss and it truly captures the authentic feeling of the Mendocino Coast.
Note: they closed down over the panny and haven’t reopened yet, fingers are crossed they do so check back on updates!
16. Wine Taste At Pacific Star Winery
Guys – this is a winery that overlooks the Mendocino coastline!!! There aren’t a lot of wineries on the Coast, the nearest are in Anderson Valley (more on that below) but Pacific Star Winery is a true gem. They specialize in Red Blends, particularly those in Italian, French and Spanish style. Come for a tasting or glass and sit in one of their iconic red chairs that overlook the ocean.
17. Sip Beer At North Coast Brewing
For all my fellow beer lovers, you simply must swing by North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, even if it’s just to pick up a 6 pack to take back to your hotel or picnic with. They offer tons of beers here that you can’t find in store! They also have a full taproom and restaurant.
We stopped by most recently on our van trip from Oregon to California. We had a bite to eat and beers, then also went across the street to pick up a 6 pack to drink at our campsite later that night. It’s a classic California brewery stop you can’t miss.
My Favorite Mendocino Hotels
Mendocino is special for so many reasons, but it’s really known for stunning lodging. There is a wide range of hotels in Mendocino and Fort Bragg from 5-star retreats to glamping campsites. This is the town to go all in on a really cool hotel experience and after staying at a ton of properties, the ones below are my favorites!
The Inn At Newport Ranch
The Inn At At Newport Ranch is on our list of top 5 favorite hotels we’ve ever stayed at. It’s a luxury Mendocino bed and breakfast that I dream of heading back to all the time. See, 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.
If you’re looking for something more rustic, head to Mendocino Grove, 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!
Little River Inn
The Little River Inn is a beautiful property on the South side of Mendicino County. The actual property is spacious and filled with flowers, but my favorite aspect is 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!)
Best Places to Eat in Mendocino
Mendocino and Fort Bragg has so many charming dining 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. I’ve included my must-eat spots in the list above, but here are the best restaurants in Mendocino in a quick glance view!
Frankie’s: For Mushroom Ice Cream!
The Inn At Newport Ranch: Dinner here is 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 on the coast. If you are staying here, make sure to give the kitchen a 24 hour notice.
Good Life Cafe: Our favorite little cafe in downtown Mendocino for a quick lunch or breakfast.
MacCallum House Restaurant: For a classic American brunch.
Trillium Cafe: Ask to be seated outside in the back garden that overlooks the ocean.
Django’s Rough Bar Cafe: Perfect seafood lunch on a sunny day in a hidden spot (update: currently closed)
Little River Inn Whale Watch Bar: 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.
Noyo Fish Company: Come for Fish and Chips, chowder and fish tacos!
Route 128 & Anderson Valley – Gateway To Mendocino
In order to make a proper Mendocino travel guide, we need to talk about Anderson Valley. Unless you are doing a classic Hwy 1 drive and planning on a Sonoma Coast road trip after Mendocino, most likely you’ll be coming up through Route 128 which takes you through the heart of Anderson Valley. (The Hwy 1 route has sweeping ocean views, but note that it’s very windy and will longer to drive.)
We always 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 but we love to stop by a winery or farm on our way to and from Mendocino and have slowly been checking all the things off our bucket list. Here’s the highlights:
Boonville Boont Berry Farm
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. Every time we drive through, we always stop for homecooked food at Boont Berry Farm which is tasty and affordable. It’s also a market, so sometimes we grab road trip snacks here, too.
Philo Apple Farm
I can’t explain how excited I get about Apple Farm and I always my use stop here. Apple Farm is off the main road, near the entrance to Hendy Woods State Park. Follow the signs for an adorable little stand full of local apple cider (hard and normal!) It’s always so peaceful and quiet, I loved how old world this spot feels. We always buy a little bottle of apple juice for each of us to drink on the road, and some hard cider for later. Note – they only take cash.
Pennyroyal Farms Cheese
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!) Usually, we’ll swing by here on the way up to Mendocino to buy some cheeses to use later on a coastal picnic.
Anderson Valley Brewing
Love beer? Stop at Anderson Valley Brewing for a tour or tasting of craft beer! We love their beers and drink them all the time at home. You can usually find a few beers on tap at breweries that aren’t available in-store so it’s worth a pit stop. We tend to bring our growlers and fill them up on our way back home.
Anderson Valley Wine Tasting
Anderson Valley is another robust wine valley, but as stated before, most people get caught up in Healdsburg and Napa Valley, so it’s by far less crowded up here. No complaints! Plus, they make some amazing pinots which just happen to be my favorite California wine. I have a whole guide to the best wineries in Anderson Valley but these are the top three to stop by on your way to Mendocino:
- Toulouse Vineyards: If you love rose wines, you need to stop here! The tasting room overlooks the valley, the staff is so friendly and all the wines we tasted were amazing, but especially their rose. We took a bottle home.
- 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.
- There’s also Navarro Vineyards, which offers FREE wine tastinsg! We love their Sav Blanc and Pinots. The tasting room has a back porch so you can sit outside and enjoy the views, and it’s always relaxing to lounge here before continuing the drive home.
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!