Getting Lost on the Coast of Mendocino

Your Instagram is about to get real picturesque.

Diving deep into Northern California’s crown jewel delivers an experience that’s both easy on the wallet and hard to replicate. This is the land of ancient redwood groves, natural oddities and awe-inspiring attractions; an earthy blend of maverick farmers, cutting-edge brew masters and personalities with a passion for the offbeat. 

Just two hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino County is the true call of the wild, effortlessly mixing wine, waves and wilderness. Linger on the Lost Coast, break a sweat at Bowling Ball Beach or dive deep into flights of award-winning Alsatian wines. Boasting 90 miles of prime Pacific coastline, 90+ wineries and 24 state/national parklands, the options for adventure are endless. 

Top Treks for the Experiential Traveler

Lost Coast Adventure/Candelabra Tree Forest

North of Fort Bragg lies California’s famed Lost Coast, Mendocino’s most wild and remote coastal wilderness with plenty of bragging rights. The Shady Dell Trail—a three-mile excursion—invites visitors to discover the rugged region including the mysterious candelabra tree forest.

Free; www.mendocinolandtrust.org

B. Bryan Preserve

Experience the African veldt on Mendocino County’s south coast. Join the twice-daily tours to feed the rare African hoofstock-Rothschild Giraffe, Zebra, and Antelope-at B. Bryan Preserve. This remote outpost tucked into Point Arena along scenic Highway 1 also offers an eye-popping giraffe barn for offbeat events.

$35 per adult/$20 per child for 1.5 hour Land Rover tour; www.bbryanpreserve.com

Pygmy Forest

From Jug Handle State Beach, step back through time as you hike the 2.5-mile self-guided nature trail called The Ecological Staircase, which explores five ocean terraces (each representing 100,000 years) that have been uplifted over time and have created this unique coastal range. Visitors can take a walkabout in the local gardens or bed down for a deal at Jug Handle Creek Farm, a European-style hostel.

$45/night; http://www.jughandlecreekfarm.org/nature-education/ecological-staircase/

Bowling Ball Beach 

Rows of boulders carved by time and tide await at Bowling Ball Beach. Hidden, like the Terracotta Army, at low tide these concretions reveal themselves once the sea has retreated. The beach is part of Schooner Gulch State Beach.

Free; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=446

City of 10,000 Buddhas

Peacocks, pagodas and “Vigor” and “Virtue” signposts—backed with the resonance of chanting monks—this is the stop for a peaceful walkabout at one of the nation’s largest Buddhist monasteries. Open to the public, this stunning City of 10,000 Buddhas offers daily prayer (12:30 p.m.) in the eye-popping Jeweled Hall, complete with 10,000 golden Buddhas lining the facility from floor to ceiling. Stay for a tasty lunch at Jyuan Kang Vegetarian Restaurant on-site. 

Free; www.cttbusa.org

Solar Living Institute/Memorial Car Grove 

A scout about the Memorial Car Grove at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland is certain to spur a selfie. Tucked along the Inspiration Highway (101) at the gateway of Mendocino County, this oddity takes shape in the form of hulking gas guzzlers, including classic Edsels repurposed as art. These rusting relics from the 1950s and ‘60s with grown trees sprouting from the interiors are a statement to our times. Get up close and personal with a grinning grille or hug that tree. 

Free; www.solarlivinginstitute.org

DIY Point Arena-Stornetta Lands Hike 

Relish the wild outdoors at the only land-based portion of the 1,100-mile California Coastal National Monument: Point Arena-Stornetta Lands. The newly acquired lands and moody bluffs of Mendocino’s coast—incorporating more than 1,600 acres—give hikers new access to a 12-mile stretch of coastline laced with cypress forests, scenic cliffs and wildflower fields.

Free; https://www.visitmendocino.com/point-arena-stornetta-public-lands/

Point Arena Lighthouse in California

Point Arena Lighthouse

Make a day of scouting the coast with a pit stop at Point Arena Lighthouse. The tower is the only West Coast lighthouse of significant height (115 feet) that visitors can access all the way to the top. Breathtaking 360-degree views and a museum and shop await. Six lodgings dot the 23-acre property including the romantic Lighthouse Keeper’s Apartment ($200/double).

General admission $7/children 11 and under $1; www.pointarenalighthouse.com

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens 

Work up a thirst while touring one of the few botanical gardens located directly on prime Pacific Ocean frontage. Known for its spectacular displays of rhododendrons and dahlias, the garden delights in all four seasons. Bee Friendly Gardens and Sustainable Vegetable Gardening are a snapshot of the annual seminars held. Pet- and kid-friendly.

$14 adult/$5 children (5-17); www.gardenbythesea.org 

Beer Flight at North Coast Brewing Company 

Tame your thirst with a flight of brews at the north coast’s best brewpub. Slither into a tasting flight of four beers ($6) or splurge with the 14-beer sampler with a friend; $21. The Tap Room is the stop for wood-fired pizza and weekends deliver live jazz. 

www.northcoastbrewing.com

Glass Beach 

An anomaly that is eye-popping, visitors can seek out sea glass on Fort Bragg’s unique trash-to-treasure state beach. Formerly the city dump, Glass Beach has evolved over tide and time polishing the glass from head- and tail-lights, jars, bottles, and more into tiny, colorful glass pebbles. Red and blue are the rarest!

Free; www.visitmendocino.com/does-glass-beach-really-have-glass 

Roots of Motive Power 

The age of steam is alive and on show in Willits, California. Just east of town off the Inspiration Highway (101), Roots of Motive Power shows off its cache of classic steam engines, donkeys and railroad track to visitors on their work days each month.

Free; www.rootsofmotivepower.com/work-days 

Orr Hot Springs 

Soak up some relaxation at this clothing-optional outpost nestled in the rolling hills near the town of Ukiah. The mineral waters flow through communal tubs, a cold pool, rooftop and private tubs. Simple lodgings are also offered as well as camping on site. 

Day use is $30 for adults/$25 children; reservations required; www.orrhotsprings.org

Montgomery Woods State Reserve 

Near Orr Hot Springs lies one of the state’s most magnificent groves of virgin redwoods. To stand among the redwood spires deep in the forest is to stand in the nave of one of nature’s cathedrals. High up in the canopy, past flying buttresses of enormous branches, the green treetops soar 300 or more feet above. A network of easy trails links the Reserve and adjoining fern groves.

Free; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=434

Pennyroyal Farm 

Get your goat on at this new, polished venue marking the entrance to Anderson Valley. A daily tour at this award-winning farmstead dairy includes a visit to the barn to meet 143+ dairy goat companions and 30 dairy sheep, view of the creamery and finale cheese tasting. New Pennyroyal Farms wines are also on tap.

daily tours $15/adults; $10/children/children under 5 free; www.pennyroyalfarm.com

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree 

Size matters. Soaring at 315 feet high with a girth of 21 feet, this 2,000-year-old towering tree is a definite show stopper. Cut in the late 1930s as a tourist attraction, the Chandelier Tree seems to defy nature, allowing autos a smooth passage through its center, albeit tight at times. Ideal for Instagram Live, a $5 fee gains entry through this gentle giant; there are also wonderful hiking trails in nearby Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area.

www.drivethrutree.com

Skunk Train

It’s a train thing and it doesn’t get any better than tucking deep into mystical redwoods aboard the legendary Skunk Train. Depart from Fort Bragg or Willits, which offers an adventure on the Northspur Flyer, for a four-hour trek ascending the 1,740-foot summit then pushing through to the lush Noyo River Canyon aboard a vintage railcruiser (one of the original 132-year old Skunks) with an open-air coach.

Prices vary; www.skunktrain.com 

For more on Mendocino, check out www.visitmendocino.com.

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