Located three hours north of San Francisco on California’s Pacific coast, Mendocino is a nature-lover’s playground, with a variety of outdoor activities in addition to opportunities for indulgence, rest, and relaxation. With its dozens of inns and B&B’s; miles of lush green forest and hiking trails; ocean views and river and beach access; and funky-chic cafes, galleries, and boutiques downtown, visitors can evenly mix outdoor adventure and locally curated leisure.
Click the photos (or links below) for in depth reviews of local Mendocino experiences.
Be Prepared for Windy Roads
Though the views along the way are rewarding, the journey there can be intense. If you’re driving from the south (Mendocino is about 150 miles north of San Francisco), you can take Hwy 1 along the coast (scenic, but an hour longer) or the 101 to the 128, which passes through the rolling hills, farmland, and vineyards of Anderson Valley.
This travel duo took the latter, and the drive was frequently on windy, two-lane roads (inexperienced drivers and travelers predisposed to motion sickness should take heed — a car trip might not be for them). Some drivers seemed very comfortable speeding through the curves, but there are plenty of pull-off points for those who are less familiar with the roads and want to take it slow (or savor the views).
Avoid Rainy Season
After this year’s record rainfall, California residents might have a hard time predicting when exactly next year’s rainy season will end (this writer’s trip was postponed twice because of severe weather). But it’s important to factor in when planning a trip, especially because of the drive. Rainstorms in the rugged terrain of Mendocino County often translate to flooding, felled trees, road delays, and closures, and the trip can be hairy even on a sunny day, so visitors should keep an eye on road conditions and take special care if they have to drive in the rain. But this writer’s tip: avoid it if you can. A trip to Mendocino would be a loss without the ability to explore its abundant nature, which might not be quite so fun (or possible) in pouring rain.
Balance Work & Travel
Both inns reviewed here had reliable Wi-Fi access and desk space available in the room — but that might not be the case for every room of the inn, so if you need a private place to work, double check the room’s specific features when booking.
If you’re fine with working in a common area, Brewery Gulch Inn has plenty of workspace in their “Great Room,” the mixed-use common room and dining room on the ground floor. Downtown Mendocino also has a few cafes with Wi-Fi access (we didn’t get the chance to go, but when we learned there was no internet access at GoodLife Cafe & Bakery, an employee suggested The Waiting Room as a Wi-Fi equipped alternative and decent cafe/workspace).
We first became acquainted with Downtown Mendocino while on the hunt for Loot & Lore, an apothecary and event space that sells items related to tarot, astrology, and magic. When we arrived at the address listed online, we found that the historic wooden water tower it was once housed in is now empty (this branch of Loot & Lore recently relocated to Sacramento). But our winding search, and the store’s former inclusion on the roster of Mendocino storefronts, helped us get a sense of the quirky/quaint spirit of this laidback, beachside community.
Highlights of our visit included Corners of the Mouth, a health food market housed in a former church that sells candles, produce, sesame-tahini cookies, and CBD- & kava-infused chocolates (among other things); Fog Eater Cafe, a colorful cafe with a small, tight-knit staff, southern-inspired vegetarian cuisine, and rotating fruit and veggie-infused pastries; and Mendocino Country Store, a gift shop attached to a wine bar that sells trinkets, souvenirs, and artwork alongside a number of spices, hot sauces, and locally made jams.
Aside from its retail offerings, there are also a number of local events — keep your eyes peeled for flyers posted around town advertising music, dance, art, and food-and-drink-related gatherings. Despite its size and small-town character, the volume and variety of flyers suggest a lively social scene, which may balance nicely with your time spent in nature or on R&R.
About the Author: Lily LeaVesseur
Lily LeaVesseur has harbored a fondness for the arts since she was a few months old, when her parents took her on her first of many stroller rides through the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even after moving to San Diego as a child, she returned many times so that she could stare down her favorite pieces, combing them over again and again for clues to their greatness.
She carried this enthusiasm like a missionary, and in high school petitioned to re-open the single Art History course on the roster so that she could study it with her friends. She loved feeling like she could unlock some sort of intangible mystery behind works of art, and looking for herself within the artists that created them.
Since then Lily has continued to explore art both analytically and creatively. She now writes poetry and non-fiction, sometimes accompanied by illustrations or watercolor, and hopes to one day collect these works into a graphic novel. When she's not writing or drawing, she can otherwise be found skating with friends, experimenting with new food combinations, and/or lying on the floor contemplating the transcendental nature of TikTok.