Magical Mendocino, a place encapsulated in time

Mendocino is a place made of spellbound coastal views, country bistros, eccentric art epicenter, a giant redwood forest, and an ocean dashing itself madly against sandstone cliff sides.

Northern California is famous for its breathtaking scenery of undeveloped coastal and country drives. San Francisco and Napa Valley are the bustling gateway options to this part, but when you head northwest towards Mendocino Counties coastal area, everything quickly changes.

Within a 3 hour drive from the vibrant city of San Francisco over the winding country lanes that race towards the Pacific Ocean, lies our destination, Mendocino. The change in appearance is dramatic. From busy streets, loud noises and traffic everywhere to a town that has one traffic signal and a few stops signs in between for a population of about 1000 residents. But please don’t let me mislead you, it is a place of sophistication for a modern-minded escape. 

Even if you have never been to Northern California before, you probably have seen Mendocino on the big screen.  With its Cape Cod architecture, towering wooden water-tanks, narrow streets, and allies, and spectacular coastline of jagged rocks, the town looks like an antique map of a New England fishing village. So of course, Hollywood came and filmed classics such as Murder She Wrote, Summer of 42, East of Eden, and Same Time Next Year, to mention a few. Though these movies are of times past, not much has changed since, including the pace of life. And the locals like it this way. They call it “Mendo time.” Translated, slow down and appreciate life. 

The backdrop to the little town is an expansive preserved headland of native grasses, wild blackberry bushes, vivid purple, and orange wildflowers, and trails that guide you around the mighty Pacific Ocean.  

The village itself lies in the middle and is an eccentric art epicenter of glass, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, and photo galleries with live evening theatre productions in their Playhouse. The narrow streets are home to a mixture of historical residences, boutique shops, saloons, and restaurants. Iconic Water Towers and  Victorian houses have been transformed into cozy Inns and are peppered about behind white picket fencing. With freedom and beauty as its two muses, it’s a place that’s all art and soul. Best of all, these treasure are all within walking distance.   

converted water tower home
converted water tower home

Some come to his area for romance, cozy fires, fine cuisine, and great wine.  You can sense the majestic serenity around you, and the Christmas scented air from some of the oldest redwoods alive today. Take a stroll through a fern-carpeted canyon, discover a hidden cove, or ride horseback along a sandy beach. Each May a huge Ringling Bro’s circus-style tent is raised on the headlands for their toe tapping International Music Festival or if films are your preferred taste, such as our dearly departed resident Sydney Pollack did, the town open it’s doors and hosts a weekend of documentaries, special interests and new releases at their Film Festival each July. 

For many people, this region also offers the best possible combination of geography, weather and outdoor activities around.

Entrance into Big Rivers Estuary
Entrance into Big Rivers Estuary

A stone’s throw away from town is Big River, the longest undeveloped estuary in northern California. This tidal flowing river is  41.7 miles of mist-laden redwoods, water lilies, wildlife, and silence. It is an extraordinary place for not only the paddlers at heart but for the walkers or bikers who follow the carefully tended trail that follows the river’s bank. 

A few minutes drive north, and you can be hiking into the redwood forests of Russian Gulch, or climbing to a 27-foot waterfall. Ten minutes the other direction is the entrance into Fern Canyon at Van Damme State Park, where the ground is a blanket of giant ferns and elephant ear foliage creating an atmosphere of a rain forest-except its giant redwood trees that spreads its canopy up to the sky, and there are no monkeys.

In a place where nature puts on a grand show daily, it is, literally, a photographers utopia at every angle. Your choices are as vast as your imagination. I’m sure you already have a map in your head as you read this.

And for the oenophiles in life, the Anderson Valley’s 28 tasting rooms who happily and unpretentiously pour award-winning Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Gewurztraminer, and Sauvignon Blancs. When hunger arrives, Stone and Amber in Philo serves authentic style pizzas and salads in their Mediterranean courtyard or bring a picnic lunch as many wineries have tables in the gardens for you to enjoy.

gardens to the sea
gardens to the sea

The charm of the area is a mixture of its unspoiled beauty and all the residents whose primary goal is to preserve it for everyone to appreciate. 

Magical Mendocino is a place encapsulated in time and the perfect place to rejuvenate one’s soul.

Bites     

Frankies Ice Cream Cones offers 29 flavors and  sugar freeCoconut Bliss Bars 

Mendocino Cafe, next to the fire station is a wonderful choice for lunch on the deck 

Papa Bears Chocolate Haus on Main St. is home to outrageous confections.

Cafe Beaujolais serves lunches in their gardens with wood-fired pizzas and Cal-French cuisine dinners  in their dining room. A local favorite!

Sites

The Mendocino Arts Center Gallery offers a tantalizing glimpse into the towns local talents and has a large selection of stunning landscape photographs for sell. I love the black&whites.

Out of the World is not only a playground for kids, its for adults too. A place where science is fun, at least give the telescopes a try.

Village Sock Shop, give your feet some love, with style.

Kelly House Museum offers 2 hour guided tours about the towns history. Take a stroll of discovery.

Tips

Catch a Canoe & Bikes tooOutriggers, bikes and tours. Need I say more. Located along the bank of Big River.

Mendo Vino is the place in town to sit, relax and taste wines form our Anderson Valley Appellation. No driving required.

On the Second  Saturday  of each month,  the towns galleries and shops are open for a night of hospitality. Talk to local artist or shop owners over a glass of vino.

Little River Inn, just a few miles south, is the best place to have a beverage and watch the sunset. FYI: They make the best Bloody Marys around.

Pillows

Alegro B & B Oceanfront B&B with its own steps to Big Rivers beach.

MacCullum House is a Mendocino classic Victorian Inn with a rich history.

Brewery Gulch Inn embodies the perfect blend of luxurious accommodations, gourmet cuisine, and impeccable hospitality.