Looking for all the fun things to do in Mendocino? Planning a quick weekend getaway to this town in Northern California? Read on for exactly how we spent our weekend in Mendocino and Fort Bragg!
I hadn’t even heard about Mendocino until we moved to California about a year ago [edit – we’ve been living here for six years now!]. I have a tendency to look on a map, see what’s nearby, and ask around/Google to see what the area’s all about. After some quick research and a nod of encouragement from my sister-in-law, we decided spending a long weekend in Mendocino was the perfect spot for our next mini getaway!
I honestly hadn’t realized there were plenty of things to do in Mendocino to keep us busy, busy, busy. While you can plan to chill out and spend your weekend doing a little R & R, if you’re the more active type, dontchu worry – Mendocino will fulfill all your redwood dreams and then some. Aka – the hiking’s great here.
And a few weeks later, we were off on a road trip from San Francisco to Mendocino! [Be sure to check out our drive, as we made numerous stops you wouldn’t wanna miss as you venture up Highway 1.] After a full day of exploring the coastline, we arrived in Mendo around 6pm, just in time to meet our AirBnB host (the sweetest lady, ever, more on that below), and get some dinner. Then it was a jam-packed two days in Mendocino before heading home to San Francisco.
Quick Facts about Mendocino:
+ Mendo is about a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco if you’re driving inland, or about 5-6 on Highway 1, depending on which stops you decide to make. If you’re driving up the coast, I highly encourage you to read more tips about our road trip.
+ Numerous state parks can be found here, and most require an entrance fee. Be prepared to pull out a 10 every now and then – so much natural beauty, it’s worth your morning starbucks run.
+ Fort Bragg is only a few miles north, and a great way to spend a few hours. You must wait in line for Cowlicks Ice Cream. So incredibly good.
+ There is a convenience store in town which basically has everything you need for a weekend away (minus clothes and all). I forgot a toothbrush and was able to easily pick one up on our first night. It’s also a great place to stock up on snacks.
+ Two days in the Mendocino/Fort Bragg area was perfect. We had enough to do to keep ourselves busy, but feel an extra day or two would have been overkill. A long weekend in Mendocino, 3 days at max, is perfect.
If you’re looking to take a much longer trip up/down the PCH, check out all my favorite stops on the Pacific Coast Highway – yes, all 75 of them!
I apologize in advance for all the photos – I couldn’t help myself! Mendocino is such a hidden beauty! If you live in the Bay Area or have a few extra days in San Francisco, head up north for some much needed time in the forest. Literally.
Things to do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg Glass Beach
A visit to the Mendocino area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Glass Beach. Do you remember all those photos you’ve seen on Pinterest of the beach covered in sea glass? Yea, that’s in Fort Bragg. Note that the actual beach does not live up to the photos, and if you go in expecting all colored glass, you’ll be wildly disappointed. It’s more of a mixture of rocks, sea glass, and sand. I picked out some glass for the photos – guilty!
The beach isn’t too sore on the eyes, either. 😉
Russian Gulch State Park
Spend an hour or two here, or you can easily spend a while day. I heard there was a hike to 36-foot waterfall, but when we found out it was 5 miles there and back, we opted out (we were wearing flimsy flip flops). Theres miles and miles of coastline, as well as a blowhole and headland areas. Have you been here? Let me know down in the comments if that 5-miler hike was worth it!
Witness the Sunset
Out of all the things to do in Mendocino, promise me you’ll spend a bit of time admiring the sunset. It’s true. The sunsets in California can’t be beat, and Mendocino is no exception. With the rugged coastline and the forest being so incredibly close together, you can get some great shots for sure.
Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens
47 whole acres of blossoming flowers, coastal bluffs, and sunshine. Expect to find rhododendrons, camellias, fuchsias, dahlias, magnolias, maples, succulents, begonias and more. If you’re a plant lover like myself, this will be one of your favorite things to do in Mendocino – I promise you that!
The Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens are a good place to wander for 2 hours or so. Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed (taking into account the $14 admission fee), but the ocean views made up for the gardens. A great place for nature buffs! Don’t miss the raspberry tea by the entrance at the garden cafe – I was skeptical at first because it’s unsweetened, but boy was it tasty.
Hang out by the water
These shots were taken at the botanical garden mentioned above, but basically everywhere on the coast offers views as good as these. California, you are just too damn beautiful! And my mother wonders why I moved here. 😉
Point Cabrillo Light Station
If you’re in the area, you absolutely must visit this light station. How cute is it?! Can you tell I’m just an absolute sucker for lighthouses? I honestly don’t know what it is about them, but I feel the need to visit them all!
The Point Cabrillo Light Station has been used for navigational purposes since 1909 (#wow!), and is now part of the California State Parks system. There is a short trail to reach the lighthouse, but if you haven’t caught my drift yet, it’s worth it. And really, it’s super short. No excuses. Get your coffee and go.
One of the most charming things to do in Mendocino for sure!
Explore the tiny town
For the record, downtown Mendocino is quite small. Here you’ll find a bunch of restaurants and a few quirky shops, as well as the fire station and local church. What it’s lacking in size makes up in cuteness and quaintness though! I couldn’t stop taking pictures! So much character and charm! I’d love to get a house here someday and continue exploring all the things to do in Mendocino.
Drive through the Forest
It’s literally impossible not to drive through the trees if you’re relying on a car to get around. If you’re from the Bay Area and have visited Muir Woods or other redwoods, Mendo’s forest won’t be too shocking, but still impressive to say the least. If you want to venture a bit north, halfway between Mendocino and Ukiah you’ll find Montgomery Woods, loaded with ancient redwood groves. Those are cool. Trust me.
Take in the Views
Can I just gush for a minute? When I saw these views (below) I could have sworn we somehow got teleported to SoCal or Big Sur. Um, hello, that water (!!!). Who knew Northern California had pacific ocean views like these? I’m still in shock. The amount of times I made my husband pull over on the side of the road is kinda hilarious. To me, not him. :p
My advice: pack a bathing suit, some wine, and go wild. Yolo, right?
Mendocino gets dark at night, yo. Like, really, really, really dark. Can’t see anything without a flash light dark. There aren’t many lights in town, and we hardly saw any street lights (especially not on the windy roads through the forest — be careful!).
This sets up the perfect opportunity for star gazing. No light pollution = billions of stars. Since we were staying at a private house through AirBnb (sign up here to get up to $100 off your first stay), we threw our sweatshirts on and feasted our eyes on the sky. I even attempted to get some shots – but my star photography is not up to par and I couldn’t figure it out!
I think I even saw more stars than when we were in Hawaii (shhh… the Maui gods wouldn’t be too happy I shared that).
Numerous State Parks
This little area boasts plenty of state parks for all you nature buffs, including Mendocino Headlands, Russian Gulch, Van Damme, and Point Cabrillo (as mentioned above). Each has numerous hiking trails, and some pretty scenic views. Hoping we can bring our hiking gear and take on a few trails next time!
Where to eat in Mendocino
MacCullum House: I heard people raving about the atmosphere and food, but we sadly missed this place. We ran outta time! Definitely the spot to be for a cute brunch. Kinda expensive, but kinda worth it.
Frankies: I was pretty bummed to find out Frankie’s is closed on Monday’s, the day we left it for. This small restaurant is known for both their pizza and ice cream – what could possibly be better? The patio seating looks divine for a bright sunny day! A good place to go if you’re looking for a casual dinner spot (and have people in your party who are under 21.. see below).
Patterson’s Pub: A local favorite in the area. Patterson’s is beaming from morning ’til night, and offers your normal pub fare. Prices are good, beers are flowing, and you’re sure to find an interesting crowd at the bar. The pub does not allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter, so keep this in mind if you’re bringing your kiddos along!
Don’t you just love how the green car matches that building so perfectly? Oh, just me? 😮
Cowlicks Ice Cream: Possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had. And boy do I eat a lot of ice cream. Be prepared to stand in a very long line – but trust me, this chilly treat is worth the wait.
Raspberry chocolate chunk, you have my heart. Always and forever. And those crispy handmade cones. Pure perfection. [If you look behind the counter, you’ll see them making each cone hand by hand. It’s a pretty cool process.]
Jenny’s Giant Burger: Another local favorite, and another place you’ll most likely wait in line. But hey, a place must be good enough if people stand around waiting. That, or it’s cheap, haha. Jenny’s is a bit of both. High on flavor, low on cost. My favorite combination. 😉
I was too busy stuffing my face I forgot to take a picture. #sorrynotsorry. Old fashioned burgers done right. It’s a family run establishment that has been in the area for years and years – the locals even call ahead so they don’t have to wait in line. Tiny place with about 5 tables inside and 5 outside.
Mendo Cookie Co: Warm, gooey, straight-outta-the-oven cookies, enough said. Oh, and that they have tons of flavor combinations. Oatmeal, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts, coconut, peanut butter, etc, you name it!
This is a must stop for locals, passersby and anyone visiting Fort Bragg/Mendocino. They even have a walk up window or dine in cafe type shop. My suggestion: have one person wait in line for ice cream at Cowlick, the other get some cookies, and enjoy them on line. That’s my kinda afternoon.
Goodlife Cafe and Bakery: Earthy and organic. That’s how I would describe this breakfast joint. Lots of breakfast options, some more healthy than others (beware of the pastries – they are delectable). You can tell it’s a hip spot to hang out – they place was pretty packed even at 9am.
Little River Inn: A good place for a romantical dinner (yes, I made that word up, I kinda love it). Service was a little lacking, and we were bummed we couldn’t see the sun setting. My recommendation: eat at the bar, arrive right before sunset, and you’ll be able to witness the entire spectacle while eating some Dungeness crab ravioli in sweet pea puree and sipping some vino. Still pretty romantical to me.
How to get around Mendocino:
You’ll need a car if you’re staying more than a few blocks from the main strip of tiny downtown Mendocino, and if you hope to visit any of the State Parks. Cell service isn’t the greatest, so don’t plan on using Uber or Lyft to get around. Your best bet- rent a car from San Francisco and road trip up highway 1 to Mendocino.
Where to stay in Mendocino:
Air BnB is your best friend around here. Sure, the bed and breakfasts look cozy, but they come with a hefty price tag. My husband and I stayed at the cutest little cottage in the woods, which was literally on private land in the middle of the forest. The sweetest lady welcomed us to her home, and even treated us to her famous sour cream blueberry muffins (people rave about them in the comments on AirBnB, they’re that good).
Unfortunately, she just sold the place, and is not taking any more Air BnB-ers. BUT don’t fret – there’s plenty of other notable spots on AirBnB. Have a look around and find your perfect stay!
Have you ever spent a weekend in Mendocino/Fort Bragg? What was your favorite of all the things to do in Mendocino?
And remember, Get up to $100 off your first stay with AirBnB here!