Beyond the bustle of the big city, past the traffic and noise, far from the polish of wine country and the pretense of the peninsula, there’s a place that is truly unlike any other. Mendocino, where towering redwood groves sit in cathedral-like silence, where you can walk the strand of a mile long sandy beach alone with your thoughts, where winemakers will gladly pull up a seat next to you in their garage and chat about the latest vintage, and where time moves at a pace all its own.

You can visit for a day or two – many do, and they find plenty to love and rave to their friends about. But to really discover the heart of Mendocino – this stretch of coastline that locals refer to as an island – you’ll want to take a bit longer. Here we lay out a five day itinerary that will act as an introduction to the many facets of this profoundly unique wonderland. From breweries and redwood groves to a beach made of glass and hole-in-the-wall gourmet eateries, there’s something here for everyone with a bit of adventure in their heart.

At its best, of course, Mendocino defies itineraries. It is a place where time should slip away, where you should get so caught up in the beauty of your present excursion that everything else has to wait. So take these suggestions to heart, find inspiration for your visit, but in the end, your most beautiful Mendocino memories will be the ones not on this list – the ones you stumbled upon by accident on your way to your next agenda item.

Good luck!

Goldeneye Winery of Mendocino

Take Highway 128 to Mendocino, passing through the beautiful Navarro Redwoods and Anderson Valley wine country. Your first stop should be Goldeneye – purveyors of world-class pinot noir. Tasting here is a decadent experience, and a great way to enjoy the beauty of the Anderson Valley. The tasting room is located just outside of the small town of Philo (pop. 349), with acres of sweeping vineyards around you. Definitely opt for the extended tasting here – the vineyard designate wines are a true treat.

Break up your trip through the Anderson Valley with a stop at Stone and Embers, an unassuming little pizzeria that is home to some of the best gourmet cooking in the entire county. It’s located at The Madrones, a beautiful collection of tasting rooms and shops just down the road from Goldeneye. Although it presents itself as a pizzeria, everything on the menu here is amazing – the porcini and parmesan ‘chicharrones’ are especially delightful.

Stone and Embers
Toulouse Winery

For something more low key, make your next stop Toulouse winery. If the cartoon goose on the sign doesn’t tip you off, this is a place that values fun. The owner, Vern, may be around, and will gladly chat with you about winemaking and life in the Valley if time allows. His staff is incredibly knowledgable, and great at keeping wine from getting too serious. The pinot noir is their best seller, but be sure to try some of their Alsace varietal wines as well – the pinot gris is especially refreshing on a hot summer day.

Mendocino is full of incredible redwood groves, and Hendy Woods is one of the best. On your way stop at the Apple Farm, a working farm growing twenty varieties of apple, and pick up some apples and cider (from a quaint honor-system farm stand). There are three main trails in Hendy, but jump straight to the Upper Loop, through the heart of the grove. It’s not too strenuous a hike – and it’s a great example of alluvial groves, with wide open spaces and towering trees that are utterly serene.

Redwood Grove
Little River Inn

Complete your scenic drive to the Mendocino Coast and settle at the stunning Little River Inn – perched on the edge of the pacific, with gorgeous ocean views, on-site restaurant and bar, golf course, spa, and a family charm that will welcome you home. Every room has beautiful views, but if you want something special, opt for a Seaside Luxury room. Choose one with a deck hot-tub – you’ll be here four nights, and there’s no better way to finish a long day than soaking in a hot tub while the Pacific Ocean roars beneath you.

Breakfast at the Little River Inn

Start your second day off right with a hearty breakfast at the Little River Inn. If you’re feeling like enjoying the view from your room, take advantage of their room service – we recommend eating out on your deck. Otherwise, enjoy their on-site restaurant. Everything here is good, but of particular note are Ole’s famous hotcakes and the Crab Benedict. Feel free to enjoy a mimosa, but we’d recommend saving the famous Bloody Mary for a less action-packed day.

Now it’s time to get out on the water! Just south of the village of Mendocino is Catch-a-Canoe, located on the beautiful Big River estuary – miles of protected wetlands. Catch-a-Canoe has beautiful redwood outriggers, ideal for people of all skill levels – they’re virtually impossible to flip over – as well as children, and even pets. We recommend at least four hours to truly experience the estuary – and keep your eyes peeled for baby seals, blue herons, and even river otters!

Catch-a-Canoe
Big River Beach

Undoubtedly you’ll have eyed the beautiful Big River Beach when you embarked on your paddle, and we recommend taking an hour to enjoy it fully once you get back. Park in the village of Mendocino, just behind the historic Presbyterian church, and walk down the stairs to the beach. This is a dog-friendly beach (on leash), and is great for just strolling along or lounging about.

Leave yourself a few hours to just idly stroll through the village of Mendocino, as well. Unique shops, clothing, an ice cream parlor, an historical museum, and much more can easily fill out the rest of your day. Most people just enjoy the historic Victorian style architecture, which makes this feel like a small town from New England (and it is perhaps most famous as the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove in Murder She Wrote). Don’t worry about getting lost – it’s only a few short blocks from end to end.

Mendocino, CA
Ravens Vegan Restaurant

For dinner, try something a bit different. At the Stanford Inn, just south of Big River (attached to Catch-a-Canoe), you’ll find the Ravens’ Restaurant, a vegan fine-dining establishment. Although many people recoil at the word ‘vegan’, be assured, this is cuisine done at an incredibly high level. Ardent carnivores find themselves coming back, and with an extensive Mendocino County wine list and a well-stocked bar and beautiful views, you’ll be glad you gave it a try.

Eggheads Restaurant

There’s no better introduction to Fort Bragg than the quirky eatery that is Eggheads. This Wizard of Oz themed hole-in-the-wall diner is a local and visitor favorite – the walls are adorned with memorabilia, the menu items are themed, and to get to the restroom you simply ‘follow the Yellow Brick Road’. Everything on this menu is excellent, but as the name implies, eggs are where they truly shine – if you’re a crab lover, don’t miss the Dorothy’s Revenge, a Crab Benedict that is second to none.

Dating back to 1885, the Skunk Train is a highlight of any trip to the Mendocino Coast. Take the half-day trip and you’ll travel in a vintage locomotive through towering redwood groves, over old trestle bridges, and into the very heart of Mendocino County. This is a completely unique way to experience the redwoods. For the best views, make your way to the open air car so you can feel the wind in your hair. And try to find the Train Singer to listen to his distinctive harmonica and guitar songs.

Skunk Train
Glass Beach

When you return, head just a few blocks north to the world-famous Glass Beach. This old dumping site has since become a virtual wonderland of rare sea glass – decades of the ocean’s ceaseless waves have dulled the glass into soft, colorful stones. The northern beach, although easier to access, has been all but picked clean. You’ll want to head to the southern beach, although it’s a bit harder to get to. Here you’ll find much more glass – and please do look and take pictures, but leave the glass behind for future visitors.

For dinner and some drinks, head to the North Coast Brewing Company. This is pizza and pub fare, with daily specials and a tendency towards the Cajun. The food is excellent, but it’s really just an excuse to drink the beers. North Coast is one of the oldest – and most awarded – brew pubs in the country, and it’s second to none. If you’re a fan of stouts, don’t miss the Old Rasputin Imperial, for Belgians try the La Merle, and if you just can’t make up your mind, they have a 12 beer sampler that’s well worth it.

North Coast Brewing Company
Trillium Cafe

Trillium is a newer arrival to Mendocino, replacing an old favorite – the Moosse Café – with quite a bit of success. Located in the heart of the Mendocino village, Trillium offers a contemporary take on California farmhouse cuisine. Take lunchtime to load up here, since you’ll be doing quite a bit of hiking today. If you feel like a cup of coffee, head two blocks east to the Good Life Café, which offers an assortment of wonderful coffee drinks using local Fair Trade  Thanksgiving Coffee.

One of the most beautiful day hikes is located between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, in Russian Gulch State Park. It consists of multiple loops, which will allow you to vary the length and difficulty depending on your comfort level. The high point is a stunning 36 foot waterfall that runs year round. The upper loop will take you through the unique Pygmy Forest biome, where hundred year old trees have been dwarfed to just a few feet tall, while the lower loop consists of redwood and primordial fern canyons.

Russian Gulch
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

Just north of Russian Gulch is the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. It sits on more than 300 acres of pristine coastal bluffs, and is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Mendocino County. The antique fresnel lens still operates to this day, and the lighthouse also houses a small museum where you can learn about early Mendocino history and the wreck of the historic Frolic. The lighthouse is a popular photography spot, so make sure to bring your camera – and you may want to visit around sunset for some truly spectacular views.

Wrap up your day at Patterson’s Pub, a local haunt in the middle of Mendocino. This cozy Irish pub has 28 different beers on tap, as well as a full bar. The menu is remarkably well executed – many locals eat here a few times a week. The pub is open until midnight, and they serve food until 11pm, making it one of the only places on the Mendocino Coast where you can satisfy a late-night dining urge. Highlights include the nachos (they’re huge), the kobe beef burger (it’s delicious), and the special crab melt (it’s local).

Patterson's Pub
Montgomery Woods State Park

You can leave the way you came (Highway 128), but we recommend getting off the beaten path a bit more for your departure. Head up the rural Comptche-Ukiah road, just south of Mendocino, for a winding drive through the forest. About an hour in you’ll come to Montgomery Woods, one of the best kept secrets in the State Park system. This epic grove is home to some of the largest redwood trees in the world, in a woodland setting so serene and empty it has often been described as the “cathedral of the forest”.

Just a few miles further along the road you’ll come to Orr Hot Springs, a one-of-a-kind destination spa. They offer day use, and we highly recommend breaking up your trip by taking an hour to soak in their tubs, which are fed by naturally heated mineral waters. Take a quick dip in the mountain-fed cold pool to truly refresh yourself, and spend some time wandering the grounds before you have to get back on the road.

Orr Hot Springs
Saucy Ukiah

Comptche-Ukiah road will lead you to Ukiah, after a few more miles of spectacular views and even more spectacularly curving roads. Before you head south on Highway 101 and out of Mendocino County, take a quick detour to Saucy in downtown Ukiah. This relatively-new pizzeria showcases the fresh feel of Mendocino County cuisine, with wood-fired boutique pizzas and an extensive beer and wine list.

Your five days will have come and gone far too quickly – but the good news is, once you’ve come to Mendocino once, you know it’s here. This itinerary was just the tip of the iceberg, and we’re sure we’ll be seeing you again and again over the years. And we’ll be glad to welcome you back!