Not on the way to anything, at the end of HWY 128 is The Village of Mendocino. The officially unofficial center of Mendocino County. And, not unlike the revolutionary Naturalists and Hippies that preceded them, this settlement is a magnet for artists, musicians, writers, and wine lovers who come from around the world seeking inspiration. It’s also here you can find the best wines that Mendocino County’s 10 AVAs have to offer in tasting rooms, restaurants, wine shops, spas, and Inns.
At the beginning of this series, I mentioned that Northern California’s Mendocino County has historically attracted famous and influential iconoclasts. Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jack London are a few of the free thinkers of the late 19th Century who made regular visits to this region. I also expressed how Mendocino County has become the frontrunner of the Post-Modern “Back to the Land” movement in California wine, beer, and spirits and that the Anderson Valley is ground zero for Mendocino’s winemaking and “vinography.”
Winetraveler Tip: Looking to fly into an airport near Mendocino County? Santa Rosa (STS) is roughly 80 miles away. Sacramento (SMF) and San Francisco (SFO) are the next closest approximately 130 miles away. You can get updates on flight deals into any of these airports here. Consider renting a car and driving around this beautiful region. Take a look at rental car options on Expedia here.
The History of Mendocino Village
Mendocino Village, on the other hand, was once a haven for sailors and lumberjacks who worked at its thriving seaport and various logging operations. Settled in the mid- to late-1800s, the houses and businesses were built in the Victorian and Gothic architectural style popular at the time, and the now historic thoroughfares were lined with raucous saloons and flophouses.
Where To Stay in Mendocino
Today you’ll find luxurious inns, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants occupying these once infamous abodes, offering a slightly more civilization sort of hospitality, making Mendocino Village the ideal place to stay and enjoy the bounty of this less-traveled part of California.
Nestled on a small, hilly peninsula carved out by the Pacific Ocean and surrounded on all three sides by coastal bluffs rests this spectacle of nature that arguably rivals the revelry that Big Sur or Yosemite evoke. Amid this dramatic landscape is downtown Mendocino with its Main Street that overlooks Mendocino Headlands State Park, where wildflowers and scrub blanket the edge of town and zigzagging trails that lead to secluded beaches and benches with views of spouting whales and sea lions. Here you’ll see why this Village is referred to as the crown jewel of Mendocino County.
Things To Do in Mendocino
Don’t panic! This isn’t an ode to Robert Louis Stephen’s and Jack London’s life and travels. There are plenty of activities to indulge one’s oenophilic tendencies, starting with a visit to Smithwood Mercantile, a wine and provisions shop dedicated to offering exceptionally unique finds that showcases an extensive and well-curated wine and craft beer selection. You’ll also find eclectic items you never knew you needed to assist you in exploring Mendocino’s beaches, redwoods, and trails. Here their mantra is, “Mendocino is more than just a destination; it’s a way of life.
Sightseeing while visiting Mendocino village is a must, and in the middle of town is the beautiful and cozy Trillium Cafe and Inn with an outside deck with ocean views and a beautiful garden filled with planted culinary herbs, veggies and endless flowers. They serve the best organic, quality ingredients the region has to offer paired with caringly curated wines from local vintners. For a taste of Italy–alla Mendocino–stop by Luna Trattoria for seriously authentic northern Italian cuisine sourced from Mendocino’s abbondanza.
Moving on you’ll definitely want to visit the Albion River Inn for what Wine Spectator deems – “The best combination of food, wine, service, and view on California’s North Coast.” The Albion River Inn’s wine list is the kind that #Winetravelers will instantly recognize as having been built by a wine lover with knowledge and appreciation for the vine. The wine list is updated weekly and is continuously growing. In addition to its award-winning wine selection, they have an extensive spirits offering of exquisite inebriants sourced locally and from around the world. Including 224 whiskeys (150 from Scotland alone), along with 44 Tequilas, 33 brandies, 21 vodkas and much more.
For an elevated dining and lodging experience drive south on HWY 1 to Elk, for a stay at the Michelin starred Harbor House Inn. Here you’ll find laid-back luxury living in a serene sanctuary overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Inn’s intimate dining room has unobstructed views of the coastline and ocean-chiseled rock formations that are so close you feel as though you can touch them from your chair. These views are only surpassed by the wonders you’ll be presented on every plate of Chef Matt Kammerer’s exquisitely handcrafted eight to twelve-course tasting menu. These culinary gems are comprised of meticulously crafted freshly caught, harvested, and foraged elements. Mr. Kammerer was formerly executive sous chef at three Michelin starred Saison in San Francisco and has been awarded Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef. At the same time, the Inn has been deemed by Travel + Leisure Magazine as one of North America’s best hotels.
Conversely, if you are the restless-type and have to keep moving, head to Fort Bragg. As its name implies, Fort Bragg was established as a military outpost that the Army has long since abandoned. To get there from Elk or Mendocino Village travel north along HWY 1’s corkscrew roads and coastline vistas through mountain passes paralleling patches of vineyards, farmland, redwoods forests, and beaches of glass. YES, GLASS. Glass Beach is one of three beaches in Fort Bragg abundant with sea glass washed up from years of dumping garbage just off the coastline. Yuck! But now the beaches sparkle as brightly as the Pacific Ocean, and visitors are discouraged from “cleaning up” or pocketing this rare rubbish as a souvenir. I know there is a sustainability allegory in this conundrum, but I need more time to think about it, and you probably will too.
Another beautiful and equally distinctive way to experience the Mendocino Coast is to book a seat on The Skunk Train, whose tracks were laid to transport lumber in the 1800s. Now you can ride the rail and enjoy fresh Dungeness crab along with Mendocino Vino as you crack and chug through old-growth redwood groves, remarkable tunnels and over scenic trestle bridges.
It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine, or in this case, it takes a lot of great wine to make a great beer. So, make your last stop the North Coast Brewing Company. This is a destination for both novice and connoisseur beer lovers. Founded in 1988 as a brewpub and 1 year before Roederer Estate produced its first sparkling wine Cuvée, L’Ermitage. The North Coast Brewing Company is where local winemakers and vineyard managers stop for a beer and a burger when coming and going from vineyard to winery. On any given day, you’ll be offered 13 year-round beers, 4 seasonal beers, 3 Barrell Aged beers, as well as 18 Reserve beers that are produced quarterly. With a restaurant and performance venue dedicated to Jazz and music education, this is the place to be in Fort Bragg.
The above suggestions are only a few things to do on the Mendocino Coast. For a deeper dive into the region click here, and check out the following additional great activities and destinations within Mendocino County:
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
- Point Arena Lighthouse
- Mendocino County Farmers Market
- Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park
- Kelley House Museum, Mendocino
- Van Damme State Park, Mendocino
- Ford House Visitor Center & Museum
- Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino Coast
- Mackerricher State Park, Fort Bragg
- Little River Golf Course
- Mendocino Art Center
- Jug Handle State Nature Reserve, Mendocino Coast
- Highlight Gallery, Mendocino
- Ross Ranch
- Mendocino Theatre Company, Mendocino
- The Temple of Kwan Tai, Mendocino
- Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too
Additional Events, Wine Tasting, Lodging, and Dining on the Mendocino Coast
- Celebrate Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay at the Mendocino White Wine Festival, February 22-23, 2020
- Contemplate Pinot Noir at Pinot Noir Festival May 15-17, 2020
- Taste the Best of Mendocino at Mendocino
- Mendocino Hotel Restaurant
- Heritage House Resort
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