The best tourist destination in Northern California, Mendocino County. What to see, where to stay and what to do in 24 state and national parks

By Anna Veselova-SolovoniukJul 29, 2023 18:18 PMCalifornia
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The best tourist destination in Northern California, Mendocino County. What to see, where to stay and what to do in 24 state and national parks
The coast of California. Source: Photographer Pixabay/Pexels

Do you want real seclusion, silence, the distant sound of Pacific waves on the horizon and many natural attractions? Then the Northern California destination of Mendocino County definitely fits the bill.

With a very small number of inhabitants, Mendocino County in California will give you solitude in each of the 24 state and national parks. The security of natural areas is very high, so you don't have to worry about safety. The many hiking trails and biking routes make your holiday in Mendocino County active, scenic and full of experiences. It's the best Northern California destination to literally escape the hustle and bustle of the world. No matter what part of Mendocino County you're heading to, whether it's Russian Gorge Park, Handy Woods State Park, or maybe you want to spend a weekend on the Mendocino County coast, you'll always know where to stay, what to do, and what to see.

Save our Northern California, Mendocino County travel destination overview and plan your holiday or weekend with confidence.

The best tourist destination in Northern California, Mendocino County. What to see, where to stay and what to do in 24 state and national parks
Cape in Mendocino. Source: Photographer No-longer-here/Pixabay

What to do in Mendocino County, California?

Once on the land of the Pomo tribe, first of all, do not become the Europeans who settled the territory in 1800 and began to destroy and cut down the forest. Remember that the nature of Mendocino is unique, so become a participant in its protection, not its opponent.

Explore Handy Woods Park (Mendocino Headlands)

Established in 1958, Handy Woods Park is home to old-growth redwoods (over 1,000 years old) and hundreds of miles of scenic trails that run along the coast, among other places.

Choose the Mendocino Headlands Trail as a great option for exploring the park's 4.2 miles of nature. It is a must-see hiking destination in Mendocino County, California, to see the rocky cliffs with the waters of the Pacific Ocean trying to break through. The smell of the grasses is at its peak in the spring, and you can stroll along the colourful and fragrant meadows. In the depths of the park, the towering redwoods will be a refuge and a great shelter for your overnight stay if you prefer an authentic camping experience in tents or RVs. Handy Woods Campground is open for reservations all year round and, in addition to traditional accommodation, offers cabins, which can add comfort to your holiday or weekend in the Mendocino County Park.

The best time to visit the park is from April to October, with temperatures peaking in midsummer.

Hike the Fern Canyon Loop in Russian Gulch State Park

A trip to Mendocino County will be more colourful if you visit Russian Gorge State Park. Its 10.2km loop trail offers scenic views, a rest or picnic by the creek, and dense forests with redwoods reaching into the sky.

A continuation of your trip to the Russian Gorge Park in Mendocino can be a beautiful bridge that gives tourists the opportunity to observe seabirds, abalone and treasures that the waves so generously give by throwing them on the sand.

When choosing from the many things to do in Mendocino County, keep track of the parks on the official California website, which always has accurate information on weather, trail conditions and landslides.

Outrigger ride at Catch-a-Canoe

The best tourist destination in Northern California, Mendocino County. What to see, where to stay and what to do in 24 state and national parks
Ocean scenery in Mendocino. Source: Photographer JennyandtheSummerDay/Pixabay

This nature exploration and recreation experience is suitable for water and sports enthusiasts. It is best to start your walk through the natural attractions of Mendocino County upstream, where there are canoe rental stations and you can leave your car under supervision.

If you're going for a full day, pack your backpack properly, and don't forget to pack a lunch. Station staff will be happy to give you detailed instructions if your amazing experience is just beginning.

Don't be afraid to get to know the local flora and fauna without disturbing their peace.

Ride the skunk train

One of the most interesting things to do in Mendocino County, Northern California is to take a ride on the Skunk Train. Enjoy a 75-minute journey on a slow and scenic route that kids will love. The starting point is Fort Bragg. The train will take you to the mouth of Pudding Creek and back to enjoy the surroundings and the mighty shields on either side of the tracks.

Don't forget to buy a bucket of popcorn before you leave to make the nature documentary outside the window even more beautiful.

Glass Beach in Mendocino County

The best tourist destination in Northern California, Mendocino County. What to see, where to stay and what to do in 24 state and national parks
Glass beach. Source: PhotographerTfbWeb/Pixabay

What looks like a beautiful fairy tale today, in the history of the 20th century, became a terrible crime against nature. Nowadays, treasure hunting on the glass beach is one of the most popular activities in Mendocino County, California. But back in the 20th century, it was far from romantic, with locals and the surrounding area dumping household appliances, glassware and a lot of rubbish into the sea, which was sanctioned and completely legal. The former landfill, which was the third in Mendocino, was closed in 1967 and over 50 years the ocean waters have turned the glass debris into faceted, multi-coloured pebbles that glisten in the sun.

Visiting Glass Beach, tourists take away many sleek and attractive souvenirs made by the sea.

Explore 90 miles of coastline

If you want to get a little tan or lie on the soft sand, sinking your bare feet into the velvety grains of sand, visit places in Mendocino County, California, such as Jug Handle State Beach, near Fort Bragg. The low tides reveal tide pools and lagoons that are great for families and children to play in.

Bowling Ball Beach, located in the southern part of the county, is a very popular holiday destination in Mendocino County. The monumentality and picturesqueness of its rounded formations are best seen at low tide. Big River Beach, in Van Damme State Park, offers plenty of room for activities and imagination.

Dress warmly when heading to the beach areas, as the maximum temperature in midsummer is 66 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll always have time to take off your socks and roll up your trousers, so you'll have a long enjoyment of the beaches.

Mendocino Botanical Garden

Don't forget to make a reservation before you go. The botanical garden is one of the most popular places in Mendocino. A walk through the 45 acres of landscaped and wild areas is a great pleasure, provides many unique photos and is considered the best thing to do in Mendocino County, California. The garden overlooks a picturesque promontory and has a cafe on site. Be sure to include this point in your weekend in Mendocino, especially if you are heading to Fort Bragg.

Mendocino food tour

When heading out to places to visit in Mendocino County, California, mark the points where you can eat and drink on your itinerary in advance. This is especially true for an authentic holiday option when you are far away from the towns. We will offer options for comfortable tourist stops in Mendoza below.

The village of Mendocino

The village of Mendocino, which serves as the city centre, is not like other central cities. Rather, it is a very calm and colourful Victorian-style place that will offer you some unique shops, magnificent panoramas and cafes for tasty snacks.

Let's walk together through the culinary highlights of Mendocino village:

  • Cafe Good Life - be careful with your appetite, because the aroma of this bakery is carried for a mile and people flock here from morning to evening. So you'll probably have to stand in line, but it's worth it. Take a few items from the menu to go so you don't have to turn around when you get hungry again.
  • Fog Eater Cafe - Vegetarians will appreciate the plant-based Cali cuisine served at this colourful cafe.
  • Cafe Beaujolais - Fancy a gourmet French-style dinner? Then come to the 1893 farmhouse in the evening and explore the menu. And at lunchtime, you can enjoy a balanced pizza baked in a wood-fired oven.

Anderson Valley

Unique oases among the green hills look like picturesque bright paintings with a rich green frame. Anderson Valley is one such place, surrounded by small vineyards and sloping hillsides.

If you love wine tasting, you'll linger in this sparkling area. Dozens of winemakers will open up a wide range of gastronomic possibilities.

  • "Fathers and Daughters" - is an example of a stunning cellar where the wine list is supported by farmhouse snacks. The terraces located at the top of the vineyard add charm and freedom to the tasting experience.
  • Lichen Estate is a 203-acre estate in the heart of the Anderson Valley, between Boonville and Philo. Here, the wine plays with flavours in the sun.
  • Toulouse Vineyards - handcrafted wines surrounded by the warmth and care of professional winemakers.
  • Goldeneye - in addition to the reserved wine tasting, you can use the services of the store and pick up a good wine for your upcoming tourist trip to Mendocino County, Northern California.

Boonville

With a population of 1,035 people, of course, everyone will know you're a tourist, but that's only a plus. You'll get plenty of advice on where to go, what to do and where to eat.

Every shop in Bonneville is eye-catching: from antique shops to grocery stores (with local specialities). If you want unique souvenirs and home furnishings, you'll find them at Farmhouse Mercantile.

Here are a few culinary spots that are definitely worth a visit when travelling to this Northern California tourist destination:

  • Pennyroyal Farm - wine and cheese, what could be better than this combination, and the handmade farm cheese is just a fabulous treat to pair with bubbly.
  • Boonville Hotel and Restaurant - you can combine business with pleasure. Good cuisine and comfortable rooms will help you to explore the town with many attractions.
  • Disco Ranch is a great store to stock up on wine from various wineries in the area and buy delicious meat and cheese delicacies.

Apple farm in Filon

You simply must find a dirt road that will lead you to a fabulous orchard with the most delicious peaches, corn, apples and other fruits. Every day on the farm, you can buy aromatic fruits picked from local trees.

Philo Apple Farm serves local stores, supplying products throughout the county, and you can enjoy varieties such as: Black Twig, Cherry Cox, Crimson Gold, Fireside, Fox Help, Cinnamon Spice, Fireside, depending on the time of year. Here you have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the offer of a hospitable host and stay for a couple of days for a tour and enjoy juicy fruits and products made from them.

Noyo Harbour

This fishing spot is located near Fort Bragg and is one of the best places in Mendocino County to try the freshest seafood expertly prepared by local chefs.

  • Noyo Fish Company is a seafood restaurant with freshness that is identifiable as just caught. Dishes of salmon, tuna, halibut, sea bass, steelhead and shell delicacies are a genuine delight for visitors. And fish tacos are the most popular snack dish.
  • Princess Seafood Deli and Market - seafood served with feminine care and warmth. The store is run by women, as well as catching everything on the shelves. You can buy: crab meat, nesting shrimp, wild shrimp, scallops and Humboldt Bay oysters. Ready-made products such as smoked fish and sashimi are a great option for travelling snacks. With a cold beer on tap, it's hard to pass up this offer.
  • The Wharf - not only a stunning lunch or breakfast awaits you on the pier, with a water view. This hotel-restaurant can be safely considered for an overnight stay. Comfortable and modern rooms will allow you to enjoy local delicacies for longer.

Where to stay in Mendocino County, Northern California

If you prefer an authentic holiday, you'll find great camping options for both tents and RVs in almost every one of the many parks on the California website, and some offer cottages. But, if you want the ultimate in comfort, consider the stunning places and resorts to stay in Mendocino. With the help of complexes that have a very good location, you can cover most of the attractions in the area and reduce the time spent looking for local delicacies, as, most often, they are already collected in the restaurant on the territory of the hotels.

Little River Inn

The atmosphere of the Little River Inn is filled with sea views, Victorian-style architecture and hospitality that envelops you in home-like care. Conveniently located, right on Highway 1, it's a great place to travel in all 4 directions on your way back to your overnight base. But, we recommend spending at least a day just on site to enjoy the chef's gourmet food and the picture area, which is so popular with children, because everything is done for their comfort. And for adults, there's a bar nearby where you can have a good time having fun with local visitors.

Address: 7901 N. Highway One Little River, California 95456

Thatcher Hotel

Hopland is home to a sophisticated hotel with an aristocratic library and modern rooms. If wine tasting is part of your trip, this is a great accommodation option.

There is plenty to do on the grounds of the Thatcher Hotel, as well as in the surrounding area. The library on the ground floor is perfect for a quiet moment with a book or a photo shoot against the backdrop of bookshelves and lacquered woodwork. The bar-saloon will welcome you with a variety of cocktails and wine list. Bring a cowboy hat to comply with the dress code. Morning coffee and a croissant in the café will make your morning a good one. There's an antique shop right down the street from the hotel that offers souvenirs and unique items.

Inn at Newport Ranch

Hikers will appreciate this authentic base with 10 rooms, 2,000 acres of private property and 25 miles of trails. It's easy to retreat and find your place of inspiration. A good selection of services, especially for organising activities at the best place to stay in Mendocino, California, will help you not to waste time looking for such, just ask the manager.

Here you can easily fulfil one of the main purposes - to plant a tree. A sequoia is planted for each guest, or you can do it yourself.

Mendocino Grove

This type of stop will appeal to both lovers of tent holidays and fans of modern comfort. The Mendocino Grove glamping site has 60 areas with premium comfort tents. There are double beds, relaxation chairs, and an amazing campfire atmosphere created by live music.

Stanford Inn

Climb to the top of a hill one mile from the village of Mendocino and you'll find yourself in a stunning place to stay in Mendocino County. The Stanford Inn will make sure you have an active and relaxing stay. You can practice yoga every morning or go on an organised canoe tour, go mushroom picking in the woods with a guide and a professional in this area, and a meditation class can perfectly end your day. A vegetarian breakfast is included in your booking.

When is the best time to go travelling in Mendocino County, Northern California

Winter - perfect for whale watching and boating.

The annual Whale Festival is a great reason to visit the county for a weekend.

Spring and summer are the time for scenic walks, comfortable hikes and the Mendocino Music Festival. Take a holiday and do all kinds of water sports and cycling.

Autumn - harvesting and tasting new wine. The beginning of the change of nature's outfit and an expanded seasonal menu in all restaurants and cafes. The best time for licensed fishing and good catches.

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