How to Spend a Weekend in Mendocino County, Northern California’s Charming Year-Round Destination

What to do, where to eat and where to stay

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how-to-spend-a-weekend-in-mendocino: houses in mendocino, california set upon a hill overlooking the water.
nathanphoto/GETTY IMAGES

Mendocino County boasts charming bed and breakfasts, storybook towns and majestic redwood trees, along with great restaurants and wineries. And did we mention the many state parks and gorgeous beaches dotting the coastline? You’d think that an area with so much to offer would be overrun with visitors, but in fact it’s the opposite—you may even find a long stretch of golden sand all to yourself! And thanks to pleasant year-round temperatures, it’s the ideal destination for a weekend getaway, no matter the season. Here’s how to spend the perfect relaxing weekend in Mendocino County.

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Walk Around the Village of Mendocino

There are many cute, small towns in Mendocino County, but the village of Mendocino is arguably the most famous. Mendocino Village is the only town on the California Coast that is a historical landmark in and of itself. The town was founded in the 1950s and is idyllic, featuring Victorian houses that are now home to bed & breakfasts, local restaurants, boutique shops and art galleries. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the town is surrounded by the Mendocino Headlands and coastal views all around.

After the end of the logging industry in the area, Mendocino had a resurgence as an artists’ colony, so check out local galleries like Highlight Gallery, get some chocolate barks from Papa Bear’s Chocolate Haus as souvenirs, and browse the local boutiques.

how to weekend in mendocino california tidepooling
Fiona Chandra

Go for a Picnic and Tidepooling on the Beach

The coast of Mendocino is dotted with beaches—so many that most of them never seem crowded and some of the hotels have their own beach access. One of the most accessible beaches is Van Damme State Beach, with facilities and a large parking lot. Van Damme is also one of the best beaches in the area to go tidepooling. Exploring tidepools during low tide is a fun way to see the creatures that make the coast their habitat.

As for the creatures you may encounter, keep an eye out for purple sea urchins. Sea urchins are a highly prized delicacy for those who have acquired a taste for their briny, umami flavor, but the population of purple sea urchins in particular have exploded lately and decimated the kelp forest, so they highly encourage you to harvest some purple sea urchins (each person is allowed to harvest 35 sea urchins with a sport fishing license). They’ve even launched the annual Mendocino Urchin Festival to educate the public and encourage them to eat these creatures (they taste a bit like oysters, if you’re into that kind of thing).

how-to-weekend-in-mendocino-california: a view of the beach with blue water crashing on the rocks.
Brendan McGuigan

Take a Hike in Nature

There are numerous state parks and natural reserves in Mendocino County which means hiking trails, waterfalls, redwoods and other natural wonders abound. The most popular state park in the area is Russian Gulch State Park which has 15 miles of hiking trails.

For easier hikes or walks, head to the Mendocino Headlands State Park or the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. From the unassuming entrance you wouldn’t know that Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has 47 acres of flowers, pine forests, ferns and coastal bluffs. There’s something to see here year-round, from blooming rhododendrons and dahlia to wild mushrooms that pop up in the fall.

Further inland at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve, a two-mile loop trail takes you on a hike among some of the tallest trees in the world.  

how-to-weekend-in-mendocino-california: an aerial shot of goldeneye vineyard with lots of greenery and a maze cut into the the land.

Explore Wineries off the Beaten Path

Head inland in Mendocino County and hit Anderson Valley, a growing wine region just north of Sonoma that still feels like an undiscovered gem. The cool climate here makes the region good for growing pinot noir grapes.

The winemakers certainly have discovered Anderson Valley, though, even if most tourists have not. We’re big fans of Duckhorn’s Goldeneye Winery, which primarily produces pinot noir and offers wine tasting experiences that can also include picnic under an oak tree overlooking the vineyard.

In Anderson Valley you can still find smaller, family-run wineries like Toulouse Vineyards. The drive to the winery off of Highway 128 is an uphill climb through lush forest and vineyards, and there’s a beautiful view from their dog-friendly deck. Toulouse has also started making vermouth and amaro from their own wines, and they are worth trying.

how to weekend in mendocino california cliff little river inn
Brendan McGuigan

Where to Stay

There are numerous inns and bed and breakfasts along the coast of Mendocino. Most offer ocean views and some have quite a history to them. Little River Inn is still run by the same family that first opened the inn in 1853 (James Dean stayed here in 1954). The property has expanded quite a bit since then and now includes two tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course, but it still retains that old Victorian charm. Little River Inn is also just a short walk from Van Damme State Beach, making it easy to go for an early morning tidepool run.

Further south, Heritage House Resort offers modern comforts in a quiet sanctuary. The rooms are sleek and contemporary, spread out across multiple buildings so each room feels like a secluded getaway and guests can enjoy the surrounding nature and coastal views.

how to weekend in mendocino california where to eat
Fiona Chandra

Where to Eat

Most restaurants in Mendocino County are independently owned, as these towns are too small for corporate chains (with the exception of Fort Bragg), so it’s easy to eat local. Cafe Beaujolais has been a favorite of locals and travelers alike, and with a new ownership and chef they manage to keep things fresh and interesting. While Cafe Beaujolais is more of an upscale establishment, the owners have also opened The Brickery, offering pizza in the garden and smashburger lunch a couple of days a week.

MacCallum House Restaurant offers fine dining in the wooden dining room of the Victorian bed & breakfast, though guests can also opt for a more sunny and casual experience on the wrap-around covered porch. The menu changes seasonally, but their popular fried chicken is available year-round. 

Picnic on the beach is always a great option, as well. Head to The Elk Store to grab some of the best sandwiches in the area and then saunter over to Greenwood Creek State Beach right across the street.

purewow author

Freelance PureWow Editor

Fiona Chandra is a freelance food and travel writer born in Indonesia and currently based in Los Angeles. She loves to explore different food and cultures in California and...