Updated January 2024
Midway between California’s Bay Area and its border with Oregon sits Mendocino, a town rich with a stunning coastline, beautiful lodging options, abundant flora and fauna, and impressive dining options.
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While it makes a great stop on a longer trip through Northern California’s coast or down the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s worthy of a trip in its own right thanks to an array of things to see, do and experience.
Adventure lovers will have no shortage of options for hiking, biking, or kayaking, but you can just as easily book a room at one of the area’s tranquil resorts or inns for a relaxing, adrenaline-free getaway. And while nature is a highlight in the area, Mendocino also has plenty of available cultural and historical experiences and a charming downtown to wander.
This list of Mendocino California things to do captures something for everyone, from wine tasting to museums to state parks and beyond. I guarantee they’ll help you fall in love with this wild corner of California’s coast.
What is Mendocino California known for?
Above all else, Mendocino Ca is known for its resplendent Redwoods and coastal scenery, but its cozy inns, glass-bottom beaches, and botanical gardens are all standout features, too.
How many days do you need in Mendocino?
The answer to this question depends on personal preference. There are more than enough Mendocino California things to do to fill a weekend, but if you want to slow things down and relax at a beautiful resort or inn, you can easily spend longer.
Planning a Trip to Mendocino? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Mendocino:
- Heritage House Resort and Spa, for the best luxury hotel
- Little River Inn, for a classic Mendocino stay
- Brewery Gulch Inn, for the best ocean views
- Mendocino Grove, for the best glamping stay
The 15 Best Things to Do in Mendocino CA
1. Explore Charming Downtown Mendocino
You won’t run out of things to do in Downtown Mendocino Ca, which puts beautiful art, fascinating history, and standout food right at your fingertips. Among the attractions that should be on your list are the Ford and Kelley House Museums and the Temple of Kwan Tai. You can also visit several attractions on foot, making downtown easy to explore.
2. Go Hike in Russian Gulch State Park
Covering more than 1,000 acres, Russian Gulch State Park is a hiker’s paradise. Visitors have several trails to choose from, among the most popular of which is the 6.2-mile Russian Gulch Fern Canyon and Waterfall Trail Loop. The area is also popular for birding, so you’re likely to encounter some local fauna in addition to an abundance of trees, ferns, and other plant life.
Address: CA-1, Mendocino, CA 95460
3. Go Kayaking Up Big River
For a special experience, rent a boat from Catch-a-Canoe for a trip up the Big River Estuary. The outfitter offers both single and tandem kayaks that are perfect for boating newbies, providing a great way to get up close to the area’s spectacular natural beauty. Catch-a-Canoe also specializes in redwood outriggers and offers several variations of Polynesian-inspired watercraft.
4. Stroll the Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino Headlands State Park, which surrounds Mendocino on three sides, has something for everyone. Its gorgeous coastline, tucked-away beaches, and abundant trails provide opportunities for activities ranging from hiking, surfing, and fishing to photography and painting. Taking a walk here is a perfect activity in any season.
5. Go Wine Tasting in the Anderson Valley
Anderson Valley may only be 15 miles long, but it packs a big punch, with more than 30 unique wine-tasting experiences available to visitors. The coolest wine-growing region in California, it’s home to grapes used to produce a wide variety of wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, to name just a few. A helpful guide on where to sip and stay in the valley.
6. Take a Bike Ride on Big River Haul Road
Connecting Big River Beach and the Mendocino Woodlands State Park is Big River Haul Road, which is a dirt and gravel trail that you can bike along for several miles. The best part? You’ll have views of the Big River estuary and its varied wildlife, including birds, seals, and otters.
Want to Plan More of Your Time Here? Read my weekend guide to Mendocino.
7. Hop On a Whale-Watching Tour
Take a charter boat out to get an exciting up-close look at majestic California Gray Whales as they migrate from Alaska to Mexico and back between November and April. The whales swim close to the shore, meaning even a short boat ride out gives you a great chance of a sighting. Whale watching is a great activity for visitors of all ages.
8. Take a Trip Up to Fort Bragg
Just 10 miles up the coast from Mendocino sits Fort Bragg, a thriving coastal town with lots to offer adventure, culture, and cuisine. Make sure not to miss Glass Beach, which is dotted with colorful sea glass, or Princess Seafood, whose fish market specializes in fresh, sustainable seafood.
9. See Sunset from Mendocino Bay Viewpoint
Take panoramic views of Mendocino from this public viewpoint, a popular spot for painting, picnicking whale-watching, and weddings. The short trail provides some of the best views along the coast, as well as a view of downtown Mendocino to the north.
10. Browse the Art at Mendocino Art Center
Established in 1959, the Mendocino Art Center boasts exhibition galleries for emerging and established arts and offers classes and studio space overlooking the ocean. Exhibitions and the gallery store are open from Thursday to Monday, offering visitors a chance to peruse artwork from Northern California artists and those from all over the country.
Address: 45200 Little Lake St, Mendocino, CA 95460
11. Hike the Pygmy Forest in Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
Head from the rugged coastline through the pygmy forest on Jug Handle State Natural Reserve’s Ecological Staircase Trail, which tells the area’s unique story of geological succession. You’ll pass bluffs, a beach, a historic bridge, and redwoods on the way to the forest in a trip of about 2.5 miles one-way.
Address: CA-1, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
12. Visit the historic Point Cabrillo Light Station
Constructed between 1908 and 1909, this historic lighthouse provided crucial illumination during the early 20th century, when lumber demand put local maritime commerce at an all-time high. Today in the area, you can visit museums, spot seals, whales, and sea lions, and take hiking trails through coastal prairie and bluffs.
Address: 13800 Point Cabrillo Dr, Mendocino, CA 95460
13. Spot Marine Life from Van Damme State Park
Whether you’re hiking, jogging, biking, or boating through Van Damme State Park, you’re bound to spot some aquatic fauna. Once part of the lumber mill town Little River, the park now features a protected cove where visitors can launch kayaks, helping them get up close and personal with the local wildlife.
14. Spend the Day at Caspar Headlands State Beach
Two miles north of Russian Gulch sits Caspar Headlands State Beach, home to an expanse of undeveloped beaches bordering the headlands and spectacular ocean views. Swimming here (with caution) is an option, as is hiking, with several nearby trails leading to coastal vistas.
Address: Co Rd 409, Caspar, CA 95420
15. Enjoy the Local Mendocino Farmers Market
Held on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. between May and the end of October, the Mendocino Farmers Market brings together the best of the area “from farm, ranch, and sea.” It’s conveniently located right downtown and features fresh local produce, meat, eggs, olive oil, and baked goods.
Where to Stay in Mendocino
Mendocino Grove is the perfect place to try glamping, with well-appointed sites that feature tents on wooden platforms, heated beds, fire pits with grilling grates, picnic tables, and leather butterfly chairs. In the way of activities, there are bocce courts, daily yoga, hammocks, nearby canoe rentals, and games on loan. Book the best rates here.
The family-run Little River Inn has been welcoming guests to the Mendocino coast for five generations and offers a golf course, tennis courts, and endless opportunities to explore the area’s natural beauty. It also has board games and DVDs that guests can borrow, ensuring there’s plenty to do whether you want to stay in and relax or go out and explore. Book the best rates here.
Unwind to stunning coastal views and immerse yourself in unspoiled nature at the 37-acre Heritage House Resort & Spa. The resort boasts rooms, suites, and private houses in a style it describes as “rustic luxury,” and each room sits next to gardens and a cliffside staircase that descends to the beach, giving you easy access to explore. Book the best rates here.
Overlook the Mendocino coast at the 11-room Brewery Gulch Inn & Spa, which was constructed from eco-salvaged redwood and borders 48,000 acres of unoccupied nature. Food is a focus here, and meals—included with the room rate—incorporate locally sourced and organic ingredients. Book the best rates here.
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