On the California coast, Mendocino is where the river meets the sea. In addition to its lush forests, crashing surf, magnificent headlands, and tide pools teeming with marine life, Mendocino is indeed a picturesque former logging and sawmill town situated along Highway 1.
If you’re a traveler or just looking for things to do in Mendocino with your family, this is not only a gorgeous place to visit. It’s also home to an enviable collection of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Everything from award-winning wines to delectable seafood dishes to simple fare and desserts geared to capturing your Instagram eye is available here.
This vacation destination will not only charm you with its natural beauty but also with its quaint architecture.
Visiting other destinations in California? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 11 Must-Try Tustin Restaurants
- 8 Best Fort Bragg, CA Restaurants
- The 7 Best Oceanside, CA Restaurants
- The 21 Best Restaurants in Costa Mesa
- 7 Must-Try Cambria, CA Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Vallejo Restaurants
- 15 Must-Try Sanibel Island Restaurants
- 10 Best Berkeley Restaurants
- 9 Must-Try Pier 39 Restaurant
- 8 Must-Try Paso Robles Restaurants
- 5 Fun Things To Do In Dunsmuir CA
- 10 Best Things To Do In Pleasanton CA
- Hike Russian Gulch State Park
- Spend A Night At The Glendeven Inn & Lodge
- Visit Big River Beach
- Visit The Kelley House Museum
- Visit Van Damme State Park
- Visit The Mendocino Art Center
- Visit the Mendocino Farmers' Market
- Venture Into The Pygmy Forest
- Visit Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
- Ride The Skunk Train Railbikes
- Explore Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Visit The Ford House Museum
- Hike Or Bike Big River Haul Road
- Kayak Big River
- Visit The Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Visit The Temple Of Kwan Tai
- Go Wine Tasting at Roederer Estate
- Go Whale Watching (In Season)
18 Amazing Things To Do In Mendocino, California
Hike Russian Gulch State Park
CA-1, Mendocino // +17079375804
I was a little hesitant to visit Russian Gulch State Park. I did hear so many good things about it, but I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived. Honestly, it’s one of the best outdoor experiences you could ever have in Mendocino County, in my opinion.
There are several trails available if you just want to walk the coast. Since it is flat and wheelchair accessible, the Coastal Trail is a good place for a stroll. Due to its paved surface and the smooth path it can also be enjoyed by those with mobility issues.
There are some beautiful ocean views along this trail, the most famous point of interest in the park. During your hike, you can also stop at one of the picnic tables in this area for a picnic lunch or a brief break.
Spend A Night At The Glendeven Inn & Lodge
8211 North // +17079370083
I loved my stay at the Mendocino Glendeven Inn and Lodge. The atmosphere was so cozy and peaceful, the price was reasonable, plus they are pet-friendly. I stayed in a “studio cottage,” and it was perfect for two people. There are larger units available for bigger groups and a poolside barbeque area and petting zoo area.
This Mendocino lodge perfectly captures what keeps people in the area, the peace of mind and the beauty. The hotel sits on a wooded hillside outside the umbrageous town of Mendocino and looks out over the lush redwood forest.
It’s clear why this town attracts so many visitors, from those who venture here for wine tasting to those who come to hike, enjoy river rafting, or simply relax in one of the historic inn’s rowing boats. And spending at least a night in this fairy lodge should absolutely be on your list of things to do in Mendocino.
Visit Big River Beach
A friend from Santa Rosa, California, who was living in Mendocino County, talked about how Big River Beach was her favorite swimming spot when she first moved there. I get what she was talking about once I visited the place myself. Large, flat rocks were present on the river beach, thus making it a wonderful place for jumping into the cold water.
Being right along the ocean makes Big River unique in that it is constantly changing. Strong Pacific waves continually deposit and erode sand as they collide with the river current.
You can explore many different beach spots, add or remove sand depending on the tides, and enjoy this bank-filled erosion and sand deposition.
Visit The Kelley House Museum
45007 Albion St // +17079375791
Mendocino is dotted with well-aged homes, many of which can be seen from the street because the whole town is a Historic Preservation District. The Kelley House Museum offers historical walking tours on weekends so you can learn about the preserved homes.
Two-hour walking tours explore Mendocino’s pioneering history of the 1850s and highlight its historic structures.
I had a guided tour on Saturday, October 31st, for the Halloween edition of the Kelley House Museum’s “Hauntings and Hallowed Histories” tour.
It’s no surprise that I jumped at this chance right away, as I am fascinated by ghost stories in general, but especially by historical sites in which hauntings have occurred.
Visit Van Damme State Park
8001 CA-1 // +17079375804
If you can’t make a camping trip to Northern California, there are many options for venturing into the heart of the forest and experiencing the splendor of the redwoods. One of the best things to do in Mendocino is visiting Van Damme State Park, a forest preserve with accessible trails, a wheelchair-friendly campground, and even an accessible beach.
The park’s signature hike, Fern Canyon Scenic Trail, traverses along the lush banks of the Little River for 2.5 miles. Fern Canyon Scenic Trail connects with other hiking trails to explore deeper into the canyon thanks to its thick canopy and the constant sound of moving water.
A protected cove at Van Damme State Park attracts beginner divers who explore the shoreline, viewing several species of fish, including surf perch, cabezon, kelp greenlings, California sheep heads, sculpins, and beaked sculpins.
The Highland Meadows Campground within Van Damme State Park provides many campsites in the heart of Northern California to make your escape one to remember.
Camping opportunities vary from newly constructed, premium pull-through RV sites to sites that cater to your tent along with those for your horses. You’ll have a memorable experience with easy access to attractions and amenities in the area.
Visit The Mendocino Art Center
45200 Little Lake St // +17079375818
As an essential part of the preservation and revitalization of Mendocino Village, I’m a big fan of the Mendocino Art Center. The Art Center hosts prominent artists and professional instructors and offers more than 150 workshops each year covering ceramics, sculpture, and fine art.
The Mendocino Art Center offers community workshops each year highlighting different featured artists. Their “open studio time” is also a good time for students to visit. Exhibits are constantly being added to the center, which is located in Mendocino Village.
There are also many galleries, restaurants, historical museums, and other attractions nearby.
Make sure you include this on your list of things to do in Mendocino if you or anyone in your group is into art. They will thank you later.
Visit the Mendocino Farmers’ Market
The Mendocino farmers’ market runs every Friday between noon and 2 pm in historic downtown Mendocino. Live music is performed every evening at the market, and fresh fruits, nuts, and crafts are available for purchase. Main Street is lined with historic homes and cottages that surround the farmers’ market. Mendocino celebrates the second Saturday of the month as well.
In addition to the Taste of Mendocino event, which serves food from participating local restaurants at two locations throughout town, art galleries are open for art lovers, a used bookstore sale is held at the historic city hall with over 30 vendors, and features live musical performances. This is your ultimate farm to fork destination, with such an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Venture Into The Pygmy Forest
8001 CA-1 // +17079375804
Located within the Van Damme State Park, the Pygmy Forest is home to a series of tree stumps that are no taller than three feet, and a visit here is one of the best things to do in Mendocino. Trees develop vertical roots as they grow, and when these roots hit bedrock, the trees stop growing. When humans then remove the trees, the remaining root structures look like stumps.
In this forest, however, there are several trees that have grown in height beyond three feet, making for an amazing photo opportunity that will have you believing you’re in a land far away from Northern California. Some of the photos I took are amazing!
Visit Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
CA-1 // +17079375804
Mendocino County’s Fort Bragg is around 20 miles from the city and a prime destination for tourists visiting the area. Inviting year-round, Fort Bragg is just as inviting during its mild climate in winter as it is during any other part of the year.
With several parks and campgrounds in the area, including the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, Porter Creek Campground, and Ten Miles Park Campground, visitors can camp out for the entire weekend if they choose.
One of my favorite travel destinations in Mendocino County is the award-winning Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. Hidden along the coast of Northern California, this trail is a feat of nature and a gift to travelers.
As with all trails in Mendocino County, the three-mile stretch comes with rugged terrain and coastal views to boot. Along the way, you’ll have to make your way across different terrains of sandstone – which makes for breathtaking views unlike any other on the planet.
Ride The Skunk Train Railbikes
Even before you arrive at the Skunk Train station in Fort Bragg, the distinctive name is sure to intrigue you. The train dates to the 1880s when the Fort Bragg Railroad was founded as a means of transporting timber. It acquired its unusual nickname in the 1920s, when a combination of gas-powered engines and stoves burning crude oil to keep passengers warm produced a pungent odor reminiscent of skunks.
Whenever possible, everyone should experience a skunk train railbike. Mendocino has one of the most beautiful coastlines in California. The steep rolling hills covered in redwoods are unbelievable. To be able to ride on the old steam engines through parts of the hike-only section of the forest is worth every penny.
Explore Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino // +17079375804
The Mendocino coast is all about the awe-inspiring and lengthy views of nature. This stretch of coastline offers its sights to anyone willing to stroll along the sandy beaches and wooden boardwalks that lead out from quaint Mendocino Village.
One of the best things to do in Mendocino is to visit Big River Beach, which offers endless beaches for exploring, relaxing, and taking in the sights. Make Big River Beach part of your Mendocino vacation itinerary by extending your stay a few extra days.
Know this: Bluffs along the Mendocino Coast are fragile due to erosion and may give way under your weight. Whenever you walk in a park or overlook along the coast, you should stay off the cliff or bluff edges.
Visit The Ford House Museum
45035 Main St // +17079375397
My visit was all the more interesting, as I spent most of it in a mild state of shock. That’s because I had never heard about any of this stuff before. In other words, I wasn’t expecting any of it, and that’s because Ford House Museum serves as a museum and tourist center at the same time.
Jerome Ford and his bride Martha built the house in 1854 as their home for themselves and the first sawmill in Mendocino.
Len Peterson, a craftsman who is local to Mendocino, has made a scale model of the county as it used to be in 1890. There are historical photos and artifacts on display that document the town’s past. Browse the exhibits and watch videos on a variety of topics.
If you decide to join a docent-led tour or talk while you are there, you will learn a great deal about the natural history, flora, and fauna of the area. You can schedule a tour in advance by contacting staff.
Hike Or Bike Big River Haul Road
A ten-mile-long road connects Big River Beach and Mendocino Woodlands State Park. In summer, you can bike or hike along the unpaved road and pick blackberries along the way. This trail is also ideal for horseback riding.
I really enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the haul road, with lots of wildflowers in season and many birds to observe, from kingfishers to cormorants and blue herons. There is a horse camp along the route where travelers can stay overnight.
Kayak Big River
Mendocino // +17079375804
A trip to Big River is also one of the best things to do in Mendocino because of its impressive setting for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Approximately eight miles long, it is a calm, class one waterway. The watercraft rentals will allow you to make the most of your time in Mendocino.
You may want to consider renting a stable redwood outrigger canoe. Each one is hand-crafted from wood repurposed from old redwood barns and available in various sizes.
My visit was all about kayaking. It was fun to take a two-hour tour on the Big River with Mendocino Sea Kayaking and Outfitting.
They usually cost around $50 per person, including equipment rental; generally, you’ll have to put down a deposit or pay the total price ahead of time.
Visit The Point Cabrillo Light Station
The Point Cabrillo Light Station is one of the most beautiful lighthouses I’ve visited. The extreme isolation and decay of the Mendocino coastlines made this lighthouse a romantic wonderland.
Due to the isolation of the Point Cabrillo lighthouse, unlike nearly every other lighthouse in California, it is no longer used as a navigation aid and can be viewed whenever visitors wish. Also, it is possible to volunteer at the light station for five hours every week to help clean up and restore it.
Visit The Temple Of Kwan Tai
The Temple of Kwan Tai is dedicated to the Chinese god of war. The beautiful temple was originally built in the late 19th century, but was destroyed by fire in 1902.
The temple was then rebuilt, but tragically fell into disrepair until it was restored by the World Center of Compassionate Cultivation in 2001. A California Historic Landmark, the temple is thought to be the first Chinese Joss House in rural California.
It is a Chinese shrine run by a Taoist priest that offers many different activities. Despite the fact that I do not belong to this particular religion, they were kindly willing to share ideas on how to find inner peace. I’ve never visited a temple dedicated to Tai Chi or the Chinese god of war before, so this experience was exciting. Whatever your spiritual preference is, stopping here should be among your things to do in Mendocino.
Go Wine Tasting at Roederer Estate
4501 CA-128 // +17078952288
Mendocino County is known for a few things; breathtaking coastline, the Anderson Valley, and its wines. This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a local boutique winery located here in Mendocino County.
Roederer Estate Winery was started by Pierre Raymond Roederer, who created sparkling wines under the name Roederer Estate on his family’s wine estate, Maison Roederer in Reims, France.
At Roederer Estate, you can sample sparkling wines on the outside patio or in the tasting room by appointment. You can even sample the magnum!
Go Whale Watching (In Season)
Each year, I look forward to the migration of the gray whales – or the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them. Between November and April, these giants are sighted along California’s Mendocino Coast as they migrate south in the winter to Baja California and then back again in the spring to their feeding grounds in the Arctic.
So, if you are visiting the Mendocino Coast between November and April, consider booking a whale-watching tour. Each year, gray whales migrate south to the warm waters of Baja California’s lagoons to breed.
Wrapping Up The 18 Amazing Things To Do In Mendocino
Mendocino Village is definitely an oasis for plenty of unique opportunities if you want to take it easy, but there is more fun to be had if you want to explore. A few miles north, you can visit Fort Bragg and the Lost Coast if you want to further explore the area.
Or, if hiking is your thing, head just a short way south to the Round Valley Reservoir area. The list can be quite long depending on how much time you have available and what your interests are. Mendocino, in a nutshell, is absolutely worth the visit!