Mendocino Magic: A Coastal California Adventure


A Four-day Mendocino, California Getaway


From redwood forests to dramatic coastal cliffs, Mendocino’s diverse scenery calls California travelers to explore its rocky shores and brilliant blue sea. You won’t find a more charming small town than the village of Mendocino itself, where Victorian homes and boutique shops line the quiet streets. 

Beyond the seaside village, find adventurous train rides, coastal hiking, and canoeing along Big River. Day trips to the lauded Pinot Noir-producing Anderson Valley are also in store for vinos. Pair all these excursions with bed and breakfast-style accommodations at Mendocino’s inns, and you have the perfect coastal getaway. Three hours from San Francisco and near Highway 1, it’s an easy trip to combine with other Golden State getaways.

Read on below for an itinerary of four perfect days in Mendocino County. 

Day 1- Wine Tasting in Anderson Valley


When driving to Mendocino from Sacramento or San Francisco, you’ll first pass through California’s coolest wine-growing region: Anderson Valley. The area’s microclimate features foggy mornings and daytime California sun, the perfect conditions for churning out some of the world’s best Pinot Noirs. Stretching between Highway 101 and Highway 1 along the Mendocino Coast, it’s 15 miles long without a single stoplight and is less than two hours from the Golden Gate Bridge. 

If visiting on your way to Mendocino, stop first for a mountaintop tasting at Seawolf Wines. The owners/winegrowers specialize in natural wines from their organic vineyard with views at 2000 feet above sea level. Tastings feature sips of Seawolf’s small-production natural wines while seated at a bar crafted from fallen redwoods. Or sit side-by-side in custom Adirondack chairs and pair your wine with Hippie Dust popcorn. Seawolf makes unique wines in very small productions, like a carbonic zinfandel, that you simply must taste for yourself. 


After tasting, visit Pennyroyal Farm to taste estate wines and handmade cheeses produced at this regenerative farm. Sample the cheeses made here and explore the farm to see baby animals, the creamery, and the vineyard. Don’t miss adding a beautiful SmorgasBoard packed with vegetables, spreads, bread, and nuts. 


If you’re up for tasting more wine, head further up Anderson Valley to visit Lula Cellars or Husch Vineyards. During its outdoor patio tastings, Lula Cellars offers world-class Pinots Noirs and other single-vineyard varietals. Husch is Anderson Valley’s oldest winery and samples its 22 winery-exclusive bottles and blends at an old pony barn-turned-tasting room. 

Tired of wine? Head up the road to Gowan’s Cider for outdoor hard cider tastings in its apple orchard. We loved the dry ciders here, but if there’s a chill in the air, don’t miss its hard cider served warm with whipped cream. Yum.

Where to Stay: Little River Inn

Visit Mendocino Image of Little River Inn

The exterior of Little River Inn

 From Anderson Valley, you’ll drive through a cool, shady stand of coastal redwoods before reaching this inn, just a few miles from Mendocino. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean with an ocean view from every room and incredible cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant and Whale Watch Bar. Upgrade your say with a top-floor suite with a fireplace, Jacuzzi soaking tub, and a patio overlooking the Pacific. 

Enjoy dinner at the restaurant, starting with the hotel’s signature dish, clam chowder with fresh steamed clams in the shell, followed by an incredible pan-roasted halibut in a lemongrass coconut broth. Breakfast is available in the restaurant or delivered to your room. Keep it basic with a classic continental breakfast order, or make it special with a stack of Ole’s Swedish Hotcakes. 

Day 2- Ride the Skunk Train, Stop at a Brewery, Eat Fish & Chips


After breakfast at Little River Inn, start your morning with a ride on the iconic Skunk Train’s Pudding Creek Express. The so-called Skunk Train has existed since 1885 and carts visitors through old-growth redwoods, tunnels, and a river canyon before a stop for drinks and short hikes at the Glen Blair bar. Enjoy short trails through the redwoods before boarding your train back to town. 


If you’d like a more adventurous journey or want to add to your train experience, rent a two-person railbike for a redwood route along Pudding Creek. It follows the same route as the train but offers a more personalized pedal through nature—with a guide who covers the history of the redwoods in Mendocino County. 

Tours include lunch in a bag you get to keep (bonus) and a quieter experience pedaling along the rails. Disembark at Glen Blair Junction for almost an hour to enjoy lunch around a fire pit or at your lunch among these giant trees.


After your pedal or train ride, stop for a post-adventure beer across the street at North Coast Brewing Company. This brewery opened in 1988 and now delivers its coastal brews to 48 U.S. states. The Scrimshaw Pilsner is a classic, but we loved its new alcohol-free hop water. 


Once you’re buzzed, have your designated driver follow the road south to Sea Pal Cove. This outdoor-only eatery in Fort Bragg serves up hand-battered local rock cod paired with hot chips. Watch out for seagulls on the pier who may want to sneak a sample from your plate. 


After dining, cross the street to Fort Bragg’s newest distillery, Schnaubelt Distillery. This Noyo Harbor destination is churning out delicious rum and vodka from its location in a revived ice plant. 

Where to Stay: Little River Inn

Photo Credit: Little River Inn

Balcony at a Little River Inn suite

Why mess with success? Spend one more night at this quaint inn along the Mendocino Coast. Choose a top-floor suite with a roaring fireplace, private deck, and comfortable rocking chairs overlooking the ocean. 

Day 3- Go Outrigger Canoeing, Take a Cooking Class, Enjoy a Spa in Mendocino

redwood outrigger on dock

Foggy mornings make it hard to get out of bed in Mendocino. But it’s worth it for an early morning outrigger canoe ride with Stanford Inn & Resort at Catch A Canoe & Bicycles Too. The location is tucked in a cover on the Big River Estuary and is the perfect launching point for touring the river on ultra-stable redwood outriggers. A foot-paddled rudder system is easy to operate, and you’re guaranteed seal sightings along the way. 


After you’ve burned a few calories canoeing, head to the lauded vegan resort, The Stanford Inn, for a vegan sauce, dip, and dressing cooking class with its Center for Living Well. The resort chef teaches every class and specializes in creating cuisine that even diehard meat eaters like. We particularly enjoyed the ranch dressing and vegan “cheese” for stuffing in manicotti shells, but each dish was delicious and easy enough to recreate at home. 

After a day full of activity, wind down your day at the Sweetwater Eco Spa. Reservations give you access to a private three-person Redwood outdoor hot tub with an open-air deck, a private indoor sauna, and a private changing area. We loved relaxing here before heading to the hotel.

Where to Stay: Brewery Gulch Inn & Spa

Photo courtesy of Brewery Gulch Inn

The Great Room at Brewery Gulch Inn

This stunning property is built from recovered redwoods and sits above Mendocino amid pines and coastal vistas. It’s a smaller property with just 10 spacious suites, but this makes the guest focus top-notch. The space is anchored by its “Great Room,” which boasts big windows, huge French doors, a custom fireplace, and an extensive, alphabetized collection of DVDs. Guests spend evenings winding down here with a good book or one of many board games. 


But the highlight is the famed happy hour served at day’s end. Due to COVID, the hotel began serving its complimentary appetizers by the room–in custom redwood boxes. The individual apps were so beloved that this service style continues today. The heavy appetizers easily serve as dinner for lighter eaters, and you can pair them with a complimentary glass of local wine or beer. Mornings bring complimentary breakfast from a seasonally changing, locally sourced menu. If it’s on offer, don’t miss the morning mango lassi, a breakfast drink that tastes more like dessert. 

Each room is a suite here, but you can’t go wrong with the main-floor Manzanita. It feels set apart from the other rooms but is close enough to the Great Room that grabbing a late-night tea or cookie is easy. The room features a super deep Japanese soaking tub, stall shower, gas fireplace, a cozy king bed, and plenty of space for lounging. Our favorite feature is the patio that opens to the hotel’s lawn and has sturdy wooden chairs to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset. 

Day 4: Go Headlands Hiking, Eat Pizza in Mendocino, and Enjoy the Coast


Start your day with a gourmet breakfast at Brewery Gulch Inn, then head to the village of Mendocino for a fancy latte at Good Life Cafe before heading to Mendocino Headlands State Park. The park’s 70-foot bluffs summon images of Ireland’s rocky coastline and features winding trails past sandy beaches and crashing waves. Pack a picnic for eating on the high cliffs (far back from the water’s edge in case a rogue wave strikes), or wait to enjoy lunch after hiking at the Café Beaujolais’ Brickery

This addition to the famed restaurant does not have the wait the cafe is known for and is a quick-serve option specializing in thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza. Order at the counter, grab a table in the garden and enjoy the sunshine amid the restaurant’s vegetables and flowers. The restaurant welcomes kids, dogs, and well-behaved humans. 

Looking to explore the town afterward? Pop by Mendovino for by-the-bottle Anderson Valley wine, or sip a Guinness on draft at Irish-themed Patterson’s Pub. 

Where to Stay: Brewery Gulch Inn

Photo courtesy of Brewery Gulch Inn Mendocino

The exterior of Brewery Gulch Inn

After a day of adventure, head back for one last night at Brewery Gulch Inn. There’s nothing quite like enjoying the sunset from its private patios with a glass of something sparkling. Remember: each day, a redwood box of “heavy appetizers,” AKA dinner, is served to all guests. 

They’re customized based on dietary restrictions and include seriously good sweet and savory options. Complimentary wine and local beer are available too. Wind down afterward with games in the Great Room, or select a classic from the inn’s extensive DVD collection to enjoy on your in-room DVD player. 

No matter what you choose, count on a restful night’s sleep after four full days of fun in Mendocino. 


About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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