Exploring Mendocino County: Here’s Your Weekend Itinerary

A couple of weeks ago, I got the opportunity to spend a weekend up in Mendocino. I had made a quick trip back in spring of 2016 and fell in love with it. So, I was really excited to finally make another weekend trip back up this fall.

The drive to Mendocino is about three hours north of San Francisco. You’ll go through all kinds of landscapes on your journey. From the city to wine country, and then from redwood forests to rugged coastal bluffs. It’s quite a beautiful drive, which makes the long trip worth it.

You could take the scenic Highway 1 all the up (which is along the coast), but I ended up taking Highway 101 to Highway 128. It’s a bit faster than driving up Highway 1. But you also get to drive through what the locals call “the Redwood Tunnel to the Sea.” It was probably my favorite part of the drive.

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Here’s the scene: You’ll drive through 11-miles of tall redwoods on a black asphalt road. The air was warm, so the windows were down and the music was up. With a hint of salt in the air as you get closer and closer to the coast. Sounds lovely, right?

Once you’re out of the redwood tunnel, the road opens up to the historic Highway 1. You’ll be on this road as you drive along the coastal bluffs into the seaside village of Mendocino.

WHERE TO STAY IN MENDOCINO

I stayed at the Brewery Gulch Inn during my visit. It has a little bit of a Nantucket feel with the wood exterior.

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As you enter the inn through its large front door, it opens up into a bright Great Room. It’s here where you’ll check-in and enjoy everything that the inn has to offer. It includes seating around a fireplace, a Scrabble table, a movie library, a breakfast bar, and more. You’re invited to happy hour in the evenings, where you’ll be able to try local wines and beers. There will also be a buffet-style dinner ready for you, which is definitely enough food to fill you up. So, if you want to stay in and relax in the evenings, you certainly can!

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In the mornings, you can have breakfast here as well. But this time, you’ll order from a menu and you have the option to have it delivered up to your room. Which is a great option if you’re not a morning person like me!

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My favorite part of the inn was the outdoor patio off of the Great Room. It has a nice view of Smuggler’s Cove and the beautiful blue waters of Mendocino. It’s the best spot to enjoy breakfast in the morning, read a book in the afternoon, or sip on a glass of wine in the evening.

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Travel Tip: Check what time the sun sets during your stay. About 20 minutes before that time, head down to the pullout across the street from the Brewery Gulch Inn. It’s a great way to enjoy a Mendocino sunset from Smuggler’s Cove.

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Now back at the Brewery Gulch Inn: I stayed in the Smugger’s Cove room. Its biggest perk is that you get an even better view of the cove from up above. The room also includes a fireplace, a King-sized bed, a TV, and a bathtub/shower combo. As a welcome gift, you also get to enjoy a bottle of champagne and the most amazing salted caramels.

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The only downside to the room was that it was a connecting room, so the walls were a little thin. My only complaint was that I could hear the guests staying in the next room. I’m sure the other non-connecting rooms feel a bit more private.

Other places to stay while you’re in Mendocino: Little River Inn, Blue Door Inn, or check out some cottages on Airbnb. Save $40 on your first Airbnb here.

THINGS TO DO IN MENDOCINO

The Mendocino Coast can provide an ideal getaway for just about anyone. Whether you’re looking to relax or explore the outdoors, it has all kinds of options for you.

Visit its exquisite wine tasting region: The Anderson Valley of Mendocino County is the up-the-coming winery region of California. It’s what Sonoma and Napa would have been like 25 years ago, with small, mom-and-pop wineries sprinkled in the region.

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I visited Lula Cellars and Handley Cellars (right next to each other) on my way to the Brewery Gulch Inn.

My takeaway was this: They might look a little unassuming from the road, but don’t be fooled! Even though they’re small, they have a great selection of wine and owners who are happy to chat. Even the dogs get to come to work, which I loved.

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Travel Tip: If you’re at Lula, say hello to Dan (if he’s there) for me. He’ll answer any questions you might have about the wine and the region. And don’t forget to take a photo next to the old Lula car. Need a recommendation? If you like reds, make sure to try the Pinot Noir.

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My two stops at Lula and Handley felt very relaxed. It was unhurried and unpretentious, which I appreciated. Plus, it’s not as crowded as most of the wineries that you’ll find in Napa and Sonoma Valley. All the perks of being a small family-owned winery.

Need other recommendations? You can try Goldeneye Winery, Toulouse Vineyards, and Navarro Winery. Here’s a helpful guide (with ratings) for additional recommendations.

Take a train ride through the redwoods: This actually ended up being one of my favorite activities during my trip. Surprise, surprise! To do so, you’ll have to head to Fort Bragg, which is a quick 15-minute drive north of Mendocino.

Called the Skunk Train, you’ll depart your journey at the train station that comes with a cute gift shop. I did the Pudding Creek Express trip, which is 30 minutes into the forest and 30 minutes back. But I enjoyed it some much that I’d like to do the 4-hour Northspur Flyer trip next time.

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The train ride comes with a few other perks. You’ll get a mini history lesson along the way as the conductor shares info about the train and the region. If it’s a nice day, you can stand outside on one of the observation cars to get a 360-degree view of the forest. It’s a great option if you want to take photos. And if you get hungry, the train also has a food/beverage cart at your convenience.

Walk the trails of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: If you’re planning to visit, make sure you have at least an hour to spend here. There are 47 acres of gardens (with 14 different types of gardens!) that are tucked away between Highway 1 and the Pacific. Which means that as you walk the trail (the North Loop Trail), you’ll also get to enjoy beautiful ocean views.

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My favorites were the Dahlia Garden and the Vegetable Garden and Orchard (only because of this adorable greenhouse).

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Explore other local attractions: This area has so much to offer! Check out a few breweries, state parks, and family-owned farms. Need suggestions?

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What I’m really excited about is that I’ll be heading back to Mendocino in late-October! This time around I’d like to explore the village of Mendocino a bit more. Of the two times I’ve visited, I’ve never actually stayed and explored the village itself.

I’m looking forward to visiting the quaint shops along Main Street. And to finally get that photo I’ve been meaning to take of the steepled white church that hangs over a bluff. It reminds me of a seaside village that you’d find in New England. Which kind of melts my heart.

I can’t wait to share more with you!

Let’s go places,
Sarah

What shops or restaurants would you recommend checking out in Mendocino? Send your faves in the comments below. 

All photos on this blog are mine. Feel free to share but please credit me with a link back to the blog. Much appreciated and thank you for your support!

I have collaborated with the Brewery Gulch Inn for this post. All opinions are mine.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring Mendocino County: Here’s Your Weekend Itinerary

  1. In case you haven’t noticed with the wildfires, now may not be the best time to go to Mendocino. Seems the article is poorly timed and insensitive.

    1. Yes, I live in San Francisco, so I’m aware of what’s happening up north. This article was published on September 26. If you want to read my most recent post, that notes the wildfires and how you can donate, you can find that here: http://bit.ly/2xICahg

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