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Romantic Mendocino

February 24, 2011

Seagull landing. Mendocino Coast, California

Mendocino is often called the “Lost Coast”. That’s not only because it’s hard to find, but also because it’s so peppered with endless mountains and dramatic coastlines that man found it hard to tame this part of California with roads and railway tracks. And for that, one can’t help but feel thankful. Thankful for a chance to see the wilderness that is preserved the way it was when the first settlers docked their boats on the West Coast. The redwood forests near Mendocino are host to some of the oldest redwood trees in the world. The Pacific Coast Highway hugs the entire coastline from the Bay Area to Mendocino, and beyond in Fort Bragg. This superb and stunning drive is just one of the best parts about this weekend destination.

Mendocino Headlands

A 3 hour drive away from San Francisco, Mendocino sounds quaint and exotic. We had heard it was very pretty and laid back, with spectacular scenery combining sun, sea and sand, and had tasted several yummy wines from this region, but never thought there would be much else to do there. How wrong we were! A quick search on the oracular Internet threw up pages and pages of information. The city’s official website is absolutely indispensable.

Spotted a gorgeous crane strutting along elegantly along PCH

Mendocino has everything. And I mean everything! For every kind of traveler. Wine tasting? Yes. Hiking in redwood forests? Yes. Bumming on the beach? Yes. Whale watching, kayaking and other water activities? Of course! Shopping? Oh, yeah. Massages and leisurely soaking up in a spa? You bet. And last but not the least, if you ever wanted to trek alongside a llama carrying your picnic supplies through the ancient redwoods –  you can do that too! See what I mean? Any thing that you would want to do while on a vacation, can be found in Mendocino!

Spring love from Mendocino

Bed & Breakfasts are the IN thing to stay at when in Mendocino, but they are most often booked up or burn a hole in the pocket. For those who really love B&B’s, call in advance and make reservations. We usually always rely on Yelp reviews before deciding on a place to stay. This time around, it being Valentine’s day weekend, most bed and breakfast places were booked well in advance, or were merrily charging over 350-500 USD a night. Rather than spend that kind of money on a mere night’s stay, we happily settled for a place in Fort Bragg instead. Fort Bragg is a 15min drive up North from Mendocino, and a great place to anchor at while exploring the surrounding areas of Ukiah, Mendocino, Point Cabrillo, Point Arena etc.

There are plenty of places to stop along the drive to Mendocino. One of them is Point Arena Lighthouse. The windswept rocks around the area form black beautiful ridged surfaces that stretch for as far as the eye can see. The surf pounds against these rocks, time and time again. The cliffs around the lighthouse drop away, their sheer faces forming dramatic coastlines. It’s amazing to witness the wild, unrestrained, raw beauty California is so famous for.

Point Arena Lighthouse

The lighthouse is open only till 3PM, so make sure you get there early if you want to go inside the lighthouse and take a tour. We got there a wee bit late, but were glad to catch a gorgeous sunset over the sea as we continued our drive up north. There are many state beaches and parks peppered all along the coast, so it’s very hard to not make any pit stops, which are BTW totally worth it! At low tide, we walked on the sandy beach near the tide pools and found bunches of mussels and other sea stars and shellfish hanging on to the rocks tightly.

Mussels clumped up on rocks at low tide

Downtown Mendocino is a lovely place to get dinner. We were surprised at how quaint and old worldly the area looked. Small cute restaurants and shops lined the main downtown road, all lit up brightly with a curious customer peeking in here and there. We stepped into Cafe Beaujolais on Ukiah Street for dinner. We were lucky to get there early, since they were booked up with reservations for the entire night! Yelp has rave reviews for Cafe Beaujolais. And we can vouch that every word is true. Stepping into the rich cozy decor, lushly lit up, with bustling servers smiling welcomingly, as they seated us almost as if we were stepping into their own home. The wine, the food, the dessert – everything was spectacular. The energy in the restaurant reminded me of episodes of Iron Chef and Top Chef. We did feel like we were being served delicacies prepared with care and love by the chef. And the service was amazing, the food a delight to all the senses. The entire experience was very memorable.

Dinner at Cafe Beaujolais

The next day dawned bright and early. We ambitiously set out to explore most of the Mendocino Headlands and coastal State Parks nearby. There are a ton of them and there is no way to cover them all in a single day. We vowed to be back to explore the rest of them another day.

The most highly recommended hike in the area is the Fern Canyon hike, in Russian Gulch State Park, which is located 2 miles north of Mendocino on Highway 1. There is also a spectacular, unique Pygmy forest -which is in Van Damme State Park and is located three miles south of the town of Mendocino on Highway 1. Both of these are day hikes, since we didn’t have that much time, we went to the following nearby …

Jughandle State Park – This was our first sight of breathtaking cliffs, emerging from the ocean, massive in size, monolithic in form, carved smooth. The trails are easy and flat, and most of them lead to sheer drop offs along the cliff walls. It’s exhilarating to walk to the edge of one as far as one dares to go and stand there, taking in the 360 degree vista of the sea and coast.

Jughandle State Park

Mendocino Headlands – This delightful walk is right off of the downtown street in Mendocino. It’s a hike that’s a couple miles long and goes all the way around the coast, all along the edge of the cliffs. We totally loved this walk,  as did a lot of people who were out walking their dogs, and enjoying the spring day outdoors. It’s a great place for a packed picnic lunch on the beach (via the access stairs), where you can sit and admire the natural arches and cliffs in the distance.

View when walking the trail at the Mendocino Headlands

Trail along the coast in Mendocino Headlands

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse – This is a delightful lighthouse to visit. One of the few “family” lighthouses, this housed the lighthouse keepers and their entire families in the old days. The exhibits at the lighthouse showcase the story of the families and kids growing up there, and it’s very interesting to read their thoughts and stories of their life growing up on a lighthouse and learn to see things from their perspective. Most kids had pets for company and grew up fearless of the sea, exploring on their own and learning to respect the beauty, strength and fragility of nature. One of the kids recalls being asked one question most often – “Was she lonely?”And she said that not once in all her years on the lighthouse did she ever feel lonely. There was always something exciting to do, they could see the ocean from all the windows of their house, there was the entire stretch of beach to run on, the coast was hers and her dog’s! Why would she ever feel lonely?

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

Van Damme State Park – We drove to this State Park hoping to do the Fern Canyon trail, but found out it would take more time than planned and was more of a day hike. The entrance to the park is in a pretty setting and right in front of the beach, so we spent some time there looking out at seagulls which were sunbathing in the sea.

Seagulls sunbathing outside Van Damme State Park

Navajo Redwoods Reserve – Finally, we ended our trip to Mendocino by driving through the Redwood forests on our way back home. The cool, green redwoods were impressively ancient and massively tall. The sunlight all but disappeared as we drove through thickening groves of trees. The saltiness in the air, the mellow sun rays, the glimpses of cool, blue ocean surf playing hide-and-seek between the redwoods as we hugged the twists and turns of the road, made for a very memorable drive back.

Navajo Redwood State Park



From → Mendocino, USA

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