Weekend Trip: My Ultimate Mendocino County Travel Guide
Every Labor Day weekend, Roger and I choose somewhere new to visit for a whirlwind weekend trip and this year was no exception. We drove 3.5 hours north from our home in Berkeley, California for a two night stay in the quaint seaside town of Fort Bragg with a range of stops and sights along the way. Fort Bragg exceeded my expectations – its shops offer great local Etsy-esque pieces, their restaurants provide beautiful scenic views, and I loved how we found parking literally everywhere we went. Mendocino County as a whole was a gorgeous destination with its numerous state parks, wineries, and friendly small towns. We packed as much as possible into our three day visit! If you’re planning a trip to the area, here are my Mendocino County tavel guide and recommendations on what to do, see, and eat/drink.
Mendocino County Trip Basics:
- Accommodations: We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb right on Fort Bragg’s Main Street, which was a short walk to all the major shops and eateries of downtown and just an 11 minute walk to Glass Beach.
- Location: Fort Bragg is a 3 hours drive north of San Francisco and about 5 hours south of the Oregon border.
- Weather: As typical of the Northern California coast, the seaside towns of Mendocino County are generally quite foggy and windy. However, we really lucked out on this September weekend because we had some very warm, clear days! Inner Mendocino county towns like Philo and Boonville are generally much warmer and dry.
My 3-Day Mendocino County Itinerary:
- Anderson Valley Brewing (Boonville, CA): This was a great way to start our trip off! We’ve been drinking Anderson Valley beers for years so it was great being able to drink where the brew is made. The brewery was really busy on this Saturday afternoon, but we sadly couldn’t enjoy sitting in their large beer garden due to the weather getting as high as 114F (46C). The brewery also has disc golf on site!
- Navarro Winery (Philo, CA): I was really happy a friend suggested this winery because I wasn’t even aware of Mendocino’s wine region until now. Its grounds are super picturesque and they offer a free wine tasting. We took home a delicious Edelzwicker wine.
- Lula Cellars (Philo, CA): Stopped here for a second tasting due to a recommendation from Navarro. Not as scenic as Navarro, but the customer service was incredibly friendly and personable. It’s $5 per tasting, but it’s waived with a wine purchase.
- Mendocino Headlands State Park (Mendocino, CA): Our goal was to visit Big River Beach, but the trail we took ended up taking us out to the headlands and viewing the beach from above. This view satisfied us enough so we headed to Point Cabrillo before we lost the sun!
- Point Cabrillo Light Station (Mendocino, CA): This might’ve been my second favorite stop on our trip behind B Bryan Preserve. This was probably due to the sunset bursting through the wispy clouds providing the most romantic, natural scene. I was in awe once the horizon broke and I saw Point Cabrillo’s jagged coastline and beautiful bright lighthouse. There was barely anyone around and there was no fog to block our view; the perfect spot to watch the sun go down.
- Walk around downtown Fort Bragg: The downtown area is certainly not large, but I was so pleased to find a great assortment of well-designed goods at its local boutiques and good eats at its restaurants. I highly recommend going to the free Guest House Museum where two floors of education on Fort Bragg’s history lives.
- Glass Beach (Fort Bragg, CA): Hands down the busiest and most touristy stop on our trip, made famous for being strewn with colorful pieces of glass. As I’d been told to expect, most of the colorful pieces are gone so the beach generally looks normal from afar. It’s still worthwhile to check out though.
- Pudding Creek Beach and Trestle (Fort Bragg, CA): Not far from Glass Beach is this picturesque bridge (the trestle), which provides a unique backdrop to Pudding Creek Beach. I’d never seen a bridge just run through a beach like that before!
- MacKerricher State Park (Fort Bragg, CA): Sadly we weren’t able to see much here, as all the popular parts apparently had full parking lots for 2 straight days!
- Jug Handle State Nature Reserve & pygmy forest (Fort Bragg, CA): Another highlight for us! The lack of fog allowed for beautiful views of the jagged coast and private beaches below. We also found a secluded path that led us straight out into the ocean (see photo below). We then took a moderate 5 mile roundtrip hike to the Jug Handle’s pygmy forest, which features stunted trees and plants. I recommend this for a relaxing workout.
- Pomo Bluffs Park (Fort Bragg, CA): Another ideal waterfront spot to watch the sunset (apparently). Unfortunately the sun was covered by clouds on the evening we spent here.
- Explore downtown Mendocino, CA: Even smaller than Fort Bragg, downtown Mendocino is also home to quaint local shops and eateries.
- Point Arena Lighthouse (Point Arena, CA): Another lighthouse worth seeing! We discovered that you have to pay $7 to actually drive up to the lighthouse, but you can view it from afar which was good enough for us.
- B Bryan Preserve (Point Arena, CA): The highlight of our trip! Tucked away in this town of only 452 people is this magical endangered animal preserve and sanctuary. Animals are born and bred on site and its owners strive to spread awareness of these diminishing African animals. We saw three breeds of zebra, antelope, and I got to kiss a giraffe! It goes in my book of most unique experiences.
- Bowling Ball Beach (Point Arena, CA): This was one of the Mendocino destinations I was really excited about! Due to erosion, the waves have shaped the beach’s rocks to look like large bowling balls. Unfortunately, we arrived to the beach at high tide so we couldn’t really see the “bowling balls” very well.
Where to Eat & Drink in Fort Bragg
- Egghead’s (Breakfast and Lunch): This is the most popular breakfast/brunch place in town. We waited almost an hour to get seated at the Wizard of Oz themed restaurant. I suggest going early!
- Sea Pal Cove (Lunch and Dinner): One of the few highly rated affordable eateries in Fort Bragg. I thought their fish sandwich was delicious and they have a plethora of outdoor waterfront seating.
- North Coast Brewing (Lunch, Dinner, Drinks): We love their beer so naturally had to experience their brewery. I would suggest going for a drink, but passing on the food.
- Cowlicks Ice Cream: It is on a list of Top 10 Creameries in America so there was no surprise we waited 45 minutes to get a scoop and sample their unique “mushroom ice cream”. Was it worth it you ask? I don’t know when I’ll be in Fort Bragg again so I was glad I waited. Their black cherry with chocolate chunks flavor was delicious and super creamy.
Our Mendocino County Trip Timeline in Pictures:
I would love to hear your thoughts on Mendocino County! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!