Weekend Trip: My Ultimate Mendocino County Travel Guide

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:

Day 1: 
  • 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.
Day 2: 
  • 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.
Day 3: 
  • 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:


Mendocino County Travel

A packed Anderson Valley Brewery during the California heatwave

Mendocino County Travel

Our bottle of Edelzwicker from Navarro Winery

Mendocino County Travel

Looking down at Big River Beach at Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino County Travel

A secluded spot at Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino County Travel

The trail out to Point Cabrillo Light Station

Mendocino County Travel

Almost to the Point Cabrillo Light Station

Mendocino County Travel

Point Cabrillo Light Station during sunset

Mendocino County Travel

The largest redwood tree known to have grown in Mendocino County now lives in Downtown Fort Bragg

Mendocino County Travel

Educating ourselves on the history of Fort Bragg at the Guest House Museum

Mendocino County Travel

A green piece of glass at Glass Beach

Mendocino County Travel

Pudding Creek Beach and Trestle

Mendocino County Travel

Black cherry with chocolate chunks ice cream at Cowlicks

Mendocino County Travel

A path at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve

Mendocino County Travel

The quaint atrium at our Airbnb in Fort Bragg

Mendocino County Travel

One of the shops in the tiny town of Mendocino, CA

Mendocino County Travel

Point Arena Lighthouse in the distance on a hazy day

Mendocino County Travel

Elvis the plains zebra at B Bryan Preserve

Mendocino County Travel

Feeding an adorable kudu at B Bryan Preserve

Mendocino County Travel

I kissed a giraffe at B Bryan Preserve!

Mendocino County Travel

Bowling Ball Beach

 

Want to know how I got to kiss a beautiful giraffe? I did an entire post on the magical wildlife sanctuary, B Bryan Preserve. Click here to check it out!

 


I would love to hear your thoughts on Mendocino County! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!


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Comments ( 60 )

  1. ReplyMegan
    This trip sounds so much fun!! I LOVE the giraffe picture haha. I'm from the Bay Area too and this sounds like a good weekend trip to take soon :)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Meg! The giraffe kiss was quite the experience for sure. You should definitely do a weekend trip up to Mendocino! I can't recommend it enough.
  2. ReplyVenessa
    Those beaches look amazing!
  3. ReplyLyne
    Love the way you presented your post ! And the giraffe kissing pic ahah. Mendocino looks really fun, and full of interesting activies.
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Lyne! Ya that giraffe pic is probably one of my favorite travel pics ever haha.
  4. Replylisa
    That Giraffe Pic is classic! Wow sure looks like a beautiful part of the world reminded me of home South Africa! Loved your picutres
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much Lisa! It really is a beautiful area. I hope to go to South Africa someday though!
  5. Replysonikatravels
    Really cool photos and blog. Love it :1
  6. ReplyKarlie
    That rugged seaside beach is so gorgeous! A nice spot for you to have so close to home.
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      And we found that spot and had it all to ourselves believe it or not! Thanks so much, Karlie.
  7. Replyispyprettyplaces
    Great itinerary! There's so much to do there! Visiting beaches and wineries are right up my alley!
  8. Replyjin
    Oh, I love Mendocino! I haven't gone in 10 years, but I would love to go back one day! I also like the idea of staying in the area and continuing the vino hopping the next day. I'll have to do that!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Jin! Wow I wonder how much it's changed since you were there 10 years ago.
  9. Replyjosiekelsh
    Sounds like a great weekend getaway, I love going away and visiting beaches, walking along the shores and hiking in national parks. This looks like an area worth visiting when I get to California.
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Josie! you definitely should check Mendocino out when your in the state!
  10. ReplyDana
    Ahh I need to go to Cali! Born on the wrong coast :( Great pics though! The giraffe one is both adorable and terrifying 😂
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Haha nooo I'm sure your coast was a great place to grow up in! Thanks so much, Dana. I definitely got a little bit of a rush when he came down for the kiss hah.
  11. ReplyKelly Luvs
    You have a beautiful site. I grew up near the Mendocino coast and your post makes me really miss it! Visually stunning pictures! Perfect itinerary. Well written. Great job! What an amazing trip!
  12. Replysunshineandmunchkins
    Wow, what an awesome trip! I'm impressed with all the things you were able to fit into such a short time.
  13. ReplyBinx Thinx
    This looks like such a fun trip and your photographs are stunning ❤️
  14. ReplyMiranda's Muses
    I love how much you managed to do in only a few days! This little area looks like a great hidden treasure, would love to explore this area some day :)
  15. ReplyNicole Banuelos (@nicole_banuelos)
    I live in Northern California myself but have never visited Mendocino County. Looks like I need to add it to my list!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      If you live here already then you definitely must make your way over! You won't regret it. Thanks, Nicole!
  16. ReplyAnnette Dattilo
    What an awesome trip! I love short getaways like that. The pictures are beautiful.
  17. ReplyBoarding Call
    great guide! I'm from Sacramento and still have not visited Mendocino... looks like I need to add it to my list!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Oh I love Sacramento! Used to visit every weekend when my husband lived there. You should definitely do a lil' road trip over to Mendocino!
  18. ReplyLia @ Practical Wanderlust
    One of my fave weekend trips from SF! We've been a few times but haven't done a day of wine tasting. Def saving this for our next weekend getaway :)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Lia! Oh yes, wine tastings around the Bay Area is a must if you're into wine.
  19. ReplyGabriela
    This looks like a nice weekend trip! The landscape is stunning and especially your sunset photos are amazing!
  20. ReplyCandiss
    I went camping at Van Damme State Park (just south of Mendocino proper in July. It is one of my favorite areas! I am so glad you stopped at Navarro Winery I love that place and brought home the same bottle of wine + a pinot grigio! ;)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Ah it's so awesome connecting with someone else who stumbled upon the same places! Navarro was absolutely lovely. Sadly we ran out of time to visit Van Damme, but it was definitely on my list! Glad you had such a great time there.
  21. ReplyJill Hamilton McMeans
    This looks like such an amazing trip!!! Thanks for sharing! Makes me want to travel ASAP!
  22. ReplyNadeen
    Beautiful area! California is my favorite state and this is on my bucket list! Thanks for all the useful info. I love wine so visiting wineries will be a must!
  23. Replydrivebytowns
    What a great itinerary! I'm bookmarking this so I can reference it when I plan our trip to Northern California. Also a HUGE fan of North Coast Brewing :-)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Don't you love drinking at the brewery that you always have beer from? Let me know when you make your way to Northern California! I'll have lots of recommendations.
  24. ReplyCourtney Vanover
    I've heard of Fort Bragg but I've never been. I really love the layout of this post, all of the places to eat and sights to see and the great photos you have following afterwards! How wonderful! I've not spent too much time out on the west coast but I for sure plan to, and this your website will come in handy when I do! Thanks so much for sharing!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thanks so much, Courtney! I really appreciate all the feedback. Please definitely let me know if you plan to visit the west coast at some point!
  25. ReplyPlanes, Trains and Champagne
    Omg! Love this! I want to visit now. Love the picture of you kissing the giraffe! Haha
  26. Replyjesusglitter
    Wow! What a beautiful place! I live on the East Coast and have only been to California once, but I loved it! What a cute picture of a giraffe kiss! The picture of you sitting with the sea below was incredible. Thanks for sharing!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Thank you so much for your kind words! Where in California did you go when you visited?
  27. ReplyLinda
    Loved reading your adventures!
  28. ReplyEverything Meli
    How have I not heard of this place! It looks breathtaking! That glass beach sounds so neat and I absolutely love how beautiful it looks there! Thanks for sharing and adding another destination to the bucket list! xxx
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Hi Meli, thanks so much for your thoughts! I definitely hope you get to visit at some point!
  29. Replylisalatelyco
    I'm reading this while sitting in an office in KS, so it's safe to say I'm getting beach fever! :)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Haha I feel that beach fever when I'm working as well! Thanks for your comment, Lisa!
  30. ReplyMelanie
    Wine, state parks and light house tours?! This sounds like an amazing trip and right up my alley! Definitely saving this for if I ever make it to Mendocino Co. Thanks!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Right?! Seems like we're into the same kind of stuff! Glad I could introduce you to this spot. Have fun on your future travels, Melanie!

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