There would be a lot of suggestions, cues and tips about what to see in Mendocino County.
The Northern California is rich in surprises and locations you never think to find in the Golden State.
Besides the Redwood forests – The Redwood National Park ones are the highest ones in the world – and the wonderful views of the Pacific Ocean from the Route 1, you’ll find lighthouses, islands, indented coastlines, beaches, nice small towns with a savor of other times, nineteenth century dwellings turned into charming B&B and some of the most beautiful naturalistic sites in California.
And then vineyards and farms on the background of wide and luxuriant valleys and a downright movie itinerary: don’t forget the whole area was the set of over 100 between movies and TV series from the early 1900s.
Down here there are for you the 5 locations and paths of the Mendocino County (according to me) that cannot be missed – besides the wonderful small town of Mendocino (I’ve already told you about it here): the stretch of the coast from Fort Bragg on the Route 1 as far as Lake Mendocino and Clear Lake through the Hwy 128 first and the suggestive (and still less famous) Hwy 20 then.
Welcome to Mendocino County!
Fort Bragg is located about 20km to the North of Mendocino.
It’s a picturesque small town created around the old fort with the same name built in the second half of the 1800s to “check” the local tribe of Pomo Indians.
Fort Bragg is the ideal starting point to discover the Mendocino County, both as position and tourist offer.
The main attraction of the small town is the Skunk Train, due to the nasty smells produced by the coke’s combustion: an old steam train carrying lumber from the Redwood forests as far as the coast and then carved and shipped towards San Francisco.
Today the train covers for tourists and onlookers the same route, about 50km as far as the old Willitis, where you can visit some famous Ranches and the Mendocino County Museum which allows to relive through vintage relics and costume guides the several historical phases of the Mendocino County.
Before leaving Fort Bragg take a bit of time for a walk from the old downtown as far as Glass Beach, a beach completely covered by colored pieces of glass over time smoothed by the sea: their reflexes under the sun and at sunset give a downright kaleidoscope of colors.
The entrance to the alley taking to Glass Beach is located at the crossroads between Helm Street and Old hai Road: the promontory is also a good viewpoint to admire in the winter season the Grey Whale passage from Alaska towards the warmer Southern Seas.
About 6km southwards keep going along the Route 1 you run into another hidden treasure of the Mendocino County, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.
A wonderful almost 20hectars botanical garden extending as far as the coast and giving surprising viewpoints of the ocean and inlets.
The Botanical Gardens attraction is without any doubt the rhododendrons blossom taking place every year late in April which recalling really many lovers and visitors from all over the country.
The Garden is crossed by very cared paths and little water mirrors: on their sides it’s possible to admire a stunning variety of plants and trees. All take to the promontory overlooking directly the Ocean.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is located at 18220 CA-1, Fort Bragg and it is opened 7 days a week 9am-5pm.
Always keep going on the Route 1 about 6km southwards you run into the detour to reach the Point Cabrillo Light Station, according to me one among the most charming and suggestive buildings in the whole coast for aspect – trust me, it will seem to be in New England – and position.
It’s an old lighthouse dating back to the early 1900s straight on the Ocean in the middle of two inlets and a protected naturalistic reserve.
It’s possible to set out on a few simple trails to explore the neighboring area, visit the keeper’s old house and then go up as far as the viewpoint turret of the Light Station and even stay overnight in the vintage cottages immediately at the lighthouse’s back.
The perfect place for people fond of movie – here the outsides of an important number of movies in the last decades were filmed – and photography.
The Point Cabrillo Light Station is located at 45300, Lighthouse Road in Mendocino.
Did you know the San Andreas Fault – the notorious San Andreas “fault” crossing a good part of California causing a lot of problems and earthquakes – passes right by the Point Arena promontory, about 20miles to the south of Mendocino?
And did you know it is the main cause of the boundless chasms creating on the coast?
They are portions of land that since are on the trajectory of the fault generate – following the removal of the plate tectonics and the consequent earthquakes – wide hollows inside themselves: these ones are progressively overrun with water and end up collapsing on themselves.
Then they position in the sea and give birth to those wonderful naturalistic islands – today part of the beautiful Point Arena Stornetta Public Lands – you can admire on this trait of the Pacific Ocean coastline.
A suggestive (and very recommended) trekking, about two hours – among coyotes, deer, groundhogs, very rare birds and mammals: you can do it with the specialized guides of the Unbeaten Path Hiking Tours. It allows to be present at one of the most surprising geological phenomena in California with one’s own eyes.
The access to the Point Arena Stornetta Public Lands is located on the Route 1, about 60km to the south of Mendocino.
I must admit to have discovered the lakes area and the Hwy 20 only by chance.
An improvised path due to a landslide on the Route 1 to the north of the Mendocino County which forced me to have a detour of even 600miles and a full travel day.
The Hwy 253 starts from Point Arena and through the first promontories of the inland reaches in about 90km Lake Mendocino, a wonderful artificial lake lying among the hills of the Ukiah Valley, in the heart of the Pomo Indian Reservation, where it’s possible to camping, fishing and have all sorts of excursions.
From here the scenery Hwy 20 begins: it arrives in about 90km as far as Clear Lake, the greatest fresh water lake in the California State, swallowed up by a dream landscape at the feet of the Konocti, an extinct volcano whose top reaches 1300meters.
The Hwy 20 skirts a good part of the northern lakeside and crosses the nice small villages of Nice and Lucerne.
The whole area is included in a naturalistic reserve with farms and vineyards where it’s possible to bird watching, camping, kayaking and doing excursion trekking.
The areas quoted can be visited extremely calmly in a couple of days.
The ideal it would be to reckon a day for the Mendocino town, one for the path along the coast and another one for the lakes area.
They are short distances, for a total of about 180km to divide into 3/4days.
It is advisable use a comfortable and above all layer clothing, K-Way and tennis shoes o trekking shoes if you decide to set out on the naturalistic path of Point Arena. Remember the area of the coast is extremely windy also in the Summer season and the temperature range between day and night is almost always remarkable.
For any further info or alternative paths to set out on through the Mendocino County, you can look (and contact) the zealous local tourism website up: it will answer to every curious issues about it.