Experience California’s Good Old Days in Mendocino County

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Photo credit: Nelson Minar
Photo credit: Nelson Minar

You’ve probably heard stories about how California used to be — when the beaches were uncrowded, the vibes were laid back and the people welcomed visitors with open arms. The California of yesterday still exists, but instead of finding it near Los Angeles or San Diego, you’ll find it north of San Francisco in picture-perfect Mendocino County.

Known as the crown jewel of the California coastline, Mendocino County is a place where you can sip legendary California wines, discover secluded beaches, whale watch, surf and end your day in a hole-in-the-wall pub. You won’t find traffic jams or uppity locals here.

These five reasons why you should visit Mendocino County are guaranteed to put this underrated destination on your travel bucket list. 

Winter Whale Watching Is A Must

If you’re convinced you need to head farther south in the winter months, you haven’t been to Mendocino between January and March. These magical months are when the annual whale migration occurs. Thousands of Grey Whales venture from Alaska to Baja California, putting on a spectacular show as they pass the Mendocino coastline.

The Wine Is World Famous

Photo credit: T Chu
Photo credit: T Chu

The Anderson Valley wine trail encourages you to sightsee as you sip. Lula Cellars, famous for their 2013 Zinfandel and 2012 Pinot Noir among others, is a pet-friendly stop that encourages you to bring your furry friend into the tasting room. Continue on to the family-owned Handley Cellars,  where you can explore the grounds on foot with a guide, then finish the day at historic Phillips Hill Winery, famous for top-quality Pinot Noirs and tastings that are held in a 19th-century apple dryer barn. The list of award-winning Anderson Valley, Redwood Corridor and coastal vineyards in Mendocino County is long, so wine lovers are encouraged to spend several days exploring them all.

You Can Have the Beach All to Yourself

Many travelers are convinced secluded beaches no longer exist in California, but you can find plenty in Mendocino County. Some of the best, like the sandy nook that can be found at the end of the 2.5-mile-long trail known as the Jug Handle Ecological Staircase, require a little more effort to reach.

The extra effort is always worth it, but you don’t have to be an avid hiker or adventurer to experience the area’s famously picturesque (and uncrowded) coastline. Simply hop in your vehicle and cruise Highway 1, until you find the stretch of sand that calls your name.

The Parks Are Out of This World

Photo credit: Daderot
Photo credit: Daderot

It’s no secret that the Mendocino area is a haven for outdoors lovers, and the numerous state parks remain favourites among locals and visitors alike. Russian Gulch State Park is one of the most famous, offering 7.5 miles of trails along the coast with some of the area’s most dramatic views. The 36-foot-tall waterfall is the icing on the cake.

Van Damme State Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park and the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park are just a few more must-visit destinations, showcasing the unrivaled beauty of the region.

You’re Never a Stranger

One of the biggest perks of choosing Mendocino County as your travel destination is that you’ll always feel welcome. Whether you’re taking a surf lesson, horseback riding with the friendly guides at Ross Ranch, stocking up on supplies at the Boonville General Store or sipping a brew at Patterson’s Pub, you’ll never feel like a stranger in this neck of the woods.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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