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Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest
Go hiking, boating, and wildlife-watching at this sprawling monument

Spanning 330,780 acres of public land, Mendocino National Forest became a monument in 2015, praised by then-President Barack Obama for its “biodiversity and an abundance of recreational opportunities.” The magical, massive land parcel—which is less than three hours north of San Francisco—rises from near sea level in the south to above 7,000-foot elevations in the northern mountains. Along the way, it encompasses nearly 100 miles and dozens of different ecosystems.

Nearly half of that land is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, and visitors can enjoy a variety of recreational activities—from hiking on rustic trails, to boating and all-terrain vehicle driving. There are a lot of fish to be caught around here, too, from the rainbow trout in streams to the bass in Lake Pillsbury. 

No visit is complete without embracing the Cache Creek Wilderness, east of Clear Lake in eastern Lake County. Come hiking here (on sometimes steep terrain) for stunning views, or bring your tent to one of the area campgrounds; go boating on the 17-mile canyon creek, enjoy horseback riding, or just come for the wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for deer, Tule elk, black bears, wild pigs, and even magnificent bald eagles, which are particularly active from mid-October through mid-August. Come in spring to see wildflowers such as lupine, poppies, and lilacs.

The Cedar Roughs Wildlife Area is another gem, more secluded and rugged in its forested mountains west of Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Home to the rare Sargent cypress trees that thrive in the area’s bluish-green, rocky serpentine soil, it’s also a treasured habitat for Napa County’s remaining black bear population.

Thrill seekers also gravitate to the Knoxville Wildlife Area, ideal for motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles. Whatever way you travel, you’ll be surrounded by spectacular scenery.

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Tai Power Seeff

Discover the North Coast

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53
May
Average (°F)
Mar - May
58°
High
43°
Low
June - Aug
62°
High
51°
Low
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low
Dec - Feb
55°
High
41°
Low

Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.

Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.

It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.

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Karen Desjardin/Getty Images

Best Beaches on the North Coast

Explore the breathtaking scenery of the wild Sonoma and Mendocino coasts—from sandy shores to the top of a lighthouse

North of San Francisco, there's a whole other world of California, where rugged cliffs, towering redwood trees, and artsy towns dot an idyllic...

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Clint Farlinger/Alamy

Klamath

Redwoods, salmon, and California’s largest tribe all thrive in this small North Coast town

Klamath is so far north that many people assume this tiny town is in Oregon, not California. Set along its...

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Tour an inspiring compound dedicated to an almost-lost art

Eric Hollenbeck didn’t plan to be a time traveler, or a museum curator, or a model of how to take care of troubled youth or returning war vets....

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Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake within California, is the oldest lake in North America and possibly the world.
SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
John Muir
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Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Mendocino

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Discover a coastal paradise with ridiculously fresh seafood, amazing wine, and craft beer

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea, this coastal hamlet is an obvious magnet for artists, romantics, and lovers of...

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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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At 115 feet, Point Arena Lighthouse is the tallest climbable lighthouse on the West Coast.
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

North Coast Wine Country

Slip away to some of the state’s most peaceful vineyards

From quiet vineyards bounded by lush redwood forests along the Mendocino Coast, to the sun-drenched rolling hills of rugged Lake County, the North...

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Courtesy of County of Lake

Clear Lake

Explore a burgeoning wine scene and cool off with a summery splash in the lake

Take a deep breath the next time you’re in Lake County. That’s some of the cleanest air in the nation, according to the American Lung...

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Tai Power Seeff

Wine & Dine in the North Coast

Sample hyper-local foods from land and sea, plus amazing beers and wines

The North Coast might just be the perfect place to eat. Few other places in the world can offer such a harmonious blend of chefs, farmers,...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

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SPECIAL FEATURE
Celebrate the seasonal bounty and quirky art-fueled character of the North Coast

You can learn a lot about a place at its local festivals. Consider the Kinetic Grand Championship, a cosmically silly three-day battle between human-powered works of art (imagine a speeding dragon...

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The Humboldt County Fair began in 1896 and is the oldest running county fair in California.
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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB

Ferndale

Visit a Victorian village where time stands still

A fairytale come to life, this remote village features carefully preserved Victorian-era century homes, a visual and architectural feast. On a...

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Courtesy of Skunk Train

Skunk Train

Ride a historic train through soaring coast redwoods

Originally built to transport redwood logs from the rugged backcountry to the coast, this 1885 heritage railroad now ferries sightseers to and fro...

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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB

Eureka

Nature and culture merge in an art-fueled Victorian seaport

This lively seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has split-personality charm: a sense of history in...

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While now a beautiful coastal treasure, Glass Beach initially began in the late 1940s as a place where locals would toss their trash, including glass bottles.
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Lucas Himovitz

Fort Bragg

Rough-and-tumble lumber town morphs into a top coastal find

With its original roots as a military garrison and then a gritty lumber town, Fort Bragg skirted under the radar of most visitors. But now—perhaps...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

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Groveb/Getty Images
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Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets