This charming hamlet, perched on a wave-carved headland, is sandwiched between thick forests and a restless sea. With fewer than 1,000 year-round residents and this remote location, Mendocino offers tranquility in a spectacular North Coast setting. Mendocino’s dramatic location is a natural magnet for artists, and you can often see them, easels propped and paint palettes out, capturing the scene on their canvases. Mendocino is meant for walking, so stroll the little streets with shops selling local artwork, then pop in for a coffee and chat with the locals. Take a walk along the bluffs, especially at sunset on fog-free evenings. The region’s wild natural setting and isolation have also drawn alternative thinkers and environmentalists, and the word “organic” pops up on many a menu. Victorian-era homes, converted into B&Bs in every level of poshness, look like gingerbread houses come to life. Mendocino also knows how to throw a good party, especially when it comes to food, and annual festivals celebrate mushrooms, wine, and crab, as well as the region’s largest inhabitants, whales.
Given Mendocino’s Pacific-out-the-window location, it’s little surprise that restaurants here excel in seafood. Salmon, albacore, rock cod, Dungeness crab, and abalone are some of the ocean delicacies you can enjoy at area restaurants, some with dress-up fancy ambiance, others kick-back-with-the-locals relaxed. For a special meal, consider Trillium Cafe for fresh seafood in farm-to-table preparations, (chock-full ling cod bouillabaisse, local wild king salmon with creamy pumpkin seed pesto). The Grey Whale Bar and Cafe, housed within elegant Maccallum House B&B, also features nightly seafood specials.
If you see people walking by with crumbs on their shirts, they’ve probably been to Goodlife Cafe and Bakery, where locals have been known to describe pastries, such as the seasonal huckleberry Danish, as “insanely good.” Wholesome, organic, and fair trad are all buzzwords here.
Insider's Tip: Want a really fresh catch? Consider booking space on a local fishing charter and see what you can snag.
Keep following the rugged coast, with stops at historic Fort Ross (a former outpost for Russian hunters searching for sea otter pelts) and Jenner, the village at the mouth of the Russian River. Then reach your last stop, a towering grove of coast redwoods just north of San Francisco.