You don’t have to know the history behind Mendocino’s charming Victorian-era buildings to appreciate them, but the backstories can enrich any visit. Get oriented at Kelley House Museum, which shares details on how, in the late 1800s, lumberman first moved here and started building homes out of the region’s magnificent coast redwoods. The house itself, built by William Kelley for his family in 1861, contains a rich collection of 19th-century furnishings. Dozens of early photographs capture life in the little town as it began to boom; permanent exhibits include ones on the Pomo, the original Native American inhabitants of the area, as well as a “Then and Now” photo exhibit that compares photographs of the same locations taken one hundred years apart. In the house’s garden, visit the pond that Kelley kept well-stocked so local children could toss in a line and nab a fish. There’s also a store onsite that keeps many books on Mendocino history in stock.
To explore the rest of the town, much of it protected as a National Historic Preservation District (it’s the only town on the California coast to be designated as such), join a 2-hour guided walking tour. These are offered by the Kelley House Museum on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. and are led by docents in period clothing, brimming with insights to share regarding pioneer homes, meeting places, and early businesses of the area. If you prefer to experience an informative tour at your own pace, self-guided audio walking tours are also available via rented Android tablets.
For more information on the Mendocino area, including the annual great migration of gray whales and the history of the logging industry that powered much of the town’s growth, visit the Ford House Museum, which is also home to the town’s visitors’ center.