This packed-with-wildlife preserve roughly 18 miles north of Mendocino makes you feel like you’re taking on your own personal waterfront safari. This wild stretch of rugged, unspoiled coastline—technically consisting of three preserves protecting the shoreline here—includes one of California’s least developed estuaries, as well as one of its longest dune systems. The result: habitats galore for all kinds of critters. This is a place where you might as well glue your binoculars to your face. More than 90 species of birds live, nest, or make annual migratory stopovers on and around Ten Mile Beach. Whales spout in the Pacific, seals loll along the rocky shore, and river otters make their home in the estuary.
Fortunately for us Homo sapiens, it’s a very easy place to visit. There’s plenty of parking at Ten Mile Estuary (outstanding for wildlife-watching with kids). From here, it’s a short walk to the mouth of the estuary. Nearby MacKerricher State Park has hiking trails, an idyllic cove, and a campground, and you can ride horses along the beach. (Check out trail rides offered by nearby Ricochet Ridge Ranch.) The relaxed former logging town of Fort Bragg is just three miles south. On your way down to Fort Bragg stop at Glass Beach; polished bits of sea glass create a child-at-heart’s sparkling dream (just look; no collecting allowed).