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Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area

Explore a rocky and wild wonderland

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This lightly visited area, protecting offshore sea caves filled with honking, squawking, and even neon-colored life, is a terrific destination for kayakers. Don’t have gear? No problem. Kayak Mendocino, a local outfitter, rents everything you need at adjacent Van Damme State Park, and 90-minute guided kayak tours let you get a close-up look at the caves and their resident seals (the honkers), seabirds (the squawkers), and brilliantly colored sea stars (the neon) dotting the rocks. On calm days, consider renting a stand-up paddleboard for a new way to skim across the surface.  

On terra firma, explore 10 miles of trails with such intriguing oddities as the Pygmy Forest, where unique conditions create a woodland scene in miniature, populated by cypress trees as short as six inches (they normally soar to 50 feet or more). For a scene straight out of Jurassic Park, explore the fern-carpeted canyon of Little River. There’s camping at the park, or spoil yourself at Little River Inn, a Victorian-style charmer with cozy rooms and a restaurant featuring fresh, local seafood.

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