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Mendocino County, a winding two-hour drive north of San Francisco, is the ultimate escape. Despite the region’s accessibility, its bucolic farmlands and untouched coast feel worlds away from city life. This two-day North Coast road trip hits all the high notes: artisan wines, baby goats, private sea coves, redwood forests, hidden beaches, and windswept bluffs. Starting just outside Cloverdale, the trip winds northwest through Anderson Valley and up to the seaside community of Mendocino, with plenty of unforgettable stops along the way.
Taste your way through Anderson Valley
Your adventure begins at the southernmost point of State Route 128, in Sonoma County. As you head north through Anderson Valley’s wine country, you’ll be greeted by grazing sheep and carefully planted grapevines. Once you reach the buzzy little town of Boonville, make a stop at Pennyroyal Farm. Say hello to the dairy goats and their kids before enjoying a wine and cheese pairing on a patio overlooking the vineyard. Half a mile up the road, pop in at Farmhouse Mercantile. The curated home goods store sells all of the cow-shaped creamers and wooden platters you didn’t know you needed. Baxter Winery, in next-door Philo, specializes in single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. The airy, minimalist tasting room complements the understated elegance of their wines.
Explore the North Coast’s heartland
Before dinner, head to Hendy Woods State Park, home to two groves of 1,000-year-old redwoods and five miles of hike-able trails. After you’ve worked up an appetite, continue north to The Bewildered Pig. With an emphasis on hyper-local food and wine, the offerings change daily. Explore the delightful little patio decorated with creative fountains and a cozy firepit before heading into the rustic dining room for an unforgettable meal. Insider tip: The gluten-free popovers are a menu mainstay not to be missed.
Discover a secluded spot in Elk
You will trade green pastures for a rugged coastline as Route 128 turns into Highway 1, where the Navarro River meets the sea. Travel south past rocky shores to arrive at the Harbor House Inn, located in the picturesque town of Elk. The stunning Arts-&-Crafts-style lodge sits overlooking Casket Rock, perched above a private cove, only accessible to guests. Book an ocean-view room and you’ll wake up to a breathtaking panorama of the white-capped sea.
Experience coastal wonder along Highway 1
The 17-mile drive north from Elk to Mendocino proper is an adventure in and of itself. Highway 1 hugs the Pacific the entire way, offering views of windswept cliffs, hidden beaches, and wildflower meadows. Stop in Little River to stretch your legs at Van Damme State Park, where a short hike takes you down to a driftwood-strewn beach or up through a fern-filled forest to a pygmy grove.
Explore Old Town Mendocino
Over the last 200 years, Mendocino has transformed from a logging region to a fishing village to an artists’ colony. But thanks to its designation on the National Register of Historic Places, the architecture and landscape has remained impeccably preserved. Steep roofs and leaded windows appear plucked from a classic New England town. Meander along the streets and you’ll find eclectic galleries and charming little shops. Browse the aisles at Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkles, try a homemade truffle at Mendocino Chocolate Company, or enjoy lunch in the flower garden at Trillium Cafe.
Hike in Mendocino Headlands State Park
No trip to Mendocino is complete without a trek along the headlands. Stretching out from the mouth of the Big River, this state park comprises 347 acres of seaside bluffs and sandy beaches. Follow the four-mile single-track hiking trail for a picture-perfect perspective of the roaring ocean, secluded offshore islands, and cliffs that seem to spring up directly from the sea. If the timing works, visit just as the sun is setting for a magical cap to a perfect weekend away.