Road Trippin’: Mendocino or Bust


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Want to get away? Well load up the car and get ready for a real drive. The Mendocino coast is a legendary haven for artists and romantics, but it’s also a fantastic getaway spot for families. The scenery is straight classic California Crusin’, with awe-inspiring Pacific Coast views and tall redwood trees. So much so that the kids just might forget about their games of torture for a moment, giving Mom and Dad a chance to navigate in peace. Wondering what do after tumbling out of the family auto? How about mini golf or llama ranches? Maybe hiking in a Pygmy forest? And of course, there are those awesome beaches too. Scroll down to find out more.


Getting There
It’s 155 miles from San Francisco and folks have a couple of options on routes. The scenic route, no doubt the longer of the two, will take road trippers up Hwy 1, which winds it’s way up the amazing Pacific Coast, through seaside hamlets and majestic seaside cliffs. The forest route is faster, and winds through the redwoods. Zip up 101 all the way to Cloverdale then head West on Hwy 128 aka, Anderson Valley Highway

Pit Stop: If you gotta stop, try Booneville, home pad to Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Check out the breweries solar powered facilities, play some Frisbee Golf or browse the town. Super cool shops await your presence and maybe the kiddos will pick up some “Boontling,” a jargon spoke only in Booneville.

Where to Stay
While Mendocino and Fort Bragg both offer a ton of intimate, secluded B&B’s, private cottages or jaw-dropping hotel room, families will get a kick out of spots focused on the fun and adventures of everyone, even the guests under 4 feet tall. Lodging and Llamas offers private cottages perfect for families and yes, there are llamas at the ready. Kids will go nuts for the goats and llamas hanging around the farm. The coolest part? There are hikes offered into various parts of the area, from the beaches to the forest and the llamas pack the equipment. Emerald Dolphin Inn is in Fort Bragg, which is just a 10 minute drive north from Mendocino. It’s also the only 18 hole put-put golf course in area! There is an arcade center and huge grassy field perfect for flying kites, playing games and running dogs. The Inn is located on the cliffs, which makes for some awesome whale watching too.

A real cooperative effort in vacationing can be had at Jug Handle Creek Farm, where families can opt to stay in the farmhouse, which includes a community kitchen for all, living area, and 3 bathrooms, set up at the campgrounds or, they can opt for one of the private houses in back. This sustainable non-profit, nature center and farm covers over 39 acres. There are two gardens, the fruits of which are for guests, volunteers, and staff! Kids and parents can get a little insight to exactly what an ecological staircase is, or head over to the Jug Handle Reserve and explore the beach, do some kayaking or tidepooling and much more.

Insider Tip: Guests golf for free at Emerald Dolphin and kids 10 and under hike for free with Llama Treks.


What to Do
If you and the gang ever make it out of any of the super cool lodging spots, there are a ton of amazing family friendly spots to investigate. Start at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where enjoyment can be found in the gorgeous blooms local to the area. Summer flora and fauna include lilies, succulents and wildflowers. The calendar is chock-full of events like Bird Watching with the Audubon Society, Rhododendron Walks, and the Friends of the Gardens Bake Sale.

Beaches, oh the glorious beaches of the Mendocino Coast! There are several to choose from and the family favorites include Glass Beach, where beautiful bits of sea glass make their way to the shores, and MacKerricher State Park, where every Saturday, a docent-led tour about Harbor Seals and Sea Lions takes place from 2:00 – 3:00 pm.

All Aboard!! Everybody loves a train ride, so hop on the Skunk Train for a day of sightseeing from the rails. The redwoods and surrounding areas are near unchanged and the rails follow the Redwood Route, in operation since 1885. The folks running this awesome train experience offer package deals for families too and summer routes can come with a BBQ lunch. Before or after everyone loads up, be sure to check out over 700 feet of G-scale track in the Carpenter’s Barn at the Train Yard. It’s a living history and tribute to the early redwood lumber industry, complete with little towns, trees and bridges!

Is a relaxing time at the park something the family wants to add to the itinerary? Friendship Park is the perfect spot to catch a ballgame, have some snacks, enjoy the playground and it’s right in the heart of town.

Mendocino is bursting at the seams with seasonal events like the Mendocino Music Festival, the Film Festival, Fourth of July Parade, and much more. Heads up, no doubt lodging rates and tourist numbers will skyrocket for these vacation dates, but it could be well worth the extra cash.


Where to Eat
Keep those little bodies moving with delicious bites from kiddo friendly restaurants in the area. Parents will love the suds and vino at Frankie’s and the kids will go wild for over 25 flavors of locally made ice cream. There is also awesome pizza combos like the Navarro, made with organic chicken, housemade pesto, mozzarella and caramelized onions. For some comfort food of the highest quality, The Q in Fort Bragg is the place! Pulled pork sandwiches, ridiculously large rib platters and BBQ’d oysters will have the whole crew filled to the brim. Want killer food and an ocean view to boot? Mendocino Cafe offers both and furry friends are even welcome to join the family for lunch or dinner on the deck. Choose from a wide variety of snacks and big plates include nachos, hot Thai salad or a mouth-watering cafe burger served with local shrooms and gorgonzola cheese. Dinner choices include Brazilian fish stew and steamed mussels.


Where to Shop
If picking up souvenirs from your family travels are a must, there are quite a few little shops waiting for little folks and families to discover treasures of all kinds. The Village Toy Store on Lansing Street is filled with delightful little finds like dragons, fairies, old classics and a killer dress up collection. Everyone will get a kick out of the motorized train running on on the ceiling!

If satisfying a sweet-tooth is on the list, head straight for the Mendocino Chocolate Company, where gorgeous, handmade truffles will make mouths water and it’ll be hard to walk out the door without at least one piece of fudge.

Does your family have any favorite haunts in Mendocino? We want to know! 

–Gabrielle Cullen

Redwoods, Courtesy of Ken Jarvis Photography via Flickr
Kid at Beach, Courtesy of Kevinkrejci via Flickr
23 Diesel, Courtesy of Skunk Train
Girl Eating Pizza Courtesy of Marlie Kanoi via Flickr


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