While counties throughout California are again tightening restrictions following a surge in Covid-19 cases, the small and remote North Coast gem of Mendocino is beginning to welcome back visitors.
A three-hour, scenic drive from San Francisco that winds past vineyards and redwoods on your way out to the coast, quirky and ridiculously beautiful Mendo feels quiet even when there's not a pandemic on. These days, rustic-chic stays, fresh seafood restaurants, and the heralded wineries of Anderson Valley are reopening at limited capacity, promising even more personal space for enjoying that cool, salty air.
It shouldn't need stating that we must all do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and while some Californians are choosing to travel, many continue to shelter at home. If you do hit the road, limit pit stops by packing your own snacks and water; keep your activities outside; keep your distance; wear a mask; wash your hands; be respectful of local communities; and as always, leave no trace.
Explore the Outdoors: Mendocino's Redwood Forests, Craggy Cliffs & Beaches
It's just two for the road on Skunk Train's railbike, which lets you pedal through lush views for ample wildlife sightings.
(Courtesy of the Skunk Train)
One of the least risky activities you can do right now is hiking and Mendocino offers plenty of trails for all levels without the crowds of popular Bay Area hikes. Walk along the craggy ocean bluffs right from town on the easy Mendocino Headlands Trail or, for an ambitious day hike, set out on the nine-mile Fern Canyon Lollapalooza Trail at Van Damme State Park, which includes a quick loop through the Pygmy forest. Farther north in Russian Gulch State Park, you can hike to a 36-foot waterfall and visit a collapsed sea cave known as Devil's Punchbowl. (Please note that, at press time, trails and parking lots are open but picnic areas and campsites remain closed. Check official websites for updates before visiting.)
For a unique perspective of Mendocino's stunning forests, book a two-person railbike through the Fort Bragg Skunk Train. These open-air, pedal-powered vehicles (equipped with an electric motor assist, in case you want a more leisurely ride) will take you along the peaceful and incredibly scenic Redwood Route, which promises plenty of wildlife sighting opportunities along the way. Another option is a horseback ride through the forest or on the beach with Richochet Ridge Ranch (riding groups are limited in size; find safety and social distancing protocols here).
The many beaches here aren't ideal for sunbathing, but you can stroll and search for treasures at spots like Manchester State Beach, Navarro River State Beach, Eel River, and Ten-Mile Beach. If you want to get out on the water, embark on a sea cave kayak tour, which launches from Van Damme State Park Beach.
Where to Eat & Drink in Mendocino
In addition to offering patio dining, popular Trillium Cafe will pack you a picnic basket and even a map to their favorite nearby spots to spread out your feast.
(Courtesy of Trillium Cafe)
Harbor House Inn
Just south of Mendocino in Elk, the Harbor House Inn became the first restaurant in Mendocino County to nab a Michelin Star in 2019. While their dining room is once again accepting reservations for its 11-course, seafood-focused tasting menu, a more casual option is to swing by for a la carte snacks on their sunny, ocean-view deck (seaweed ice cream, anyone?). Pair it with wine, beer, or a selection from their extensive sake list. This is available by reservation noon to 3pm, Friday through Sunday. // 5600 CA-1 (Elk), theharborhouseinn.com
While this bustling Italian eatery is hidden off the main streets of town and down an alleyway (look for the Italian flag), its reputation is no secret—in other words, expect to wait a bit for a table. But, due to Covid-19, the restaurant is, for the first time, accepting reservations for limited seating in its dining room and on the patio. Order up traditional Northern Italian dishes including homemade orecchioni pasta, a green ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese, parmesan, and spinach served in a butter and sage sauce. Don't leave without getting the tiramisu for dessert. // 955 Ukiah St. (Mendocino), lunatrattoria.com
Wild Fish is the place in Mendocino to get your seafood fix. While it has the appearance of an old fish shack when you walk up, it's actually on the fancier/pricier side, but is totally worth it for the sunset views and fresh, just-caught dishes from right outside their door, like swordfish, petrale sole, and halibut. The restaurant is open for dining in as well as takeout. // 7750 N. Highway 1 (Little River), wild-fish.com
The shutdown prompted Trillium to expand its outdoor dining scenario, so you can enjoy your meal from their garden with views of the ocean. The Point Reyes blue cheese salad is a signature dish—a great starter before an order of grass-fed slow-roasted short ribs or grilled wild king salmon—and they're known for their desserts, so save room. Trillium also has one of the best local wine lists around and is even offering bottles to-go.
For those not ready to eat out, Trillium's new picnic boxes ($50 minimum) can be packed up for lunch or dinner and include everything all the linens, silverware, wine glasses, dishes, and a cutting board. These can be delivered or picked up, and Trillium even throws in a map of local spots to have your picnic. // 10390 Kasten St. (Mendocino), trilliummendocino.com
Fog Eater Cafe
Almost everything is vegan at this whimsical, Southern-inspired, vegetarian cafe (they have a lot of gluten-free options too). Fog Eater is currently offering outdoor dining for chowing down plates of gumbo, succotash, and hushpuppies. Can't decide? Order up the Southern plate, consisting of barbecue lima beans, cornbread, creole mac 'n' cheese, and a vegetable of the day. // 45104 Main St. (Mendocino), fogeatercafe.com
Go Wine Tasting in Anderson Valley
Pennyroyal Farm offers tours of its farm, vineyard, and creamery and serves a mean farm-to-table lunch.
(Courtesy of Pennyroyal Farm)
On your way to or from Mendocino (or maybe both ways), make a point to stop in Anderson Valley for at least a few hours. One of California Wine Country's best-kept secrets—it's far more casual and less crowded than Napa or Sonoma—the region's cool, coastal climate means that pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, and even sparkling wines shine.
Pennyroyal Farm is the best spot for a farm-to-table wine lunch (they produce their own wines, too) or if you're seeking something lighter, their smorgasbord is legendary. If you have time, take a farm tour through the vineyard and creamery and say hi to all of the resident animals.
Overlooking the Navarro River, Toulouse Vineyards offers arguably the best views in Anderson Valley, not to mention the best pinots. Complimentary three-wine tastings (limited to six per party) are available by appointment at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm; you can continue the experience with an additional glass or bottle. Celebrating? Give the new Goose Bubbles a gander.
Share a bottle of sparkling wine with your party on the patio at the famed Roederer Estate (pre-order at the time of reservation for a contactless experience) or book the Estate Stroll & Taste experience at Handley Cellars, where a guided tour through the certified organic vineyards and gardens is followed by a private seated tasting for just $25. Only two appointments are available per day, Monday through Friday. Philips Hill now offers two personalized and intimate outdoor experiences. Choose between the Creekside Tasting set above a babbling creek under the 1880s apple dryer barn or the Picnic Table Tasting under a willow tree with views of towering redwoods. If you prefer beer, grab a pint at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. and take a growler or cans home.
Time your return trip just right and you can stop at The Boonville Hotel & Restaurant for their locally famous paella (reservations required), served alfresco on Sundays only. Or, be one of the first to dine at Wickson Restaurant. Started by a pair of Chez Panisse alums and wood-fire cooking masters, this new restaurant is set to open this summer.
Have just a few minutes to pull over? Grab a cone on a hot summer day from the tiny, French-inspired Paysanne ice cream shop.
Where to Stay in Mendocino
Open at limited capacity, Mendocino Grove offers contactless check-in, regularly disinfected facilities, and plush private tents with fire rings and grills.
(Courtesy of Mendocino Grove)
This redwooded glamping spot has reopened at a limited capacity (67 percent) to allow for better distancing between guests. All shared spaces—the main campfire, restroom facilities, bocce court, etc.—are outdoors, and Mendocino Grove has some of the cleanest showers and bathrooms you've ever experienced at a campground; during peak hours, they will be disinfected every 20 minutes. The glampground has also implemented digital check-in for your luxury canvas tent (if available, book one with ocean views) and a digital concierge service so that you don't ever need to interact with staff. If dining out still makes you nervous, swing by the Mendocino Market and pick up some oysters or other ingredients for cooking right from your site. Each is equipped with its own fire ring and grill, and gas grills are located throughout the property. // 9500, 9601 CA-1 (Mendocino), mendocinogrove.com
Little River Inn
This classic and historic inn has been family-owned for five generations and is situated right on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. It features a golf course, tennis courts, private walking trails—one leads right to Van Damme State Beach—and an on-site restaurant. Each room is unique and most have fireplaces (a few are wood-burning), while some even come with an ocean-view hot tub. Reserve the James Dean room, the very room the famous actor stayed in while filming East of Eden. Little River Inn is requiring masks in public spaces and has ceased housekeeping services during guest stays for increased safety. // 7901 N. Highway One (Little River), littleriverinn.com
Heritage House Resort & Spa
Book an ocean view room or vacation rental at the Heritage House, where guests get access to a private beach and can explore 37 acres of trails, gardens, and forest paths without leaving the property. You can rest easy knowing that staff members receive daily temperature and symptom checks and guests are required to wear face masks in public spaces. Moreover, Heritage House pledges to keep each room vacant for 24 hours following a stay whenever possible. Heritage House has one of the best restaurants in Mendocino, which should be back up and running soon. Take advantage of their summer special and save up to 25 percent on bookings of two nights or more through September 30th. // 5200 N. Hwy 1 (Little River), heritagehouseresort.com
Noyo Harbor Inn & Restaurant
Located north of Mendocino in Fort Bragg, this majestic resort built in 1867 is situated over the riverbank with views of an active harbor. King room interiors are gorgeously encased in handcrafted wood and come with a soaking tub with views, fireplace, and sometimes balconies. Dine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the patio and watch the boats come in and out, and have a cocktail with crab deviled eggs at happy hour. Noyo is currently offering special reopening pricing: Two-night stays are 20 percent off, three-night stays 25 percent off, and four-night stays get guests a free fifth night. Moreover, guests who book a minimum of two nights will receive a bottle of wine from Meyer Family Cellars plus a complimentary tasting and 10 percent off all food and drink during their stay. As for Covid-19 protocols, employees get a temperature check upon arrival, wear marks and sometimes gloves, no one will enter the room during your stay (though fresh towels and other amenities can be delivered), and guests are asked to wear masks when in public spaces. // 500 Casa Del Noyo (Fort Bragg), noyoharborinn.com
Please also note that things change quickly during a pandemic. It's a good idea to check websites for opening hours and available services before you go. For more information, go to visitcalifornia.com.