When Marin is packed and Big Sur is feeling crowded, we like to take off for Mendocino County. Just a few hours drive north up Highway 1, this place is a NorCal dream with acres of redwood forests, hot springs, and long stretches of wild, untamed coastline.
If you’re looking for a beautiful hike but are unsure of how difficult you want it to be, head to Van Damme State Park. The beginning of this paved trail is flat, covered in pine needles, and you can turn around at 2.5 miles to make the hike an easy five miles round trip. To make it a 7.5-mile loop, take the fork to the right to explore the Pygmy Forest, where undernourished soil has caused stunted tree growth and the 100-year-old trees still look like saplings. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Dine on some local seafood at Wild Fish in Little River.
Just north of Fort Bragg is Glass Beach, where natural beauty and local history mesh. For the first half of the 20th century, the locals would dump trash into the ocean — and, by today, the Pacific has spit it right back out, polished by the waves into glassy, multicolored pebbles. Park along Glass Beach Road and wander down to the water to watch the sun set over the colorful shoreline. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Walk an easy 15 minutes into downtown Fort Bragg and have a drink at North Coast Brewing Co.
Head to Mendocino Headlands State Park and the Big Estuary, where freshwater rivers, redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean meet. You’ll launch from the southern side of the river and head upstream, where half a mile in you’ll come across some small islands and channels to explore. If it’s your lucky day, you might even find yourself paddling alongside harbor seals and river otters. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Don’t have your own vessel? Rent one of Catch a Canoe’s beautiful redwood outrigger canoes.
With so many miles of beautiful coastline, it’d be a shame to miss out on Mendocino’s seaside camping. Reserve a spot at Russian Gulch State Park, just two miles north of the town of Mendocino, where you’ll spend the night nestled between a rugged beach and a stunning 36-foot waterfall. Chill on the mile-and-a-half stretch of beach or head inland for miles of hiking trails. Learn more.
Insider Tip: The park is best known for the Russian Gulch Creek Canyon and the Devil’s Punch Bowl — a large, collapsed sea cave full of churning water.
Not far from the tiny, idyllic Mendocino town of Point Arena you’ll find Bowling Ball Beach, a part of the larger Schooner Gulch State Beach. It’s named after the large, round sandstone rocks just along the shore. Pack a picnic and come at sunset to take in the views. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Looking to buy picnic goods nearby? Head to the Arena Market & Café, Point Arena’s co-op market.