There are many reasons San Franciscans drive north along the rugged, dramatic coast to Mendocino. With so may San Francisco-based IfOnly experiences, its hard to believe anyone would ever want to stray. Some of us seek distance from our stressed lives; others room for romance, or quiet for renewal.
I go with my dog and someone I love to chill out on a rocking chair perched over the Pacific Ocean.
The road trip north from San Francisco winds through the Anderson Valley wine country, famous for its Pinot Noirs. Stop for a tasting to break up the drive. Next you’ll drive through magnificent redwood forests and then hold on for dear life as you wind along precipitous cliffs above the brilliantly blue Pacific Ocean. The views will make you want to roll down the window and sing along to your favorite tunes.
“What do you do up there?” friends ask me. “As little as possible” is my response.
With a cup of steaming coffee in the morning and a glass of wine at sunset, my daughter, my dog and I settled into the rocking chairs on our deck at the Little River Inn. Bunnies played in the well-manicured gardens. We watched kayakers and abalone fishermen going out at dawn and dusk, seabirds like loons or pelicans, and whales spouting on the horizon. “Spout! Spout!” we shouted when we see the unmistakable burst of water.
Many visitors come to Mendocino to hike miles of trails, view whales, sea lions, and seals in their natural habitat, listen to the pounding surf or poking around tide pools.
The hike to Point Cabrillo Light Station, a beautifully restored 1909 lighthouse, four miles north of Mendocino is worth the effort. Camping and hiking are available in nearby Van Dame State Park.
Hollywood is also wise to the rugged beauty of California’s northern coast. Since 1943, Mendocino has been the setting for 19 films, including “Summer of 42,” East of Eden,” “The Russians Are Coming,” “Same Time Next Year” and “The Karate Kid.”
The historic village of Mendocino is perched on wildflower-carpeted bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Designated a National Historic Preservation District, the quaint town boasts Victorian-era, saltbox and East Coast-style buildings, dozens of shops, art galleries, restaurants, gardens, bed-and-breakfast inns.
Check out the town’s two museums: the Ford House and the Kelly House. Knowledgeable docents are on-hand to answer questions and show you around the historically decorated homes. The Kelly House has changing seasonal exhibits, most recently about the towns lumber boom during the 1850’s Gold Rush, local shipwrecks, the indigenous Pomo Indians and marine life. Down the street from Kelly House you can walk by the Blair House, the filming location for “Murder, She Wrote.” The same small street is also home to the historic Chinese Temple of Kwan Tai, built in the 1850s by Mendocino’s once-thriving Chinese population. Also worth a visit is the renowned Mendocino Art Center, known for classes in ceramics, fine arts and textiles.
Whether you come for a celebration, or as we did, a getaway from San Francisco, the Little River Inn is my personal favorite. Each room in the luxury Victorian inn has an incredible view of the ocean and many feature fireplaces, decks with rocking chairs, wet bars, Jacuzzis, and private hot tubs. Tucked among the hills and the redwoods on the property, a nine-hole golf course challenges golfers and the spa is a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate.
At sunset we joined locals and tourists at the hopping Whale Watch Bar to slurp fresh oysters and steamers. The food in the restaurant is no slouch here – fresh fish, farm-to-table produce and homemade pastries. We feasted on delicious osso buco, bouillabaisse; green lip mussels baked with light wasabi mayo and the award winning crab cakes.
After three full days of local wine, fresh seafood, stunning views and mellow nights, it was time to get back to my usual life eating tuna out of the can and communicating with my computer. But for a short getaway, Mendocino is a great road trip.