Things to Do in Mendocino

November 17, 2020

Filed in: Field Guide

We squished our way through the sand, feet sinking and sliding with each step, (film) cameras in hand, as the waves washed up the shore, ready to discover the things to do in Mendocino. The wind was crisp, an announcement that fall was claiming her territory on this coastal town — and a far cry from the sweltering temperatures that we had left back in the Bay.

Scampering and clambering over rocks and trying not to slip, we explored Glass Beach, which was sorely lacking in said glass. Tide pools glistened as the orange glow of the sunset glittered on the water , and we played tag with the ocean as she reached for our toes (and non-waterproof shoes).

A sunset on Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, a northern California coastal town. The sky is hazy orange and red, making the sun appear exceptionally large.

As we climbed our way back to the car (the beaches here are not flat, but rather hilly), we turned around, expecting an average sunset. Instead, it was a scene straight out of the Lion King. Though the wind was becoming brusque and I was definitely shivering, we stopped. A gargantuan circle, brilliantly orange and pink, began to sink behind the wisps of clouds on the horizon as we snapped, thoughtfully and reverently, trying to do justice with film what our eyes would only sear into our memories.

That was just one of three sunsets.

Left: A gentle sunset on Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, a northern California coastal town. Waves crash violently on the rocks. Right: A cheerful blue door spotted in the town of Mendocino, a northern California coastal town with New England saltbox aesthetic.

The second evening saw us running frantically, chaotically laughing like maniacs as we raced to a bench perched on a rock. Fuelled by fear that someone would swipe the spot and the race against time, we were a bouncing bunch as our feet sent poofs of dust flying on the dirt trails.

We did other things beside watch the sunsets: We let ourselves be awed by the sapphire beauty of the ocean at Russian Gulch. Jug Handle Beach provided the perfect picnic spot to share a bag of salt and pepper kettle chips and polish off lunch with an afternoon nap in the sand. There were afternoon snacks of ice cream, strolls through Mendocino (which struck me as a New England town with the saltbox houses), and takeaway dinners eaten on our beds. Here’s the itinerary of things to do in Mendocino and its environs.

Rock formations parallel the coast in Mendocino, a northern California coastal city and county situated on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Things to Do in Mendocino

Day 1 – Visit Fort Bragg

  • Arrive in Fort Bragg.
  • Head to Glass Beach. There is no glass. There is a sunset.
  • Dinner at North Coast Brewing Co. (Takeaway, as were all our meals.)

A lone black bird flies through the sky across a small inlet in the coast in Mendocino. The water is a bright turquoise in this northern California coastal town.

Day 2 – Explore the State Parks

  • MacKerricher State Park. People come here to whale watch. We did not see any whales, but we did see some sea lions or otters!
  • Stop at the grocery store for a pique-nique.
  • Picnic at Jug Handle Beach. Don’t miss the sign for the parking. To get down to the beach, for right at the entrance, and you’ll eventually hit another sign telling you you’re in the right direction.
  • Nap at the beach and then take pictures on film.
  • Ice cream. The local stockist seams to be Cowlick’s and the chai ice cream is darn good.
  • Noyo State Park to walk the trails and catch the sunset at the top of the rock (with the bench!!). Frantic, chaotic running to claim your spot recommended for the experience.

Left: A view of Russian Gulch between the trees, with its turquoise waters that meet the bridge that carries cars over the gulch. Right: Tracks in the sand left by the seaweed, pulled by the waves into the ocean.

Day 3 – Visit Mendocino and the Lighthouse

  • Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Shorter than expected but quaint. More coastal views that don’t get old.
  • Picnic at Russian Gulch. The entry fee is $8. Follow the signs to the picnic area and you won’t be disappointed. Apples and brie for lunch.
  • Cautiously wind your way down to the beach. The view is honestly better from the picnic spot, but it’s not crowded and a good place for another nap or a little dip.
  • Stroll through Mendocino. Admire the saltbox houses and stop for another ice cream (or rootbeer float). Spend an hour at the Mendocino Headlands looking out onto the waves and the unsuccessful amateur fisherman as they pull a sardine out of the water after an hour or casting their line. Take a self-portrait using the self timer on your film camera, balancing it precariously on a stone slab.
  • Takeaway at Café Beaujolais. Duck hash was good but a little lacking on duck. Risotto with braised pork a winner.

A white, single-story saltbox house in the northern California coastal town of Mendocino.

Day 4 – Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

  • Head home via the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop at Point Arena Lighthouse and take in the waves splashing against the undulating cliffs.
  • Continue on the PCH, winding your way down into valleys and around the perilous cliffsides (sometimes without a guardrail). Film the country roads, telephone wires punctuating the landscape, the cypress tree tunnels, and the ocean. Get aggressively beeped by an impatient Subaru on an especially windy patch of road. Wish her bad karma.
  • Split at 116 East and stop in Santa Rosa for lunch. Takeaway at Grossman’s in the historic district.
  • Back to the Bay, the traffic, and home!

Left: The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse sits on the Mendocino coast, welcoming visitors with its red roof. Right: Turquoise waves crash on the rocks of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse sits in the distance, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and alone in a vast, golden field.

I am a San Francisco Bay Area film photographer specialising in senior girls, families, love stories, and (personal) brands. Want to work together? Get in touch! I’d love to know your story.

comments +

  1. Raj says:

    Thank you for the detailed blog. Planning to visit next weekend . Do you have any suggestion for good hotels to stay?

    • Marissa says:

      Hi Raj,

      Where we stayed is a bit fuzzy in my memory, but it may have been a Holiday Inn. There are some b&bs as well, that are charming!

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Paris & California strolls; plenty of flowers; stories; and looking for the beauty in the everyday. I hope you'll come along as I take the year to document the entirety of my home state!