Way ahead of its time, Mendocino County boasts many firsts. The birthplace of organic wine. First California community to ban genetically modified crops. And the premiere spot to make pot smoking legal for personal use.
Throw in hippies and high-end wineries. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-them-towns strung along US 101. Cannabis tours. Hamlets of idyllic Anderson Valley hug the winding redwood shaded road–a region so remote they even created their own language called Boontling.
Farther west, romantic urbanites whisper about the existence of the Mendocino Coast: a wonderland of Victorian architecture, art galleries, haute cuisine and some of the most dramatic nature in Northern California.
Over the years, Mendocino has managed to preserve her dignity, despite folks constantly battling for ownership of the land. Pomo Indians once ruled these redwood-covered hills. In 1850, loggers swooped in to gobble up cash from the trees that thrive along the foggy coast. Now farming (mainly cannabis and wine grapes) and tourism sustain the region.
Many of the original Victorian houses and hotels can still be found in Mendocino proper, and the nearby logging town, now tourist hub, Fort Bragg. Farther south on the coast explorers will find plenty of farmhouses, quiet inns, and locally-owned restaurants dotting the towns of Little River, Albion, Elk, Point Arena and Gualala.
The inland communities of Hopland, Ukiah, Willits, Boonville and Philo promise tightly-knit community vibes, where cowboys rub elbows with hippies.
Fog generally hides the coast from the sun for almost half the year, making summers downright cold. Add to the mix that cell service is spotty and you understand why a trip to this region forces you to slow down.
Whether you choose to breeze through for a weekend, delight in the riches of this craggy coast, or let the kiddos run free in the woods, you’ll find much to enjoy in this pocket of Northern California. Settle in. Explore organic roadhouses, hiking trails, and an epic coastline that begs you to chill out.
Mendocino County delights year round. In winter you’ll likely need rain boots and a thick jacket, but you’ll have the coast to yourself on those magically warm February afternoons. Fall typically boasts the warmest weather, while moderate temperatures in spring and summer lure romance seekers, eager to spend some time snuggling indoors.
Most people spend a long weekend on Mendocino’s coast. If you hope to explore the inland regions of Anderson Valley, Ukiah, Hopland and Willits, in addition to the coast, you’ll want at least a week.
Long weekends, summer, and holidays pack Mendocino’s inns and hotels. When the temperature drops, hotel prices do as well, making winter, early spring and late fall prime low season for bargain hunters.
For most, Mendocino’s coastal climate inspires extra layers. With high temperatures rarely rising about 70 Fahrenheit, don’t expect to be lazing on the beaches in a swim suit. It’s wise to bring hats and jackets, even in summer.
Inland, the temperatures rise dramatically in summer. Winters can be downright chilly and wet.
National Holidays include:
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Day
February (third Monday): Washington’s Birthday
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day (aka Native American Day)
November (11th): Veteran’s Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Local holidays and events:
April: Gualala’s Whale and Jazz Festival
August: Willits Kinetic Carnival
California is located in the Pacific time zone.
To check the local time in Mendocino, click here.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’
For the most part, Mendocino is a casual destination. Logging shirts and birkenstocks seem to be required attire for most, regardless of gender. The key to comfort in this region is layering. You’ll want to warm yourself in dense fog, cool off in blaring sunshine, and everything in between.
Mendocino can be enjoyed on a dime, or given the luxe treatment. For the most part, Mendo’s allure is the slightly more affordable cost of living along the coast, allowing most anyone to sleep steps from the sea.
In general, inland Mendocino offers more budget accommodations, including hot springs resorts, simple hotels and B&Bs near hiking trails, great restaurants and wineries.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, itâs high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell âem what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you donât need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You canât go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8-10 per hour; gas and insurance are included.
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. Itâs convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” — no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework â check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods â this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you donât do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken into consideration. General guidelines include:
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas â New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco â are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill.
Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above
You’ll want a car to fully explore Mendocino County. Sure some avid cyclists pedal through the redwoods to the sea, but the rest of us mortals will want a set of wheels to full embrace the natural wonders of this region.
There are no major airports in Mendocino County. The nearest airports are SFO, Oakland, Sonoma, Redding and Sacramento. The inland towns line Highway 101. To access the coast, cut through Anderson Valley, or travel up the coast from San Francisco.
Public transportation is not the pride of slow Mendo, though Mendocino Transit Authority does provide bus service throughout the county. You’ll want a car and a decent map as cell service is spotty both inland and along the coast.
The largest towns in the county are Ukiah and Fort Bragg.
Adventurers, wanderers, and seekers have long flocked to the simple charms of Mendocino. One of California’s original 27 counties, Mendocino has lured explorers since before it was “discovered” in the 1500s. Today an unlikely mix of renegades, innovators escaping the high cost of Bay Area living, and retirees gives flavor to this massive region.
Tiny hamlets dot the coast, many of them populated with Victorian architecture, artsy galleries and farm-to-table cuisine.
As the roads head east, the redwoods jut from the rolling hills. While still home to varying degrees of cultural renegades, the agricultural influences give the communities of Boonville, Ukiah, Hopland and Willits a balanced appeal.
Native American tribes first inhabited these wild lands. Over 70 native tribes, including the Yuki, Pomo, Cahto, and Wintun ruled the coastal and forest regions, formerly named Alta California. Then in the 16th century, explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailed into Cape Mendocino, renaming the region and bringing attention to his benefactors.
In 1852, the gold rushers arrived, settling along the coast north of Big River. Soon after the loggers and Russian fur traders built up trading routes from the coast, inland. The railroad and hops farms followed, putting the region on the map for entrepreneurs.
And in the 1950s an artist named Bill Zacha opened the Mendocino Art Center, luring creative types to the foggy coastline. In 1971 the entire town of Mendocino became the first (and still only) coastal California town to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Culturally, Mendocino attracts those looking for a natural hideaway. Whether it’s the artists looking to hide out in the redwoods or along the coast, or the farmers experimenting with gluten free beers, the sensibility above all is to be yourself, and go big. To some that may come off as backwards. The most interesting museum in Fort Bragg showcases tattoos; people flock for miles to tour the a Buddhist sanctuary. Yet the closer you gaze into the creative spirit of the region, the more evident it is that trees and the craggy ocean inspires more than simply romance.
Organic farms, fishing harbors, and fertile forests are the pinnacle of Mendocino County’s abundant cuisine. Considering 3000 types of mushrooms grow in the county (Check out the candy cap mushroom, which locals put to good use as stars in mushroom risotto and ‘shroom ice cream), fields of contented berries and grapes, sea veggies harvested off the coast, and abalone populating the waters, the abundance of edible treasures has finally placed the county on culinary travelers’ radars. Add to the mix a thriving wine business, with many AVAs growing biodynamic wines, an up-and-coming brandy distillery, and three of NorCal’s best microbreweries.
English is the major language spoken in Mendocino County. Though in Anderson Valley’s Boonville residents have sustained their own folk language called Boontling.
The thick fog and stunning scenery inspires many writers to pen poems and stories in Mendocino. The following books either are set in the county, or are written by local authors. Many of them compiled by Karen Lewis, local writer and creator of the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference.
THE HARDER THEY COME, TC Boyle
BY WAY OF WATER, Charlotte Gullick
INTO THE FOREST, Jean Hegland
THE CHICKEN CHRONICLES, Alice Walker NO EASY LIGHT, Valerie Miner
DARK PROMISES, Christine Feehan
THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK, Jody Gehrman
HURT GO HAPPY and OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, Ginny Rorby
MENDOCINO FIRE, Elizabeth Tallent
BOONVILLE, Robert Mailer Anderson
Other writers to check out include poet Blake More, Malcolm MacDonald, Russ Tow, Emily Lloyd-Jones, Denis Johnson and Bruce Anderson.
Here’s a list of nonfiction books recommended by the local Gallery Bookshop.
Got other favorites? Let us know?
Artist Bill Zacha moved to Mendocino in the 1950s with hopes to start an artist colony. At the time only three artists lived in the community. For decades he pioneered an art scene, creating the Mendocino Art Center (which still stands), and luring creative types to the hamlet by the sea.
World renowned artists, like Olaf Palm and Ken Bowman settled in town. Others, like poet Fionna Perkins set up camp in Gualala. And the Art Center (or MAC, as locals call it) quickly became the center of the community. To this day, MAC offers classes, a lending library, a gallery and art happenings.
Now the Arts Council, the Gualala Art Center and the wealth of galleries throughout Mendocino and Fort Bragg speak of the Mendocino’s commitment to cultivating a rich creative community.
Scores of films and TV shows have been filmed in Mendocino County. Here’s a list of some of the more popular ones.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
East of Eden
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
Summer of ’42
Same Time, Next Year
The Killing Time
Karate Kid III
Murder She Wrote
You’ll likely hear a banjo or two as you wander through cafes. Maybe someone strumming a guitar. But other than some notable music festivals, the music scene isn’t the main attraction. Unless you want to buy a classical steel string guitar. A number of world-class luthiers live in the county, crafting gorgeous ukuleles and string instruments. Check out the following music venues to hear live music.
Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah has a fun Friday night live series
Mendocino College in Ukiah
SPACE in Ukiah
Rivino Winery in Ukiah, Friday happy hour
Club Calpella in Calpella
Coyote Valley Casino in Redwood Valley
Shanachie Pub in Willits
Little Lake Grange in Willits
Headlands Coffee House in Fort Bragg for live music nightly
North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg offers jazz at the Sequoia Room
Ravens’ Restaurant in Mendocino on Wednesday evenings
Hill House Inn in Mendocino
Preston Hall in Mendocino
Little River Inn, Abalone Room in Little River
Heritage House in Little River on Thursday evenings
Ledford House in Albion offers Jazz nightly
Caspar Community Center in Caspar
Arena Theater in Point Arena
Gualala Arts Center in Gualala
Check out this Spotify playlist to get you in a road trip mood.
For more information, check out Visit Mendocino’s website.