Mendocino Coast for Families

Photo by snowpeak

Zebras, starfish and horses in Northern California? Yes!

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Mendocino, California, makes a great kid-themed getaway. Tide pool beaches. Whale watching adventures. Family-friendly restaurants.

This itinerary could be tackled in 48 hours or over a week. From Gualala to Fort Bragg, it is 58 miles. If you did the whole coast in one go (which you would most likely not do with the littles), the drive takes 1.5 hours.

Gualala to Elk: The Southern Tip of Mendocino County

The banana belt of Gualala (pronounced Gwa-la-la) is adored for the wild beaches and laid back vibe.

Wander redwood trails at Gualala Point Regional Park. Kayak the river. Play at the beach. Stroll along the shops. Enjoy live music and BBQ at Bones Roadhouse.

In Anchor Bay, Fish Rock Beach works wonders for families with kiddos who like to jump in the sea. Grab a meal at Anchor Bay Thai. Then secure a bed in the lovely Mar Vista Cottages.

Point Arena’s appeal extends beyond the one-street commercial strip. Reserve in advance to tour the B. Bryan Preserve, an animal sanctuary housing African antelopes, zebras and giraffes. If your kid is a budding scientist, they rent out cottages on the property.

Other adventures include a trip to Bowling Ball Beach, a hike to the Point Arena Lighthouse. Older kids might try surfing on the Cove.

Farther north, families with children over six can reserve in advance with Ross Ranch to ride horses along Manchester State Beach. After your two hour ride, motor north to the village of Elk to explore the seaweed along Greenwood State Beach.

Little River to Fort Bragg: The Northern Mendocino Coast

Take some time to explore Van Damme River State Park and the pygmy forest. If this stretch of quiet beach appeals, check into nearby Albion’s luxe Heritage House Resort.

Though often considered a romantic destination, Mendocino appeals to families with its walker-friendly downtown. Explore the shops, meander out to Mendocino Headlands State Park, or rent bikes to tool around town.

Dependable family-friendly restaurants in town include Mendocino Cafe and Frankie’s (known for its yummy candy cap mushroom ice cream).

Just outside of town, the Stanford Inn by the Sea makes a great retreat for the whole clan.

Annually over twenty thousand grey whales migrate past Fort Bragg. Sign up for a whale watching trip out of Noyo Harbor.

If you prefer to stay on land, take the kids on an adventure walk through the archeological sites of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and Preserve to spot whales in the distance.

Other nearby viewpoints include Caspar State Beach and the majestic Russian Gulch State Beach, which also features a blowhole and tide pools.

Not whale season? Challenge your grumpy teen to a race up the Jug Handle Ecological Staircase to another pygmy forest, and if you need a break from her angst, the farmhouse dubs as a hostel.

===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.

Alternatively, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has long been considered one of California’s most enchanting green spaces. Perched atop the Pacific Ocean, if you can bring the kiddos here in spring, it may inspire them to become future gardeners.

In the former logging community of Fort Bragg, explore Glass Beach, and the tide pools of MacKerricher State Park.

You’ll want an entire day to ride the Skunk Train through the redwoods, a worthy excursion for younger children who can’t hike far.

Afterwards take the kiddos for tacos at Mayan Fusion.

Get them in bed early, so you and your honey can have some alone time sipping vino under the stars.

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