The 18 Best Things to Do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, CA

Things to do in Mendocino, CA

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 09:41 am

Mendocino and Fort Bragg are fantastic places for a long weekend getaway from San Francisco. Imagine rugged cliffs meeting the vast Pacific Ocean, Redwood forest strolls, and wineries with dramatic views. Add in some small-town charm and friendly locals; you’ve got the recipe for a great time in Mendocino. If any of that sounds like a fun way to spend the weekend, keep reading for the best things to do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, California. 

I was awe struck the first time I visited Fort Bragg. I watched the sunset from Glass Beach, went tide pooling in MacKerricher State Park, and even rode the skunk train into the Redwood forest. I’ve been itching to get back to explore more of these charming coastal towns.

I finally returned to Mendocino during a winter weekend in February when California was hit with a huge rainstorm. I had to pivot my idea of winter sunsets and misty redwood hikes to more indoor activities.

Thankfully, Mendocino and Fort Bragg are full of things to do, whether it’s a whole day spent outdoors in the area’s natural beauty or something a bit more chill.

Let’s explore all the fun and relaxing things to do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg so you can build your excellent weekend getaway itinerary. 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a tiny bit of income if you decide to make a purchase or booking.

My Favorite hiking Resources

Where are Mendocino and Fort Bragg Located

Mendocino and Fort Bragg are tucked away in Mendocino County, a particularly stunning portion of the Northern California coast. To get to Mendocino, head north from San Francisco on Highway 101 for about 3 hours. Fort Bragg is just a bit further north from Mendocino, approximately 20-30 more minutes.

There are two routes to get to Mendocino from San Francisco: 

Option 1 is the quicker, more direct route from San Francisco to Mendocino. It passes through Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley Wine Region. Highway 128 does get a bit windy towards the end, but it’s manageable.

  • Head north on Highway 101 from San Francisco.
  • Merge onto Highway 128 West in Cloverdale, which takes you through the picturesque Anderson Valley wine region.
  • Continue on Highway 128 until you reach the coastal town of Mendocino.

Option 2 is the more scenic route, adding about an hour more to the drive. The Highway 1 route passes through Point Reyes (one of my favorite places) and includes stunning coastal views alongside hairpin turns. 

  • Drive north on Highway 1 from San Francisco, passing through the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Follow Highway 1 along the scenic coastline, passing through charming towns like Stinson Beach and Point Reyes Station.
  • Continue on Highway 1 until you reach the junction with Highway 128.
  • Turn right onto Highway 128 West, which will take you to Mendocino
Walking down the road in the redwood forest
Northern California coast on Highway 1

Best Time of Year to Visit Mendocino and Fort Bragg

The best time to visit Mendocino depends on your preferences for the weather and the activities you enjoy. Each season brings its own unique charm to this coastal destination.

Spring (March to May):

Spring is a beautiful time to visit Mendocino as the landscape bursts into vibrant colors. The temperatures are mild, ranging from the upper 40s to mid-60s Fahrenheit. Wildflowers bloom along the cliffs, and migrating gray whales can often be spotted from the coastline. It’s an ideal season for hiking the coastal trails, exploring botanical gardens, and enjoying the fresh, crisp air.

Summer (June to August):

Summer is the peak tourist season, thanks to the warm and pleasant weather, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to mid-70s Fahrenheit. It’s an excellent time for outdoor activities like kayaking, beachcombing, and attending local events. The Mendocino Music Festival in July is a highlight, offering a delightful mix of classical and contemporary performances against the stunning coastal backdrop.

Fall (September to November):

Fall brings cooler temperatures, ranging from the mid-40s to mid-60s Fahrenheit. The crowds thin out, offering a more serene experience. The fall foliage adds a touch of autumn magic to the coastal scenery. It’s an ideal time for wine enthusiasts, as the nearby Anderson Valley vineyards host harvest events and wine tastings.

Winter (December to February):

Winter in Mendocino is characterized by mild temperatures, ranging from the mid-30s to mid-50s Fahrenheit. While it may be the rainy season, the misty coastline takes on a romantic and tranquil atmosphere. Cozy up in a charming bed and breakfast, explore art galleries, or enjoy storm-watching along the rugged cliffs. 

Best Things to Do in Mendocino and Fort Bragg

Explore Mendocino Village

Mendocino is a beautiful town to spend an afternoon exploring. The streets have boutiques, delicious restaurants, and cute coastal cottages. You’ll also see the water towers that Mendocino is known for! The water towers have been around for over 100 years and have since been converted into small shops and homes. 

One of the things that I love about downtown Mendocino is its proximity to the ocean. A walk down Main Street will lead you to Mendocino Headlands State Park, where you can wander the paths on top of the bluffs.

Also, stop into the Kelley House Museum. The Kelley House Museum is a historic home that overlooks the ocean. Inside, you can see how the room would’ve been set up in the early 19th century. Also, once per week, the museum offers a docent-led walking tour of historic Mendocino village. 

Toward the end of this post, I’ll share the best places to eat and drink in Mendocino.

Mendocino Village seen from the Mendocino Headlands.
Nicholson House in Mendocino, CA

Visit Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Located just outside of Fort Bragg are the stunning Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. These gardens boast 47 acres of blooms and 4 miles of walking trails. There’s always something blooming throughout the year. 

One of my favorite things about these gardens is that they extend to the bluffs overlooking the coastline. A small shelter towards the back is the perfect place to watch the waves crash on a windy and stormy day. 

A visit to the Mendocino Botanical Gardens is a definite must on your itinerary. 

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Mendocino, California

Relax with a Soak and Massage at Sweetwater Inn and Spa

As the rain came, I considered how to spend an afternoon in Mendocino. I passed by the Sweetwater Inn and Spa on my way into town. A quick look at their website showed they have redwood hot tubs and massage services. I was able to book a one-hour sauna/spa and a one-hour massage on the same day!

Fair warning: clothing in the infrared sauna and spa is optional, but you have three private hot tub options. There is also a clothing optional communal hot tub. The hot tubs are outdoors and mostly covered to protect you from the rain. 

You can book just a hot tub or just a massage, or you can do them together. You’ll have an hour available to soak before your spa services, which is the right amount of time to enjoy this unique spa experience. When your time is up in the tub, they’ll ring a bell alerting you to dry off and escort you to your treatment room. 

My masseuse was excellent, checking in a couple of times to ensure that I was comfortable, but other than that, she was nice and quiet, which I appreciated during a massage.

Me soaking in a redwood hot tub.
Sweetwater Inn & Spa in Mendocino, CA.

Walk Mendocino Headlands State Park

Visiting the Mendocino Headlands State Park is easy to add to your itinerary as the park sits just on the edge of Mendocino. It includes historical sites like the Ford House Museum & Visitor Center and the Kelley House Museum. 

But the best part of the park is the trails on the coastal bluffs. Below the bluffs, you’ll see Portuguese Beach, a sea cave, and goat rock. 

The headlands are an excellent place for a walk any time of the day but are particularly beautiful at sunset.

Use caution on a windy day; stay back from the cliff edge. 

It is free to explore the headlands.

Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino Headlands State Park

Hike in Russian Gulch State Park 

If you’ve been looking at photos of Mendocino and seeing a large bridge crossing a river, this bridge (and other awesome things) can be found at Russian Gulch State Park. This park offers a beautiful picnic area on a cliff overlooking a dramatic cove, a campground with bathrooms and hot showers, and a 3-mile-long paved bicycle trail.

However, the two highlights of Russian State Park are the 36-foot-high waterfall and Devil’s Punch Bowl, also known as the blow hole. The hike to the waterfall is a roughly 4-mile loop through the shaded Redwood Forest. The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a much shorter 0.4-mile loop on the headlands and is best done at high tide to see the blow hole do its thing.

It costs $8 to visit the park.

Check Russian Gulch State Park’s website for current conditions and trail closures.

See the Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park

Van Damme State Park is located 3 miles south of Mendocino village. Van Damme State Park is famous for its pygmy forest, an area where low nutrients in the soil cause stunted growth of cypress and pine trees. Many of these trees grow no more than 8 feet tall or an inch wide. 

There is a short boardwalk trail through the pygmy forest, or you can extend your visit to Van Dam State Park on the Fern Canyon Trail. 

However, when writing this post, the Fern Canyon Trail was closed due to storm damage, so check the current trail conditions before embarking on your trip.

There are also first-come-first-serve campsites available at this park. 

It costs $8 to visit the park.

Visit Van Damme State Park’s website for current conditions and trail closures. 

Go Tide Pooling in MacKerricher State Park 

MacKerricher State Park, located north of Fort Bragg, is the best place to visit at low tide to explore tide pools. 

450 of the park’s 2300 acres are designated underwater parks, which preserve the tide pools and underwater ecosystems. 

After parking at the beach parking lot, follow the path to Laguna Point, where you’ll find the tidepools. You’ll also likely see seals in the water and a myriad of birds. 

There are also campsites available in this park.

It costs $8 to visit the park.

Visit MacKerricher State Park’s website for current conditions and trail closures.

Mendocino Coast

Ride the Skunk Train

The Skunk Train is a unique attraction in Mendocino County that travels from Fort Bragg deep into the Redwood forest. You’ll see redwood trees over 1000 years old and over 300 feet tall. The train also passes the historic Pudding Creek Estuary and crosses multiple trestle bridges. 

On board the train, you can purchase snacks and beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. 

At the end of the tracks, you will reach an area where we can get out and hike some short trails around the area before returning to Fort Bragg.

They also recently opened up the Glen Blair Bar at the end, adding to this unique experience.

You can ride the rail bikes through the forest for a more adventurous option!

Skunk Train, Fort Bragg, California
Railroad leading in to the Redwood forest.

Kayak in Noyo Harbor

Kayaking in Noyo Harbor is another fun outdoor activity in Fort Bragg. You can rent your kayak from Kayak Noyo or launch your own near the Noyo Bridge. From there, kayak up the river at your own pace. You may see harbor seals, otters, or sea lions along the way.

If you want a guided paddle, check out Liquid Fusion Kayak!

Visit Glass Beach

While there are many beautiful beaches in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, the most unique beach is Glass Beach. 

Located in the Noyo Headlands Park, you’ll find beaches where, instead of sand, you’ll find sea glass in all shapes and colors. It’s a beautiful place to visit at sunset!

You can park in the Noyo Headlands parking lot, follow the paved path towards the water, and then to the left. Two benches mark the main glass beach and what was once a staircase down to the beach. However, the staircase was washed away in recent storms.

Instead of following the path to the left, follow it to the right. There is a smaller beach below the whale statue that also boasts pretty sea glass!

If you do visit, leave the sea glass there. Before the pandemic, almost no sea glass was left at the beach due to visitors taking it home. Since the pandemic, the sea glass is beginning to return, so let’s keep it that way so future visitors can enjoy this unique location. 

Aside from the glass beach(es), this park is pretty to visit in its own right. A paved 6-mile trail extends from the Noyo River bridge on the south side of Fort Bragg to the Pudding Creek Trestle on the north side!

Sea glass in my palm.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA

Go Wine Tasting at Pacific Star Winery

Well, there are many places to go wine tasting in Mendocino and beyond. Pacific Star Winery might be the winery with the best views in California. The winery sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, making it such a beautiful location to enjoy the natural landscape and the grapes this region produces. 

You can bring your own snacks or purchase snacks there if you’d like to make more of a picnic out of it. This is the perfect thing to do on a warm, sunny afternoon in Mendocino County. 

Pacific Star Winery, Northern California
Rugged Northern California Coast

Have a Flight of Beer at North Coast Brewing Company

Do you prefer beer over wine? Head to Fort Bragg for a pint at North Coast Brewing Company. This independent brewpub has been operating since 1988 and has won more than 110 awards in national and international competitions.

In addition to their award-winning beers, I like the Scrimshaw and the Red Seal Ale; they have a pub menu. I ate here my first night visiting Fort Bragg, and gotta be honest, I wasn’t impressed by the food. So stop here for a post-hike beer and eat dinner at one of the restaurants mentioned below.

Visit Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

The lighthouse on Point Cabrillo is a great place to visit, with epic coastal views. You can enter the lighthouse museum or walk the trails around the headlands. You’ll likely spot a few deer in the area and see some sea life below.

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is the perfect place to watch sunset and a great photoshoot location if you’re so inclined! The building is charming, and the light itself is gorgeous. There are also a few picnic tables if you want to bring a picnic.

To get to the lighthouse, park in the Point Cabrillo parking lot. From there, it’s a half-mile walk down a paved road to the lighthouse. You can then walk the North or South trails around the headlands.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Mendocino, CA
Me in front of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse in Mendocino, CA

Where to Eat and Drink in Mendocino & Fort Bragg

Mendocino and Fort Bragg have several delicious places to eat and drink. Here are some of the best restaurants in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.

Trillium Cafe

Trillium Cafe is an upscale (without the pretension) farm-to-table restaurant in the heart of Mendocino. While it’s a bit pricey, the food is delicious, and the service is warm, friendly, and attentive. 

Trillium offers a small indoor dining room with a fireplace or covered garden seating. 

I sat in the covered garden for dinner in February and was perfectly comfortable thanks to their ample space heaters and cozy blankets. 

Dinner at Trillium Cafe, Mendocino, CA.

GoodLife Cafe and Bakery

On my first trip to the area, I stopped at GoodLife Cafe and Bakery for breakfast, and honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. 

This buzzing cafe has a large breakfast and lunch menu and plenty of caffeinated beverages to start your day on the right foot. 

It was pretty busy, but that’s to be expected. 

Unfortunately, the cafe was closed for a winter break on my recent trip so that I couldn’t try it again!

The Waiting Room

I love a good matcha latte and am happy to say that the Waiting Room in Mendocino makes a delicious oat matcha.

The Waiting Room was recommended to me by my Airbnb hosts, and I walked in on a rainy morning to find a cozy interior with a group of people playing board games, a record playing in the corner, a wood-burning stove, and people just mingling and enjoying their morning coffee. 

I snuggled into a corner to enjoy my matcha with a book, and it hit the spot. They also have warm, fresh out of the oven croissants and other baked goods. If you’d like to start your day differently, there is a good selection of beers on tap, an excellent wine list, and mimosas. 

Matcha latte from the Waiting Room Cafe in Mendocino, CA

Patterson’s Pub

If a town has an Irish pub, I will be checking it out. Patterson’s Pub was packed on a stormy Sunday evening with a mix of locals and visitors.

Ensure you wait to be seated, as the hostess takes care of even bar seating.

I got there early enough to snag a spot at the bar. I ordered the elk burger, which was on special, with cajun fries. Patterson’s has a nice selection of whiskeys, wines, and beers on tap including Pliny the Elder and Guinness, but I am not much of a Guinness drinker outside of Ireland.

Once again, I was blown away by how warm and friendly the staff was here; they made me feel right at home. Even amid a pretty bad winter storm, everyone there had good attitudes.

Patterson's Pub, Mendocino CA.

Dick’s Place

If you love a good dive bar, then you need to check out Dick’s Place. Located on Main Street, just across the road from the Pacific Ocean, Dick’s Place is a good bar to spend a few hours in on a stormy afternoon. Honestly, it’s probably a great place to relax on a sunny day, and the windows have excellent ocean views.

They even allow friendly pups in if they’re on a leash, so if you’ve got your four-legged friend with you, they’re more than welcome.

What to Pack for Mendocino

Packing for Mendocino requires a bit of thought to ensure that you have the correct items for the time of year and the activities on your itinerary. Here’s a comprehensive list to make sure you have everything you need for a comfortable trip. 

Mendocino is a rugged yet relaxed town. You can dress up in a summer dress for dinner and drinks if you’d like, but you’d be just as welcome in jeans and a comfy top.

Wearing a yellow jacket on the Mendocino coast.

Layers of Clothing: Pack layers to accommodate the changing coastal temperatures. A mix of t-shirts, long sleeves and a sweater. In the winter months, I highly recommend waterproof pants and jacket. Comfortable jeans or pants for exploring the town and hiking trails. You should pack shorts for hikes or beach days in the summer. In the winter pack a cozy beanie, scarf, and gloves!

Comfortable Footwear: Sturdy and waterproof walking shoes or hiking boots for exploring the rugged coastline and trails. I recommend Blundstones for easy headland strolls! Also, pack a pair of water sandals like Tevas are great for beach walks and strolls through town.

Beach Essentials: If you’re planning on taking a chilly dip in the ocean, pack a swimsuit. Or if you want to indulge in the Sweetwater Spa and aren’t comfortable with nudity, then pack a swimsuit. Don’t forget you sound cloud beach towel or blanket for picnics by the shore.

Outdoor Gear: Make sure you have all of your day hike essentials like water, trail maps, a first aid kit, and snacks. I recommend using AllTrails to download the trail map for offline use, as cell phone reception is hit or miss. Include a hat and sunglasses for sun protection. Plus, binoculars for bird watching or whale spotting. Stay hydrated with a reusable water bottle.

Miscellaneous: Don’t forget typical toiletries, but also sunscreen and lip balm with SPF (check out SunBum) for sun protection and insect repellent (love these wipes!) for outdoor activities. Also make sure you have all of your electronics, including a camera or smartphone to capture the stunning coastal views. Keep a fully charged portable power bank with you as well. I like this one!

Be sure to adjust your packing list based on the season and specific activities you plan to undertake during your visit.

Where to Stay in Mendocino

Mendocino is filled with cute B&B’s, hotels overlooking the coast, and even some great glamping spots like Mendocino Grove. Here are a few of the best places to stay in Mendocino

Prices vary widely depending on the season, availability, and room preference. Make sure to check the latest reviews and prices on their websites. 

Little River Inn

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Little River Inn offers charming accommodations with a range of room options, including cozy cottages. Guests can enjoy on-site dining at the restaurant, a nine-hole golf course, and a day spa. The Inn also provides easy access to the nearby Van Damme State Park.

If you don’t stay here, still make sure to stop by their bar that overlooks the ocean for dinner and drinks.

Check rates and availability here.

Brewery Gulch Inn & Spa

Treat yourself at Brewery Gulch Inn & Spa. Nestled in the redwoods, Brewery Gulch Inn is known for its eco-friendly practices and luxurious accommodations. Guests can unwind in well-appointed rooms with private balconies, enjoy a complimentary gourmet breakfast, and relax in the evening with wine and appetizers. The Inn is situated near the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

Check rates and availability here.

Headlands Inn Bed and Breakfast

If you’d like to stay in Mendocino Village, Headlands Inn Bed and Breakfast is a charming option. This historic Victorian Inn features well-appointed rooms with unique decor, some boasting ocean views. Plus, you’ll get a delicious homemade breakfast each morning!

Check rates and availability here.

Mendocino and Fort Bragg offer a laid-back weekend getaway with scenic views, outdoor activities, and a welcoming atmosphere. Whether you’re into hiking, exploring small towns, or just chilling by the coast, this region has something for everyone. So pack your stuff, hit the road, and enjoy a simple and relaxing break along the beautiful Mendocino Coast.

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