Travel to Mendocino Village, Caspar, and Fort Bragg
MacCallum House, The Beachcomber Motel, and Cabrillo Light Station should be on your stops.
Mendocino beckons with rugged beaches and comfy inns.
Splendor is too grand a word, too almost-biblical, to use in our daily chitchat. Much as we hella heart Oakland, we don’t expect splendor to pop up in our rear-view mirrors.
But that’s exactly what it does in Mendocino County, where forested crags meet golden coves and black-sand strands strewn with calligraphic whorls of bullwhip kelp. This is the kind of place where, while waiting at stoplights, locals see whales spouting at sea. And it’s all so close that, leaving the East Bay after breakfast, you’d arrive in time for a late lunch. With abalone and ale among the local specialties, meals here are another kind of sightseeing.
Most visitors make straight for tiny, tony Mendocino Village, whose sheer seacliffs and wooden-sidewalked, boutique-studded blocks have been this county’s main attraction since the 1970s, when enterprising ex-hippies started rescuing tumbledown Victorians and converting them into luxurious hostelries such as the Zagat-rated MacCallum House Inn (www.MacCallumHouse.com)—whose suites sport in-room spas—and cozy-classy fine-dining hideaways such as The 995 Ukiah Street Restaurant (www.955Restaurant.com) and Café Beaujolais (www.CafeBeaujolais.com).
Scenic highway and rural backroads winding northward reveal the tiny hamlet of Caspar (which looks as Mendocino Village likely did before going upscale), pygmy-forested Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, romantic Cabrillo Light Station (www.PointCabrillo.org) (where arrangements can be made to stay overnight), and family-friendly Fort Bragg, whose aw-shucks ambience belies some of the world’s most spectacular shoreline. Crashing waves are your wake-up call at the spotless Beachcomber Motel (TheBeachComberMotel.com), mere steps from sparkling Glass Beach, whose surf transforms shards from an old oceanside dump into multi-hued jewels.
In an authentically Wild West-y downtown, locals line up for candy-cap mushroom scoops at Cowlick’s Hand Made Ice Cream (www.CowLicksIceCream.com) and quiet elegance at Mendo Bistro (www.MendoBistro.com), where candy caps sweeten crème brûlée.
Home to the Pomo, Yuki, and other tribes before 19th-century loggers, fishermen, and ranchers arrived, this region remains mercifully unspoiled. Logging trucks still crisscross its crags, but nature pervades as two types of wilderness meet, with emerald surf slashing cave-honeycombed, poppy-tressed, pine-wooded cliffs, perfect for horseback riding, hiking, and golf.
It’s also a culinary hub whose stars include Mendocino Brewing Company, North Coast Brewing Company, the Germain-Robin and Low Gap distilleries, and dozens of artisanal mustards, honeys, seaweeds, chocolates, and cheeses that sing of sea breezes, fertile soil, and silky fog. And cheers: Mendocino County has its own wine country, one-fourth of whose vineyards are organic.
“When we opened 15 years ago, the area had some great restaurants and some affordable restaurants,” says Mendo Bistro chef-owner Nicholas Petti, “but no great and affordable restaurants. Fort Bragg was still much more of a redneck town.
“But now a local kid who grew up here, went off to college, and discovered Thai and Indian food came home not to the middle of nowhere, but to a place where it’s possible to enjoy a family meal that would excite this newly sophisticated palate but also wouldn’t intimidate the rest of the family, who’ve been here all along.”
What was that S-word again? Oh, yeah. Splendor. That comes free with every visit.
More in Mendo
Mendocino Headlands State Park: 347 acres of raw seashore surrounding Mendocino Village, studded with rugged surf and rocky protuberances and two beaches, Big River Beach and Portuguese Beach. www.Parks.Ca.gov
Russian Gulch State Park: Rugged Russian Gulch Creek Canyon is a woodsy wonderland, complete with towering waterfall, rolling down to a beach that is safe for swimming, fishing, and tide-pooling. www.Parks.Ca.gov
Kelley House Museum: Built in 1861 and set amid Victorian-style gardens, this historic former home of a successful Mendocino businessman is now headquarters for regional history. www.KelleyHousemuseum.org
Sea Glass Museum: Thousands of sea-glass shards, collected globally, are organized according to color, age, and type. It’s history through beachcombing. www.GlassBeachJewelry.com
Kwan Tai Temple: This authentic Taoist shrine has been in continuous use since it was built by a Chinese laborer who arrived in a Gold Rush-era junk. www.KwanTaiTemple.org