The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
One of the prettiest towns on the California coast (as seen in TV shows like Murder, She Wrote and numerous movies), Mendocino (pop. 894) is an artists’ and writers’ community par excellence. Now firmly established as an upscale escape for wage-slaving visitors from San Francisco (hence the local nickname, “Spendocino”), the town was originally established as a logging port in the 1850s. In recent years, Mendocino has successfully preserved its rugged sandstone coastline—great for wintertime whale-watching—while converting many of its New England-style clapboard houses into super-quaint B&B inns. The area is ideal for leisurely wandering, following the many paths winding through Mendocino Headlands State Park, which wraps around the town and offers uninterrupted views across open fields, heathers, and other coastal flora to the crashing ocean beyond. For field guides, maps, or a look at Mendocino in its lumbering heyday, stop by the visitors center in the historic Ford House (735 Main St., 707/937-5397).
Two miles north of town, one of the north coast’s most perfect places is protected as Russian Gulch State Park (12301 N. Hwy-1, 707/937-5804), where a waterfall, a soaring highway bridge, lush inland canyons, a swimming beach, and an impressive blowhole are yours to enjoy along more than a mile of undisturbed coastline. There’s camping, too, and sea kayaking, plus a fairly flat, three-mile paved bike trail and miles of hiking.
Along with its many fine art galleries and bookshops, the town of Mendocino also has a delicious collection of bakeries, cafés, and restaurants. If you’re not getting a breakfast at a B&B, come to the very friendly Mendocino Cafe (10451 Lansing St., 707/937-6141), where locals have been starting their days for more than 20 years. For a total splurge, try one of California’s most famous (and expensive!) restaurants, Cafe Beaujolais (961 Ukiah St., 707/937-5614, lunch and dinner Wed.-Sun., dinner Mon.-Tues.), two blocks from the waterfront, which serves California cuisine delicacies.
Places to stay in Mendocino are rather expensive but generally delightful. The lovely MacCallum House Inn (45020 Albion St., 707/937-0289, $149 and up) includes a beautiful garden, good breakfasts, and a cozy nighttime bar and restaurant. Another place to stay is the circa-1858 Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites (45080 Main St., 707/937-0511, $186 and up), on the downtown waterfront.
Mendocino, as you might expect from a well-heeled artists colony, also has a pretty lively music scene. If you just want to drink and unwind after a long day on the road, head to Dick’s Place (45080 Main St., 707/937-6010) at the west end of Main Street.