Three miles south of Mendocino at the mouth of the Little River, Van Damme State Park stretches along the coastal bluffs and beaches and includes some 1,800 acres of pine and redwood forest. The park’s unique attribute is the oddly contorted Pygmy Forest, a natural bonsai-like grove of miniature pines, cypress, and manzanita, with a wheelchair-accessible nature trail explaining the unique ecology. There’s also a small and popular campground, concession-guided ocean kayak tours, and a seasonal visitors center (707/937-4016) housed in a New Deal-era recreation hall.
The nearby hamlet of Little River is home to some rural-feeling peaceful alternatives to Mendocino’s in-town accommodations. At the comfy Inn at Schoolhouse Creek & Spa (707/937-5525, $179 and up), quaint cottages sit in nine acres of dog- and child-friendly gardens around a historic ocean-view home. At the luxurious gourmet food-and-wine indulgence of the Little River Inn (707/937-5942, $205 and up during the high season), five generations of the same family have been welcoming travelers since 1939.