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.
Van Damme State Park
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, very popular campground, concession-guided ocean kayak tours, and a visitors center (8125 N. Hwy-1, 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: the very comfy Inn at Schoolhouse Creek (7051 N. Hwy-1, 800/731-5525, $179 and up), where quaint cottages sit in nine acres of dog- and child-friendly gardens around a historic, oceanview home; and the luxurious, gourmet food-and-wine indulgence of the Little River Inn (7751 N. Hwy-1, 707/937-5942, $189 and up during the high season), where five generations of the same family have been welcoming travelers since 1939.