We visited Mendocino during the Memorial Day long-weekend in 2008. The trip turned out to be a very relaxing experience. That is a grand statement in itself considering we were lugging our two kids ages 6 and 8 to a place devoid of any fancy rides.
This was our third trip to Mendocino and as such we knew what to expect. As the saying goes first time – you observe, second time - you understand - third time - you appreciate. The drive up from the Bay Area is a treat, especially if you take the longer route of sticking with Highway 101 and 1 instead of the shorter Highway 101, 128, and 1. The 128 route is shorter but as it cuts through the woods, you miss out on the some of the ageless views on Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway - PCH). Both routes are windy and sometimes narrow single-lane highways. The single-lane mandates going at a relaxed pace well below speed limits as otherwise you will be chasing RV’s after RV’s. This is a benefit in disguise as it allows one to relax from the start.
We took the 2-mile detour to visit Point Arena Lighthouse. The location is roughly 40 miles south of Mendocino and about 20 miles north of Gualala. Between those two points, services are limited and there are no gas stations. The lighthouse was decommissioned a while back, but tours are allowed with the purchase of the admission ticket ($5 adults, $1 children under 12, open all days from 10 AM – 3:30 PM). The lighthouse features the French made first order Frenel lens – entry to the top platform is not allowed but peering from the stairs provides a good view of the lens. There are four houses around the lighthouse available for renting, but as others have pointed out, the drawback is that the facility is in need of renovation. The area around is pretty steep and dangerous and hence is fenced off with the result that there are very limited areas to hike with kids.
Between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, there is another small detour that gets you to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Parking is a half-a-mile away from the lighthouse, but there is parking for the disabled, right outside the lighthouse building. Hiking trails are aplenty in the area and the views are outstanding. Admission to the lighthouse museum is free – there is a $3 suggested donation. The lighthouse is open 11 AM to 4 PM all days, and the nature preserve is open till half-an-hour before sunset. Tours to the top of the lighthouse are only available certain days of the year.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is another attraction that merits a visit. Admission is $10 for adults and $2 for children between 6 and 12. Beyond the main gated area where they have a variety of local flora is a much larger area on the ocean, which provides excellent views and an opportunity for a relaxing stroll. Seeing the sun set at the end of Ocean Avenue and a drive along Mendocino’s main street completed our first day of the trip.
Accommodations and dining options range from minimalist to extravagant. We stayed at the Pine Beach Inn between Mendocino and Fort Bragg and grade it to be a good basic option – The private beach, tennis courts (badly in need of maintenance), breakfast (basic), and on-site restaurant should make it a fun experience for families with kids seeking a mid-priced option ($80-$150/night). For dining, there are plenty of specialized seafood restaurants but more economical alternatives also exist.
1. Avenue Of The Giants – Trip Report/Review.
Last Updated: 10/2008.