If you’ve been to the Bay Area, you may have ventured up to wine country. On a map, Napa and Sonoma—those counties lush with vineyards and endless tasting rooms—seem close to the city. In reality, the drive can stretch almost two hours. But it’s worth it. Beyond that, there’s Mendocino. And depending on where you’re going, that drive can stretch up to five. But guess what? It’s even more worth it.
Up there, it’s truly country. There’s no hip/haute restaurant, there’s no coffee shop with $4 cappuccinos. There are tiny communities, most of which, due to the abundance of redwoods, are former logging towns. One, Boonville, even has its own language. Yes, there’s wine country—but it’s not like the one you know down south. There are myriad reasons to visit Mendocino county. Here are just a few.
1. The Anderson Valley is pinot noir heaven
Okay, so this is a picture from Roederer Estate, which is famous for its amazing domestic sparkling wine (the pinot noir is also very good, to be fair). But the Anderson Valley is known for its delicate reds, which are much more subtle than those of neighbors Napa and Sonoma. Other than Roederer, we hit up Husch (which has an adorable cabin for a tasting room), Toulouse, and Handley. And, yes—we came back with nine bottles of wine for our wine fridge.
2. The town of Mendocino is bed-and-breakfast heaven
If you’re a sucker for adorable inns, making friends with innkeepers, and homemade breakfasts (like I am), Mendocino is chock-full of affordable, very comfortable places to stay. We stayed at JD House, which is steps away from the gorgeous cliffside trails of the Mendocino Headlands. The place has a vaguely nautical vibe, a cozy fireplace, and the most delicious B&B breakfast spread I’ve ever seen (think mini frittatas, overnight oats, tiny salads, and shot glasses full of berries).
3. There’s so much natural beauty
Two words: sea caves. While some of these cool rock structures are in waters too choppy for humans to navigate, you can explore some of them through guided kayak tours. We didn’t do this—but you bet we’ll be on the water next time we’re in Mendocino. What we did do, though, is hike in a redwood forest. Hendy Woods State Park, just north of Boonville, has a number of easy hiking trails with much less foot traffic than the famous Muir Woods. Afterwards, head to Boonville for sandwiches at the Boonville General Store and bring them over to Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Try every one of their beers while scarfing down turkey on homemade ciabbata.
4. You can watch the sun set on a beach made of sea glass
Yep, real sea glass. The colorful beach is beautiful any time of day, but going at dusk presents a dramatic scene: surf crashing against the glimmering, cliff-lined shore. Bring a windbreaker, though: It’s super windy.
5. There’s great food to be had on Highway 1
Just because there’s no hip restaurant scene in Mendocino doesn’t mean there’s not good food. Quite the contrary: The coastal Highway 1 is dotted with awesome joints to eat. The best ribs I’ve ever eaten can be found at The Q in Fort Bragg, a side-of-the-road shack with some seriously mean BBQ. Wild Fish in Little River boasts a menu full of the Pacific’s bounty. And the no-frills French food at Café Beaujolais is stellar, especially paired with one of the many wines on their California-leaning list.