California is full of fascinating areas to explore, many of which are actully up in the northern parts of the state. Medoncino is one such lovely town we’ve discovered along the northern coastal areas of California, We’re here today to show you what is there, exactly, to do in Mendocino, California? As part of an ongoing series about the Golden State’s many secret hideaways, we’ll share a list of some of the best places to visit in the area.
Whether you opt to use the city as a home base for broader travel, or if you want to settle in for a few days, you’ll find plenty of things to do, including:
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Van Damme State Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Navarro River State Park
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
- Portuguese Beach
- Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
- Big River
- Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Museum
- Ford House Visitor Center and Museum
- Kelley House Museum
- Highlight Gallery
- Mendocino Art Center
- Mendocino Center for Circus Arts
- The Temple of Kwan Tai
In this post, I’ll touch on 15 of the most intriguing attractions that Mendocino boasts.
Why You Should Visit Mendocino, California
Mendocino is one of the smaller towns in northern California. Named to honor Antonio de Mendoza, the town’s name reflects its generally docile nature, translating roughly to “cold mountain.” Here, you’ll find temperature weather and unmatched views of the Pacific Ocean.
Home to less than a thousand people, Mendocino serves as a quiet, artistic hub for travelers who want to take their visit to California a little slower. So, whether you’re looking to spend a night under the stars or just want to leave the rush of the city behind, Mendocino has something for you.
15 Things To Do In Mendocino, California
Let’s dive into some of the most captivating spots in Mendocino so you can start building your travel itinerary.
Mendocino, CA Parks and Hiking
Mendocino has plenty of offerings for outdoorsy travelers, including the following:
Mendocino Headlands State Park
If you’re looking to spend time walking along Mendocino’s gorgeous cliffsides, then you’ll want to head out to Mendocino Headlands State Park. Here, you’ll find well-worn trails leading you through mysterious grottoes and down towards sprawling beaches. If you look out over the ocean (and have better eyesight than I do), you may even spot a breaching gray whale.
Mendocino Headlands State Park offers you the opportunity to spend your day hiking, surfing, or picnicking with your loved ones. The park is open from dusk until dawn and does not charge an admissions fee. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Van Damme State Park
California’s Van Damme State Park shares its name with famous action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. If you choose to drop by the park, though, don’t expect to see any fights on the trails. Instead, come to Van Damme State Park to escape from the hustle and bustle of California’s larger cities. Here, you’ll be able to take a quick jaunt along a .25 mile-long boardwalk or spend the whole of the day on the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail. If you don’t feel like walking, you can head down to Van Damme Beach and reenact some of your favorite scenes from the man’s better-known movies.
There is no admission fee to enter Van Damme State Park, put prices for camping will vary. The park is open from dusk until dawn for everyone except registered campers, who can come and go as they please. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch State Park doesn’t boast the luxurious beaches that some of the other parks on this list do, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it off of your itinerary. This park is a great stop for hikers or for those folks who want to get a glimpse of one of California’s most notorious sinkholes, the Devil’s Punchbowl. If you choose to dive further into the park, you’ll even be able to visit the waterfall that serves as the jewel of Fern Canyon Trail.
Like the other parks on this list, Russian Gulch State Park is open from dawn until dusk. There is no listed admissions fee. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Navarro River State Park
As you drive down Highway 128 towards Navarro River State Park, you’ll have the great pleasure of driving through eleven miles of redwood tunnel. This tunnel will spit you out on the seaside and make you wonder whether or not you’ve finally crossed your childhood dream bridge into the land of Narnia.
Navarro River State Park is a little more accessible than the world beyond the back of your closet, though. Make your way out here and you’ll be able to enjoy as much swimming, fishing, and kayaking as you please. Navarro River State Park is open from dawn until dusk, and it charges no admission fee for you to enter. If you’re interested in camping here, you can check the park’s website for available prices and other details.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
If you’re interested in exploring a more cultivated ecosystem than that of a national park, why not take a day to explore the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens? The Gardens serve as a conservation site for Rhododendrons. While these groves are more commonly found in the Himalayas, California’s northern temperatures foster their growth in unfamiliar climes. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are open every day of the year save for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Saturday after Labor Day. Their hours vary by season, ranging from 9 AM to 5 PM from March to October and 9 AM to 4 PM for the rest of the year.
Admission to the gardens varies as follows:
- Adults: $15.00
- Seniors: $12.00
- Coast Residents: $10
- Children (6 to 14): $8.00
- Children (5 or younger): Free
For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Portuguese Beach is a lovely stretch of sand that lets you dip your toes into the Pacific on a hot day. The beaches here are surrounded by a rocky headland that makes them feel closed off from the rest of the world. You can take this opportunity to spend the day fishing, picnicking, or riding across the water on a surfboard.
Portuguese Beach is a public area and is, thereby, accessible from dawn until dusk. There is no admission fee, but you may have to pay for parking. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
At Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, you’ll find a litany of plants that don’t grow anywhere else in the state. You’ll also be able to tour one of the most stunning natural areas in California: the Ecological Staircase Trail. If you’re interested, you can spend the whole day at the reserve, picnicking and ending your day down on the beach. If you’ve only got an hour or two, though, the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean area readily accessible.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve’s hours run from dawn until dusk. The site does not list an admission fee, but you may have to pay for parking. Note, too, that prices for camping or lodging in the area will vary based on your needs. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Big River is one of the younger parks in operation in California. The final purchases to secure the area took place in 2002. Nearly two decades later, you can trek through this park on foot, by bike, or on the back of a horse. Here, you’ll be able to spot cute otters playing in the water alongside seals. Bird-watchers will also find a number of unique species flitting through the park’s trees.
Big River is open from dawn until dusk, and the site lists no admission fee. Even so, make sure you have your wallet on you in case you’re charged for parking. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Mendocino, CA Museums
If the weather’s too warm for you to comfortably hike outdoors, why not check out one of Mendocino’s many museums?
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Museum
If you’re traveling with navel nerds, or if you just want to enjoy the views from the lighthouse, head on out to Point Cabrillo’s Lighthouse Museum. You’ll be able to enjoy the cool sea air along with the restored blacksmith and carpentry shop operating in the area. There is also a 240-gallon saltwater aquarium on the property for those folks who want to get up close and personal with the wildlife beneath California’s waves.
The lighthouse, museum, and aquarium are open on a daily basis between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM. The State Historic Park in which you’ll find these sites is open from dawn until dusk every day. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot and potential parking costs, you can visit its website.
Ford House Visitor Center and Museum
The Ford House Visitor Center and Museum sits at the heart of Mendocino. Here, you’ll be able to tour the history of the area courtesy of beautiful work done by local artist, Len Peterson. A partner to the Kelley House Museum, the Ford House Visitor Center and Museum provides visitors with access to the photographs, tools, and artifacts that remain from Mendocino’s founding.
If you’re traveling with a history buff, this is one site that you’ll not want to miss. The Ford House Visitor Center and Museum is open daily between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM. The website does not list an admission fee, but the museum encourages donations to keep it in operation. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Kelley House Museum
At Kelley House Museum, you’ll find a collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents that all reflect the culture that built Mendocino into the town it is today. If you’re a history buff, then the Kelley House Museum will let you grow more familiar with the foundations of Mendocino, itself.
The museum here is open between the hours of 11 AM and 3 PM on a daily basis. The site doesn’t list an admission fee, but the museum welcomes any donations that will help its researchers continue their work. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
For those visitors with a more artistic inclination, Mendocino offers its Highlight Gallery. This gallery houses art created by a number of local artists and artists operating out of California’s northern peak. You’ll be able to tour the work of over 200 artists when visiting this site. Mediums vary from traditional oil paintings to ornate woodwork.
The Highlight Gallery is open on a daily basis between the hours of 10 AM and 5 PM. The website does not list an admission fee. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Mendocino Art Center
The Mendocino Art Center is a perfect place for artists to hide away from the world. Not only is the view from the center stunning, but the facilities are ideal for creative types visiting the area. You’ll also be able to attend workshops that encourage artists to work in all variety of mediums, including:
- Fiber Arts
The Mendocino Art Center does not list an admission fee, but its workshop costs will vary based on their subject matter. You can visit the office and open exhibits any time between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Unique Things to See in Mendocino, CA
Mendocino also boasts a number of unique attractions that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, including:
Mendocino Center for Circus Arts
If you’re feeling theatrical while in Mendocino, you’re in luck. The city is home to Mendocino Center for Circus Arts, a truly unique community center and home for artistic endeavors. The Mendocino Center for Circus Arts is a 501c3 non-profit that’s been operating in the area since 2008. You can visit it now to see shows, attend circus workshops, and learn more about the practice of traveling theater.
The center’s different workshops charge differing admissions, depending on their subject matter. Likewise, the price of shows and lectures hosted through the center will vary. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, including its workshop schedule and general hours of operation, you can visit its website.
The Temple of Kwan Tai
The Temple of Kwan is one of the oldest operating Taoist temples operating in California to date. Here, you’ll be able not only to see practitioners actively in worship but the long-lived history of Taoism.
The temple’s website doesn’t list an admission fee, but it does accept donations. Likewise, it does not list hours, suggesting that you’ll be able to visit this unique spot at all hours of the day. For more information about this Mendocino hotspot, you can visit its website.
Best Things To Do In Mendocino, CA At Night
Mendocino, California is one of the best places in northern California to go camping. If you’re looking to enjoy a night under the stars with the sound of ocean waves in the background, why not check out some of the following locations:
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
- Big River
While the town may not be big on its nightlife, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a spot that’s more enchanting to visit at night.
Most Romantic Things To Do In Mendocino, CA
While Mendocino is home to a number of restaurants that’ll make for a unique date, there are a few places that are especially romantic, including:
- Kelley House Museum
- Highlight Gallery
More California Travel Ideas
We absolutely loved the Golden State and traveled through it extensively. Before leaving, here are a few more posts you might find interesting if Mendocino might be included in your itinerary –
Top 10 things to do in Northern California (Bucket List Level)
Our Redwood National Park Visiting Guide (With Pictures!)
Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe Road Trip Ideas (Including Itineraries and Pictures!)