There are so many amazing things to do in Mendocino, California, a quiet and ruggedly beautiful a few hours north of San Francisco. It’s the perfect area for a weekend getaway for a family or a couple, or to use as a home base as you explore further afield.
There are so many major attractions in California that it can feel easy to skip over some of the smaller towns and destinations, but I think it’s well worth taking some time to explore and take in the beauty at a more leisurely pace without the crowds of bigger cities. And Mendocino’s vibe definitely feels different than its bigger cousins – slower paced, with beautiful sights and great food. We loved the atmosphere for a Mendocino family vacation!
Keep reading below for some amazing things to do in Mendocino with kids, but first, here are a few tips for visiting:
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When To Visit Mendocino
The great thing about visiting Mendocino, California is you can go almost any time of year! The weather is mild and beautiful year round, although beware that this can vary based on where you are in the area. By the coast, the temperatures rarely get above 60-65 degrees F, so be sure to pack a layer or two.
It can also be extremely windy, and often rainy in winter months. So if you’re opposed to wetness, I recommend avoiding the winter season, although the fog and mist certainly has its own charm. Either way, it will likely impact what to do in Mendocino.
As you head inland, however, the weather gets much warmer, drier, and more still. Be sure to plan for the variation and pack accordingly!
What To Pack For Mendocino
We love this backpack to carry our food and extra clothing, as well as any baby items. (It’s also terrific as a travel carry on.) We wore the baby in this baby carrier, but if you’re spending a longer time or have an older/bigger baby, we absolutely love this baby and toddler hiking carrier. It also has plenty of storage room to carry all your gear in there without needing. a separate bag.
This is especially important if visiting in shoulder seasons. I highly recommend packing along waterproof layers – it’s no fun walking around when sopping wet. I like this rain jacket (here’s the version for men, kids, toddlers). If you’re confident in rain happening, we really like using rain pants to keep everyone dry and happy when outside for extended periods. (Here are the rain pants we have for women, men, kids, toddlers, and a one-piece.)
For older kids and adults, we love this water bottle for hiking and anything else – it’s a great size, fits in a side pocket, and keeps drinks cold for forever. We also love THIS one and THIS one. (You can often find them on sale here.)
This is my personal favorite mineral facial sunscreen (use code LPF15 for 15% off). I also love this sunscreen for my kids. It’s a mineral (zinc-based) sunscreen, so it protects the skin on top instead of soaking in, and rubs in so easily (so many zinc suncreens don’t). I also love this mineral sunscreen that smells amazing (or here is the spray version).
Since we knew we were going on a day that didn’t have rain planned, I took a chance and wore my beloved white tennis shoes and was totally fine. All the paths are on boardwalks, so you definitely don’t need super rugged hiking shoes. If there were a quick, light drizzle, I think they would’ve held up fine.
Still, if there’s a chance of consistent or heavier rain, I highly recommend wearing something a bit sturdier or waterproof. For traveling, I love these boots because they’re cute with regular clothing but also hold up well for walking and are also quite water resistant. If you’re doing any more serious hiking, I really love these hiking boots – super sturdy, really comfortable, and waterproof.
Where to Stay for a Family Plitvice Lakes Trip
Since we were only doing a day trip to Plitvice Lakes, we opted to stay in Split. This allowed us to spend a couple days in Split, a day trip in Plitvice Lakes, and then leave Split the next morning for Dubrovnik more easily. Especially when traveling with kids, it made it much easier to not need to move around to different hotels. When staying in Split, I highly recommend staying as close to the Old City as possible – we loved being able to easily walk into town.
Split Lodging Options with Kids:
- Hotel Agava Split
- Dioklecijan Hotel & Residence
- Splendida Palace
- Cornaro Hotel
- Radisson Blu – this resort is further away but has great family amenities
And here are some wonderful apartment and home rentals if you need more space:
- Gorgeous stone villa
- Terrace apartment next to Dioclecian’s Palace
- Luxury apartment in Old City
- 3BR holiday house in Old City
If you’d like to stay closer to Plitvice Lakes, here are some good options:
- Plitvice Lakes Villa Irene
- House Poljana
- Apartment Mila
- B&B Green Serenity
- 3BR House
- 1BR Apartment near Plitvice Lakes
- House 500m from Splitvice Lakes – sleeps 7
- 3BR family home with swimming pool
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Best Things To Do In Mendocino With Kids
Visit Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino Headlands State Park blends gorgeous and rugged coastline with quiet trails and off-the-beaten-path beaches. Big River Beach is perfect for playing in the sand if the weather is warm, as the beach is wide and clean. You can also explore some caves and tide pools at low tide, and there are a couple of camping options nearby (including one in a parking lot right by the beach, which are paid spots).
I recommend walking the 0.9 mile Mendocino Cliffs Trail for some stunning views. Come for the fresh beach air and stay for the dramatic views in one of our favorite kid friendly Mendocino activities.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
Glass Beach is one of the most popular stops in the Mendocino area. It used to be an old dumping area that was later cleaned up in the late 1960s. At that time, it was sold to the state park system, and the glass pieces were left as they had by that point been smoothed out. The result is a beautiful collection of “sea glass.”
When visiting Glass Beach, be sure to only look and touch the glass pieces while there, but do not take them home with you. Though not natural to the area, they are an important part of the landscape, and the state park system has requested that visitors leave them in place for others to enjoy, as the amount left has already been depleted significantly.
Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch State Park boasts fern canyons and wildflowers and often plenty of fog. The Panhorst Bridge is also a beautiful site for photos. The highlight is the waterfall on the Fern Canyon Trail, so don’t miss that!
The best part of this state park is the varied scenery through stunning and unique ecosystems. You can move from fern forests to open coastal headlands to the beach, so be sure to take advantage of being able to walk through these varied worlds on foot.
See the Redwoods
There are plenty of areas to spy the tallest living organisms on earth, the coastal redwoods, right near Mendocino. I highly recommend the Fern Canyon Trail in Van Damme State Park. The trail is filled with, you guessed it, both ferns and redwoods. There are multiple bridges along the way that make for beautiful stopping points. While the whole trail is about 5 miles round trip, it’s relatively flat, and you can choose to go as far as you’d like.
If you’d rather see the trees by rail, you can consider the Skunk Train Pudding Creek Express, a beautiful ride into the heart of a redwoods forest. You can even stop off and do some hiking, and hop on the next train ride back. There are also very fun-looking rail bikes available for rent, although they are not suitable for infants and young toddlers (and are also quite expensive).
Bike The Coastal Trail
There are few things more magical than biking along the ocean. And the Coastal Trail in Fort Bragg is perfect for families. Paved, smooth, and far from the edge of the cliffs, it’s great for even younger riders and wide enough for bike trailers.
Be sure to walk out to the rocky outcropping for a gorgeous view. The path is also wheelchair-and-stroller accessible if you prefer not to ride, and has benches along the way to stop and enjoy.
Explore Wine (and Snack) Country
Hear me out – even with kids, exploring parts of California’s northern wine country can be a joy. While we don’t drink alcohol, our favorite grape juice is produced at Navarro Vineyards, where they also have a beautiful property and picnic tables. Kids will love sipping on fancy grape juice and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Pennyroyal Farm has grape juice tastings and farm animals, Meyer Family Cellars has play equipment and lawn games to keep little ones entertained, and Husch Vineyards is a delightfully small operation with its own kid-friendly juice.
Mendocino Jam & Preserves in town itself is also a delightful stop. I recommend heading in to pick up some goodies for a picnic, perhaps even on the beach.
Have you spent time in Northern California before? I’d love to hear your favorite stops!
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