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:
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
As I mentioned, Mendocino weather can be fairly variable across different areas, and can also become cool rather unexpectedly. So it’s good to be prepared for a variety of circumstances when visiting Mendocino County. Here are a few essentials we take when visiting Mendocino with kids:
We like to take a lightweight but warm jacket (men, women, kids). These are my very favorite wool socks that stay dry, cool, and comfortable. And here are my favorite yoga pants with pockets that I always wear for hikes. And I LOVE this amazing rain jacket for kids – essential if the weather turns wet.
I always pack this water bottle since it’s tricky carrying a hydration pack while wearing a baby.
My kids always wear these kids hiking backpacks with water bladders and they are a literal lifesaver when hiking. They help us go so much further because they don’t need to stop every 45 seconds for a drink, and they stay better hydrated, too.
Though it can be cool, the sun can also be intense when exploring Mendocino, especially with the reflection of the water. This is my very favorite sunscreen for myself and especially 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).
If you’re heading out early or late, you definitely want to be prepared. A headlamp makes it so much easier and safer to see, especially if camping or out late at the beach.
You can find all our favorite kids’ hiking gear here!
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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