We are just back from a two-night trip to Mendocino County. Our last time in Mendocino County, we visited the area of Hopland and wineries on the Hopland Wine Trail. On this trip, our adventures took us to the Anderson Valley on Highway 128 and on to the romantic town of Mendocino on the Pacific Coast. Both the Anderson Valley and Mendocino are magical in November. Discover through our adventures cool places to visit and things to do in this beautiful area of Mendocino County.
Day One – Anderson Valley Wineries, Redwoods and Mendocino
Heading from San Francisco, we take Highway 128 in Cloverdale toward the Pacific Coast. Don’t get confused with Mendocino County and Mendocino, the town. Mendocino is a big County, but the village of Mendocino is tiny with a population of under 900 people.
Once we get to Boonville, we start our Anderson Valley wine adventure. Boonville is the right spot to stock up for a wine country picnic. Just about all the wineries in the Anderson Valley have picnic facilities. Boonville also has some good restaurant choices. Most of the Anderson Valley wineries are located between the small towns of Philo and Navarro on Highway 128. The Anderson Valley is Pinot Noir country, along with Chardonnay and Alsatian varieties. The fog from the Pacific Ocean provides the perfect climate for cool-loving grapes.
The Big Three Anderson Valley Wineries
The Anderson Valley has many wineries, over 30 in fact, but we love to visit three small and family-owned wineries that had been operating long before the Anderson Valley became popular. Husch Vineyards started in 1971, Navarro Vineyards in 1972, and Handley Cellars in 1984. We call them the Big Three because of the tasting experience for visitors and the quality and value of the wines. Navarro Vineyards is the first of the Big Three as you travel between the towns of Philo and Navarro. Navarro Vineyards has a beautiful picnic area plus terrific wines. There is no tasting fee, and most of the wines are open for tasting. We love the stainless steel Chardonnay, the Gewurztraminer, and the Riesling. In the reds, they have two versions of Pinot Noir that are scrumptious. At Husch, you will find one of the smallest and coziest tasting rooms in the area. It is a small hut, but don’t let that fool your taste buds. The wines are delightful, and all the estate vineyards are sustainable. The Handley tasting room is fun and packed with international folk art. The Handley vineyards are certified organic. Milla Handley is the founder and one of the first women winemakers in California. Great wines here as well!
More information on the Anderson Valley Wine Trail
The Coastal Redwoods
After visiting our Big Three wineries, we head to the coast and the town of Mendocino. You may have heard of the famous Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County, but this eleven-mile stretch as you leave Navarro on Highway 128 is just as spectacular. We are in theNavarro River Redwoods State Park, and the highway is lined with magnificent Coastal Redwood trees. We find any pull-out shoulder along the road wide enough to be safe and park the car to have a look at the fantastic Redwood Forest. Find a path to take a short walk and you will discover the flora and fauna of a Redwood forest. The area is also popular with fishermen and kayakers. The Navarro River is a happy spot for adventures and wildlife.
Adventures in Mendocino and its Coast
We arrive in Mendocino in the late afternoon and settle into our Travelzoo special at the Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites. The day is overcast but, no matter what the weather in Mendocino, it is a beautiful day. We stroll the quaint Mendocino shops and have a cup of tea. Dinner our first evening is at the Trillium Cafe. It is a fantastic meal. We loved the Covelo Ranch Braised Short Ribs and the Grilled Organic Chicken Mole.
Day Two – Between Mendocino and Fort Bragg
Early morning in Mendocino is always quiet and joyful. A walk along the bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands is an excellent way to begin the day. We have breakfast at the Good Life Cafe & Bakery. It is a local hangout, and that is just fine with us. Since rain is in the forecast, we decide to forgo our hike in nearby Van Damme State Park. It is a fantastic, moderate two-mile hike up to the Pygmy Forest, but we will do that on our next visit to Mendocino. We take a car ride to Fort Bragg, home of the Skunk Train. Our first stop is the Cabrillo Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse has been operating since 1909, guiding ships along the Pacific Coast. The lighthouse is open daily 11am to 4 pm.
Another exciting stop between Mendocino and Fort Bragg is the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Take an hour to see what plants flourish in coastal climates. In Fort Bragg, we enjoy two activities. First, a lunch stop at Silver’s at the Wharf in the Noyo Harbor. Fresh fish menu items are on the menu as entrees, in salads, and sandwiches. We walk off lunch visiting shops in the historic old town portion of Fort Bragg.
Now it is back to Mendocino for another stroll along the headlands and some last-minute shopping for books, trinkets, and other boutique items. We are looking forward to our dinner at Cafe Beaujolais. Since our previous visit, this historic Mendocino restaurant has new owners and a new chef. Cafe Beaujolais does not have a full bar, so the McCollum House is a comfortable stop for a cocktail. The Cafe Beaujolais does not disappoint. I must say, the Butternut Squash soup is the best I have tasted. Six of us enjoy the Cod, the chicken, pork tenderloin, and beef Wellington. Chef Julian, you are off to a great start at Cafe Beaujolais!
Another trip to the Good Life Cafe & Bakery for a light breakfast before we head back. Our friends are taking 128 to Cloverdale and Highway 101 to head home. We decide on an alternate route and make a left in Boonville to Highway 253 East. This road is windy but with great views. Highway 253 ends in Ukiah. More wineries are visit-worthy between Ukiah and Hopland. See the Hopland Wine Trail for complete information on the best wineries to visit.
One thing we love about visiting the Anderson Valley and Mendocino Coast is that we always feel refreshed and invigorated. It must be the peacefulness of the vineyards and Redwood Trees, as well as the clean air on the Pacific Coast.