Wintering on Mendocino’s Spectacular Coast

What can one do on a cold winter weekend or even mid-week adventure in Northern California?  We say, explore the Mendocino Coast.  The Mendocino Coast is truly spectacular and for those of us who might become depressed or feel cooped up during our short but sometimes gloomy wine country winter scenes, there is nothing more exhilarating than the crash of the Pacific along this rugged and sometimes daunting coastline.

The wild Pacific Ocean from Harvest House (L.Compisi)

What does one do on the Mendocino (Mendo) Coast during the Winter months? The coastal area is rich with parks each with a diversity of landscapes. From the Ecological Staircase at Jug Handle State Park to the waterfall at Russian Gulch, one can explore coastal beaches, redwood groves and fern canyons. There are so many options it is difficult to make a short list but here’s a few ideas especially now that we see the light at the end ‘funnel’ (rain that is).

Our default activity is to walk the craggy beaches or the treacherous coastal bluffs while scanning the ocean surface for the possibility of a whale spouting (November through April, Gray and Humpback whales make their annual migration). In fact, three Mendocino venues hosts an annual Whale Festival during the first three weekends in March with activities occurring in Mendocino town, Little River and Fort Bragg. The town of Mendocino also offers coastal trails as does the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg.

Another favorite is Van Damme State Park with 1,831 acres of land near the town of Little River on State Route 1. It was named for Charles Van Damme, who was born in the area and purchased the land with profits from a San Francisco ferry business he owned. The Park includes ten miles of hiking trails along the Little River and exceptional campsites (if you’re into that, we’re not). A free parking lot, on the ocean side of Highway 1, provides access to Little River Beach at the mouth of the Little River, which is also part of the park (paid parking exists on the park side). The waters offshore from the beach form the Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area. Check this out for kayak tours. We enjoyed hiking inland following an improved trail along a delightful creek.

Hiking in Van Damme St. Park (L.Compisi)
Creek Trail in Van Damme St. Park (L.Compisi)

Ride The Mendocino Skunk Train, a local favorite that you have to try. The 131-year-old train has been recognized by USA Today and by the National Geographic Traveler as the best train tour and best family activity in America. This historic locomotive takes you through amazing landscapes following century old logging routes. You’ll pass through tunnels, bridges, meadows, and towering trees and get a glimpse of the amazing wildlife of Northern California. There are different experiences including (Be aware that tickets prices vary seasonally):

Wolf Tree Turn ($49 – 2 hours): a two-hour round trip from the Willits valley floor to the highest point of the track. Includes a 1,740-foot summit ascent above the Noyo River Canyon in the middle of the redwood groves.

Pudding Creek Express ($27 – 1 hour): The 7-mile route departs from the Fort Bragg depot and goes all the way to Pudding Creek Estuary. Nature lovers delight.  An hour-long tour best experienced in the morning.  

The Skunk Train from Ft. Bragg (Courtesy Visit Ft. Bragg)

Point Arena Lighthouse offers 360-degree views of the ocean, coastal meadows, and mountains to the east. The top of the Point Arena Lighthouse stands 115 feet tall and has done so since 1908. Entrance Tips: Check the website for current rates and hours. As of this posting the Lighthouse is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Everyday Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend.

Point Arena Light House (Courtesy Light House Friends)

Visit the Redwoods at Navarro River Redwoods State Park for a combination Redwoods, river and ocean experience. Literally where the Redwoods meet the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes referred to as eleven-mile-long redwood tunnel to the sea, the park is situated along Highway 128 and terminates at the junction of Highway 1. Visitors beware that current weather conditions can cause last minute closings.

Navarro River looking toward the Pacific (Courtesy Navarro River Redwoods State Park)

Where to Stay:

You will find it very difficult to find an inn that combines coastal views, delightfully intimate rooms and fine dining more to your liking than the Albion River Inn in Albion. The Inn has a fascinating history that includes a stint as a blacksmith shop, a Ford dealership and an earlier incarnation of the restaurant. The current history begins 38 years ago, in 1981, when Flurry Healy and co-owner Peter Wells purchased the 10-acre property. They gutted the existing restaurant and set about, over many years, building the existing 20 cottages along the magnificent bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Adding texture and drama to this stunning location is the Albion River Bridge, an historic wooden deck truss bridge crossing the mouth of the Albion River just adjacent to the Inn property. At 300 meters long and 150 feet above the river, it is the last wooden bridge on California State Route 1. Best of all, the bar and restaurant keep you out of your car because the food and beverages are first class.

Dining at Albion River Inn is dreamy (L.Compisi)
Resting at the Albion River Inn is dreamier (L.Compisi)

The Little River Inn is a classic coastal resort with spectacular ocean views, The Inn boasts a long legacy of authentic family hospitality. The fifth generation, including Innkeeper Cally Dym and her husband, Executive Chef Marc Dym, is currently at the helm, happily welcoming guests just as the family has done since 1939. The rooms are fabulous with balconies overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean. Marc’s culinary adventures will keep you coming back whether you stay overnight or make it a day trip. The Inn is located at 7901 N. Highway One, Little River, CA 95456 Email at or telephone toll free at 1-888-INN-LOVE for reservations.

The view from our room at the Little River Inn (L.Compisi)

Heritage House Resort was made famous in the critically acclaimed 1978 romantic comedy, “Same Time Next Year”, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn.  The resort became the third lead in the film version (it was first a theatrical play in 1975). The resort is perched high above the Pacific Ocean on 37 rugged and dramatic acres of eucalyptus and cypress.

View from our cottage at the Heritage House (L.Compisi)
The Redwood Split Fencing is perfectly alluring (L.Compisi)

The resort consists of a main complex that houses the office, restaurant, bar/lounge and some of the guest quarters.  Most of the guest accommodations are happily scattered around the 37 acres making them all seem quite private and secluded. The most important aspect of these cabins are their amazing views of the dramatic coastline, hidden coves and the mesmerizing ocean! With 5 miles of redwood split rail fencing and a 73-step stairway to the beach, the Heritage House Resort offers abundant walking space and numerous dramatic vantage points for enjoying the surroundings.

View below the Heritage House (L.Compisi)

For those of you who would like to add some winetasting to your get-away, consider the Madrones in Philo, part of the Anderson Valley. Proprietor Jim Roberts has created a bit of heaven in the midst of Mendocino wine country.  Located in the heart of the valley, between Boonville and Philo, The Madrones is the current incarnation of Jim’s passion for interior design. Sporting only about 10 rooms, each is unique in design and furnishings. You’ll want to return several times to try to find your favorite.

Every room at The Madrones is unique and beautiful (L.Compisi)

There are several other venues that offer structured experiences. Some to consider:

Avenue of the Giants 

Montgomery Woods State Reserve 

Point Arena Lighthouse

The point of it all is that Mendocino Coast offers so many amazing adventures, pleasures and experiences, the only thing missing is you.

Nourish your soul… one bite, flight and sight at a time!

About John Compisi

John and Linda Compisi are a freelance travel, adventure and lifestyle writer/Photography team focusing on California, Italy, France or where ever life takes them. John is a credentialed member of the SF Bay Area Travel Writers and the Redwood Writers Club. John and Linda, reside in Sonoma County and love nothing more than getting out there and experiencing the world, no matter if it’s a destination close to home, a road trip, or a journey to a romantic international destinations.
This entry was posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Culinary, Day Trips, Hiking, Mendocino County, North Coast, Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel, Travel USA, Wine Country and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Wintering on Mendocino’s Spectacular Coast

  1. pkbuell says:

    Nice article, John!

    Best regards,

    Pat (Sent from my iPhone)


  2. Bett Carlson says:

    Enjoyed your post. Got us in the mood to book a getaway. Bett

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