I’ve often motorcycled through Mendocino on my way to Oregon to visit my sister, and then scooted on up the coast about 25 miles to camp in the redwoods at Legget and then North to stay at various beach campgrounds. It’s a ride that one never tires of. But I never lingered too long in Mendocino until this three day trip with my friend Lisa.
So here’s what I found out. In Mendocino and Fort Bragg you can stay in a fancy B&B or a hostel like the Jughandle Creek Farm Hostel. The campground at MacKerricher State Park looked like a particularly nice sheltered place in the trees to pitch a tent, with its variety of habitats to wander nearby; beach, bluff, headland, dune, forest and wetland. Tidepools are along the shore, seals live on the rocks, and more than 90 species of birds visit or live near Cleone Lake, a tidal lagoon. If the sea hadn’t been so choppy we might have seen the whales that are migrating this time of year out on the bluffs, just a ten minute walk from Jughandle Creek Farm. But we did bring binoculars and found the bird and sea life watching absolutely spectacular. The wildflowers are also popping this time of year, so it seemed I had my bird and flower book out all the time.
While some of my travel writing friends rode the Skunk Train through the redwoods, I opted for horseback riding at Ricochet Ranch. Owner Lori is a firecracker and riding in the surf was just unbelievable, her horses are extremely well trained and she knows how to choose a good horse for the level of rider. Trading the saddle of a motorcycle to mount a horse is a treat because, after all, you can’t ride your motorcycle in the surf. (Well, at least not my BMW K75RT.)
I’m not a fabulous horsewoman like my friend Lisa, or Lori, who has spent her life on horses, so I grabbed a hunk of my horse Nightcap’s mane and held on tight as we galloped up through the redwoods, my heart racing. At one point all three horses raise their heads and snorted wildly, their eyes rolling around at the woods, and a few seconds later we came upon a pile of bear scat that was literally steaming. Whoops! Then another and another and another and… it seems that a mama bear and her cubs are living up there now, so we did take care to keep moving and not risk getting between them, wherever they were. But Nightcap’s eyes never stopped rolling around until we cleared the forest.
Back at the ranch, we hightailed it south, stopping for a quick lunch at Living Light Raw Foods (they have containers of ready-to-go lunches, and there’s free Internet in the complex, which holds a coffee shop and lots more). From there it was only about ten minutes south to Van Damme park where we met Craig of Kayak Mendocino to don wetsuits and life jackets to paddle around the caves, rocks, and spring wildlife in the sea. Baby seal pups and moms kept popping up around us, as curious about us as we were about them. Kayaking through the caves was just the best. And Craig showed us the seaweeds that are good to eat–yum! (Mendocino Coast is pristine, and the first place north of San Francisco that’s safe to eat the seaweeds) and let us play in the surf near the rocks–well, after all, we were cinched up in flotation devices, what could happen?
The botanical gardens was a real treat, too. The property extends from the sea cliffs inland and holds an array of plants from succulents to rhododendrons (which were in full bloom when we visited, as you see from the photo, left) to desert and pond plants. There were holding their annual plant sale at the time, and Lisa knew to keep me out of the store since we couldn’t fit plants in our luggage. But I live by the bay, and a lot of the plants would have been very happy in my NorCal garden.
Our favorite meal was at the Moosse Cafe for dinner. The apricot pastry dessert was actually a standout of a lifetime–the rest of the meal was great too, but after the dessert I forgot about everything else in my life before then 🙂 They also rent rooms and so you can stay there, in the heart of town, which is very cute to say the least.Eggheads for breakfast in Fort Bragg was also a standout, a very friendly place with amazing huge omlettes and good coffee. Locals, tourists, bikers, bicyclists–everyone was there. I also did appreciate the veganizing efforts of Raven’s Restaurant (pet-friendly, too) with its elegant dining room, tasty and imaginative vegan dishes, and the Mendocino County wines they offered. A true California experience!
While we were there I got a chance to try some very good local, “boutique” Anderson Valley wines.
Goldeneye makes two Pinot Noirs, one a red, the other a rose. I was tempted to turn up my nose at both–I don’t normally like rose’s anyway, and I’ll admit to being an Oregon Pinot snob — but I must say that they were both outstanding and I’d order them again. Another standout was the Esterlina Cabernet Sauvignon that accompanied our dinner at Raven’s. And Roederer‘s Anderson Valley champagne has long been a favorite aperitif. Having lived so close to and visited so often, I was frankly amazed at all the opportunities for activities I’d missed in the past, so I want to thank the Chamber of Commerce and my Bay Area Travel Writers group for organizing the trip. I used to think of Mendocino as just a place to hang out by the coast or take a hike, but now I know there’s much more to it. Whether you want to soak in a hot tub by the sea (one of Lisa’s favorites is the Albion River Inn) or pitch your tent in a campground, or something in between, there are a lot of choices. I know I’ll be lingering longer my next ride through.