A few days in Mendocino, California
We reached the town in time for a nice dinner at Cafe Beaujolais. They had a special Christmas Eve meal. The food was great. It is a small, cozy place and the lighting was very pretty. It was like being invited to a friend's cottage for dinner.
The next day, we walked along the Mendocino Headlands Trail, beginning near the Visitors Center in town. This trail is about 4 miles long and offers outstanding views of the crashing surf. It is flat, narrow and sometimes is alarmingly close to the cliff edge. Because of the wet weather, we walked about 1/2 mile and returned to the car to warm up. We drove to another parking lot north of the town and picked up another section. One of the highlights of the walk was watching oystercatcher birds taking a morning bath in a tide pool.
For Christmas Day dinner, we went to the Little River Inn. On other days, We had a nice lunch and dinner at Trillium, in the town of Mendocino, while we were in the area.
We enjoyed a brief, but interesting walk through the Pygmy Forest, which is part of the Van Damme State Park. A boardwalk takes you through a section of stunted, but mature trees. Most are only at head height, despite being species that are capable of growing to be dozens of feet tall. Because of the unique ecology, the soil is very nutrient poor. The trees are doing the best they can! It is only about a 20-minute walk.
In the Russian Gulch State Park, we saw the Devil's Punchbowl. This large sinkhole fills with ocean water, seemingly from nowhere. (There is a small tunnel that connects with the ocean). Judging by the frothy water, the Devil is drinking a gin fizz. There are also amazing views of the coastline. The path is level and the Punchbowl is very close to a parking lot.
On the way to Fort Bragg is the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. This beautiful garden appears small from the road, but it is 47 acres and extends to the ocean. There are many interesting sections such as a vegetable garden, heaths and heather, conifers and more. Even in December, there was plenty to see and lots of mushrooms. The Garden also offers a pretty ocean view. There is a nice observation post with a whale skeleton on display. Admission is $15 and it is well worth it. There is a seasonal cafe. We also visited Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. There is a nice beach, but the Glass Beach was underwhelming. The town of Fort Bragg is nice and we had a great cookie and cup of cappuccino.
My favorite trail was up the Big River. This trail begins at a beach and continues up a wide river that is a saltwater estuary. We saw harbor seals, otters and a snake. Inland from the beach, the trail is an old road, so it is wide and level. The river and surrounding trees are so beautiful. There were harbor seal pups swimming and then hauling out on mats of reeds in the middle of the river. They are white and turn gray as adults.It's a white seal pup!
Pups laying out
We spent five nights, but could have easily spent many more days. There was so many state parks to explore! Although it was December, it warmed up to the 60's by mid-day. The town of Mendocino is very cute. There is a great bookstore, coffee shops, fine restaurants and some interesting speciality shops, such as outdoor wear, clothes, toys and art galleries. The scenery inland is every bit as spectacular as the dramatic coast.