School’s out, the sun’s out, and Mendocino County is calling. More than 3,500 square miles of outdoor playground await you and your family, encompassing sweeping ocean views, spacious beaches, towering redwood groves, and rolling hillsides. Mendocino County has been hosting families in search of fun getaways for more than a century, and has some iconic attractions – from the world-famous Skunk Train to the mysteries of Confusion Hill to a tree you can drive through, there’s something here for everyone. Take a look at our Eight Great Family Fun Activities – and be sure to tag us #visitmendocino in your trip photos!
1. Skunk Train
Since 1885 the historic Skunk Train has been entertaining families visiting Mendocino County. The tracks traverse 40 miles of riverfront and redwoods, with a fun-filled stop at Northspur station, buried deep in the redwoods and accessible primarily by rail. At Northspur you can get snacks and drinks, and of course there are concessions on the trains. Trips depart daily from both Willits and Fort Bragg – the Willits trip is a four-hour experience with a stopover at Northspur, while Fort Bragg offers a shorter jaunt up the Pudding Creek Estuary that will have you back after an hour. Children under 2 ride for free.
2. B. Bryan Preserve
Giraffes on the Pacific Coast? It’s true! B Bryan Preserve is a working preserve for African hoofstock, and they offer family-friendly tours by appointment. This is a great opportunity for your kids to meet a giraffe up close and personal, as well as seeing endangered species of zebra, kudu, and antelope – all in the beautiful setting of Point Arena on the South Coast. There’s an educational component as well – every tour begins with a brief discussion of the conservation issues facing the species being preserved at B Bryan.
3. Confusion Hill
Since 1949 Confusion Hill has been baffling and delighting families on their Redwood Highway vacations. Home to the World Famous Gravity House, the Redwood Shoe House, and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not World’s Tallest Free Standing Redwood Chainsaw Carving. There’s also a wonderful narrow-gauge Mountain Train, that will take you on a journey through the redwoods and into the logging history of Mendocino County. This is a great stop – especially on your way to the Drive-Thru Tree!
4. Glass Beach
A definite ‘bucket list’ item, and a perfect experience for kids of all ages. Glass Beach is a lesson in the transformative power of the ocean – where tons of garbage were transformed by the sea’s action into beautiful sea glass. Kids can spend hours digging through the ‘sand’ to find beautiful artifacts. Although glass shouldn’t be removed from the beach, it’s a great photo opportunity. Afterwards, be sure to take a stroll on the Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail to enjoy the scenic views.
Getting out on the water is a perfect way to experience the tranquility and beauty of Mendocino County – and Catch-a-Canoe offers an incredibly family-friendly way to get on the water. Their outrigger canoes are extremely stable – virtually untippable – which means they’re perfect for both wee ones and four-legged friends. On the river you’ll see seals, otters, and herons. Be sure to call ahead to find the best times to go out (you’ll want to time your trip with the tides, to make it easier to paddle).
6. Drive-thru Tree
A classic Americana destination, the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is a must-visit on your family roadtrip to Mendocino County. This tree, standing more than 300 feet high, had an opening cut in the 1930s, and hundreds of thousands of visitors have since passed through. The tree is still alive (at more than 2,000 years old), and is beautiful in its own right. While you’re there, hike the beautiful grounds, or enjoy a picnic by the small lake. Nearby Confusion Hill is a great stop from the same era of great American road trips.
7. Solar Living Center
Built in 1978, this 12-acre property is a living classroom for all things sustainable. With straw-bale construction, solar pumps, bicycle-powered generators, working gardens, and much more, it’s a great way to discover the fun side of green living. There are many child-friendly activities here – educational as well as fun. Walking the grounds is an experience in itself, and be sure to see the ‘Grow-Thru Cars,’ the Solar Living Center‘s answer to the ‘Drive-Thru Tree.’
8. Point Arena Lighthouse
The tallest operational lighthouse on the West Coast, the Point Arena Lighthouse is a fun family-friendly activity. Beautiful views surround this working lighthouse, and at the base you’ll find a museum where your family can learn more about the history of both the lighthouse and the Mendocino Coast. For those who want a bit more of an adventure, climb the 115 feet (145 steps) to the top of the lighthouse, where you’ll enjoy spectacular 360° views and an interactive docent-led tour.