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 with its iconic attractions, it’s the perfect place for a great vacation! Be sure to tag #MendoMoments in your trip photos!
Ride the Rails
The newest kid on the block are the rail bikes that depart from the Fort Bragg Skunk Train Depot three times daily during the summer season! These pedal-powered vehicles will take you on a roughly one-hour roundtrip along the Pudding Creek Estuary in peaceful quiet – it’s an ideal excursion for couples and families. You’ll travel along the Pudding Creek Estuary, where you may see osprey, blue herons, and other wildlife. The turnaround takes you into majestic redwood groves, and to a turnaround at the historic Glen. This trip is suited for riders of all skill levels age 6 and up. The railbikes include an optional motorized assist, to help you up the return grade, or simply to allow you take a breather during your ride.
Since 1885 the historic Skunk Train has been entertaining families visiting Mendocino County. The tracks traverse miles of riverfront and redwoods with trips departing daily from both Willits and Fort Bragg. The Wolf Tree Turn adventure from Willits is a two-hour experience taking you from the Willits valley floor to the highest point on the rail line. You will pass through Tunnel #2 and descend into the redwood-thick Noyo River Canyon – an amazing ecological wonderland, and an excellent opportunity to discover the mighty giants that made Mendocino County famous. From Fort Bragg, jump aboard the Pudding Creek Express with a one-hour ride alongside the Pudding Creek Estuary. Children under 2 ride for free. Dogs are always welcome aboard!
Giraffes in Point Arena? It’s true! B Bryan Preserve is a working preserve for African hoofstock, and they offer family-friendly tours twice daily 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 Preserve. Snap your selfie with your new giraffe pal!
Just north of the city of Point Arena, take the drive out to the lighthouse for views practically all the way to Hawaii! At ground level, you’ll find a museum where your family can learn about how lighthouses worked with Fresnel lenses and how they operate today, and 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. In spring and late fall, this is a great place to spot passing whales on their journey along the great whale highway. Bed down for the night in one of the cozy lighthouse lodging properties. Adjacent to the lighthouse is the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands where you can take an educational walk with Unbeaten Path Tours to learn about the geology, flora and fauna of this special area.
Since 1949 Confusion Hill has been baffling and delighting families on their Redwood Highway vacations. Home to the World Famous Gravity House where “Seeing is Believing” and gravity stands on its head, the Redwood Shoe House, and the 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. Combine this with a drive through the Drive-Thru Tree for an unforgettable day!
Drive-thru (Tree) Stop
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.
Penny for your Goat!
Take the kids to see the kids (we mean the baby goats) at Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville. Adults can partake of adult beverages following a tour of the barn to meet the new goats on the farm as well as the lady goats who supply the milk that makes Pennyroyal’s incredible cheese. Littles will be pleased to meet kid-sized versions of critters for them to ooh and aah over. There’s plenty of room for play outside in the patio area where mom and dad can sample some vino and watch the Baby Doll Sheep tend to their mowing in the vineyards!
See Sea Glass
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. Or head to the Sea Glass Museum in south Fort Bragg where Cap’n Cass will regale you with stories of the high seas!
Paddle Your Own Canoe
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 see Big River in Mendocino. 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, herons, and other wildlife. 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). If you prefer to remain a landlubber, CAC also rents bicycles.
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,’ EcoTerra‘s answer to the ‘Drive-Thru Tree.’
And of course, there’s lots of fun to be had by just being in Mendocino County and exploring the beaches, trails, small towns and meeting the locals!