Discover a new side of the California coastline – far from the crowded beaches, in a world of tranquility and peace. Mendocino County boasts fantastic sandy beaches, rock beaches, and riverside wonderlands. Explore the sea islands and rocks of the California Coastal National Monument, find magical creatures in Mendocino County’s ample tidepools, or just lay back and soak up the sunshine on our favorite Mendocino County beaches.
Ten Mile Beach
The scenic Ten Mile Beach Trail, also referred to by locals as the MacKerricher Haul Road Trail, is part of an old road that was once used to transport lumber from the Ten Mile River watershed to a mill in Fort Bragg. It begins at the Pudding Creek Trestle just north of downtown Fort Bragg and ends at Ten Mile River (so named because it is located 10 miles north of the Noyo River). The trail hugs the Pacific coastline, traveling across a unique and environmentally sensitive sand dune area, past scenic Lake Cleone and a lovely tidal lagoon filled with a variety of birds.
Along the trail, you’ll take in sweeping ocean vistas as you spot a variety of plant and animal species, including the endangered western snowy plover, a bird that typically breeds in dune-backed coastal habitats. Be sure to bring binoculars for whale and seal watching — this stretch is one of the largest uninterrupted whale-watching spots on the western coast. Pacific gray whales can be seen on their migration route from December to April every year.
Jug Handle State Beach
This gem of a beach is tucked away just north of Caspar, about five miles south of Fort Bragg. Take the trail down to the beach where tidepools reveal themselves at low tide. This family-friendly beach is filled with white sand and has a lagoon where kids and dogs can safely romp. You can also follow the signs to the Ecological Staircase Trail. The 2.5 mile trail follows a geological phenomenon that explores five wave-cut terraces formed by the glacier, sea and tectonic activity that built the coast range. Each terrace (or level of the staircase) has a distinct ecosystem of soils, plants, and hydrology moving from the beach level with a creek and its associated plants to the Pygmy Forest where stunted versions of pines, cypress and other trees abound.
When the thermometer starts to sizzle inland, it’s time to find some cool running water to splash around in. The Eel River, which runs north through Mendocino County, has some great swimming holes and “beaches” to swim, boat, fish and play; it’s also a great place to spot salmon, osprey, eagles, and the occasional bear. In Potter Valley, head north on Eel River Road. When you get to the bridge turn right on the paved road and head to the Eel River Trout Creek Campground. Alternatively, head to Willits and go east on Hearst-Willits Road. The point where Hearst-Willits Road crosses the Eel River is a popular local swimming hole. Although it is private property, the owners kindly allow the public access – please respect the posted rules, and do not hunt, fish, or light fires on the property. Park in the area just below the bridge. Dos Rios on Highway 162, where the Middle Eel and Eel Rivers meet, is also an amazing river area to while away a summer day. Note: the Eel is a swiftly flowing cold river, even in summer. Take appropriate precautions!
Navarro River State Beach
From the south, the Navarro River State Beach has one of the most magnificent “entrances” you can imagine. After winding through the Anderson Valley, motorists traveling along Highway 128 suddenly enter an eleven-mile-long redwood tunnel to the sea, filled with second growth redwood groves that tower above the road. Stop at the campground along the river to enjoy a picnic, swim and catch a glimpse of the wildlife that inhabits the area. End your journey at the campground at Navarro State Beach, where the river meets the sea and grey driftwood lies scattered by wind and tide. This dog-friendly beach is a great place to build a fire (follow the regulations) and watch the sun go down.
Manchester State Beach
The elements that comprise a wild beach—wind, waves, and wood, seem just a little bit bigger than life at Manchester State Beach. It should be the winner for an award for the beach with the most driftwood, which lies tumbled and turned in piles at the foot of the sand dunes. Extending five miles from the mouth of the Garcia River to the mouth of Alder Creek, the beach is a great place for a long walk. Near Manchester’s south boundary is the landmark Pt. Arena Lighthouse, where you can take a tour and climb the tower. Manchester’s beach is complemented by a sizeable upland area. Instead of the usual out-and-back-beach walk characteristic of most state or county beaches, Manchester offers the hiker a loop trail tour of dark sand, ponds, bluffs and dunes.
Bowling Ball Beach
The most unusual beach in Mendocino County is Bowling Ball Beach, just about three miles south of Point Arena on Highway One. Before you go, check for low tide because it’s only then that you’ll see the so-called bowling balls, lined up like rows of Terracotta Warriors. The “balls” are actually concretions, which are far more resilient than the mudstone that once surrounded them. Over millions of years, this has eroded away under the constant onslaught of the Pacific Ocean, forming the cliffs that line the shore behind the beach and leaving the tougher “bowling balls” behind. A small parking area with two trailheads is on the west side of the highway.