Overall, we lucked out with the weather on our spring break trip to Fort Bragg. Almost the entire week was sunny and gorgeous during the day with rains at night. We really only experienced rains on the first morning and the last day.
We saved our visit to the quaint, historic Mendocino Village for the last day of our vacation not only because we have visited Mendocino several times in the past, but because we wanted to spend the sunny days hiking and exploring the coast.
Our last visit to Mendocino was in 2010. Natalie was six, Carter was almost four, and Brian was still working at the fire department. It was a gorgeous day and the firefighters had a historic fire truck parked outside that we stopped to check out. Brian got to chatting with the firefighters and when they learned we was also one, they offered to give us a tour of the Mendocino Headlands in the firetruck! It was an amazing experience and the kids absolutely loved it!
Back to 2017… our day visiting Mendocino was a cold, windy, rainy day and very few people were out and about. We actually only made it about a half day, before exploring the Van Damme State Park Pygmy Forest and heading back to our hotel.
We’re early risers, so we parked with no trouble right in the heart of the historic district, grabbed our umbrellas, and prepared to poke around the little shops and visit the museums. But alas, it was too early and nothing was open yet! Brian grabbed some coffee and the kids grabbed some snacks from the coffee shop and hopped back in the truck to explore the Mendocino headlands while we waited for the shops to open.
Even though the sky was dark and gray and the rain was pouring down, we still enjoyed the views of the turbulent ocean, spotting sea arches, and hopping out of the truck for quick pictures here and there. After about an hour or so, we headed back to town.
The sleepy, Victorian-era, seaside village of Mendocino sits on rocky bluffs along the rugged Northern California Coastline and offers visitors quaint shops, cozy bed and breakfasts, delicious restaurants, art galleries, and absolutely stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
We enjoyed poking around the hidden gardens, peeking in the windows of the art galleries, sampling chocolates from the candy stores, browsing the gift shops, kitchen store, and clothing retailers, and purchasing new games at the most awesome science-focused toy store.
The brig Frolic, Sailing to San Francisco from China in 1850, crashed on the rocks just north of Point Cabrillo. Men traveled from San Francisco to salvage the cargo, but only found the breathtaking redwood forest. In the early 1850s, a lumber mill was build on the headlands at and Mendocino became a lumber boom town.
Mendocino was the first of several north coast towns founded between 1851 and 1920 during the height of the lumber industry.
The New England-style architecture comes from the homesick pioneers who settled in the area to be part of the Gold Rush lumber boom. San Francisco was a booming city in need of building materials, and harvesting coastal redwoods in Mendocino became a source of prosperity for people in the small town.
The town of Mendocino has been designated a National Historic Preservation District and there are 86 Mendocino Historical District Category 1 Buildings easily walkable in the historic downtown.
Mendocino Headlands History
Mendocino Headlands State Park surrounds the town of Mendocino on three sides, with wide-open, grassy meadows atop stunning bluffs. Visitors flock to the park for miles of trails dotted with interpretive displays, awe-inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean, and access to the sandy Big River Beach, as well as whale-watching in the winter, wildflowers in the spring, bird-watching in the summer, and vibrant colors in the fall.
The south headlands, facing Main Street, were owned by timer company until 1972. The threat of development inspired resident Emmy Lou Packard to spearhead the effort to save the Mendocino Headlands in 1969, which resulted in Mendocino being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The California Department of Parks and Recreation acquired the land and the Ford House in 1972 and the Mendocino Headlands State Park opened in 1974. Ford House didn’t reopen as the park Visitor Center until 1983 after renovations and repairs.
Ford House History
Jerome B. Ford, superintendent of the first sawmill in Mendocino and founder of the town, built a home overlooking the Pacific in 1854 for his bride Martha. The Ford family lived in the home until 1872 when they moved to Oakland, California to provide better educational opportunities for their children. Their oldest son returned to Mendocino two years later to live in the family home and become the youngest superintendent of the mill.
Operated by the Mendocino Area Parks Association, today Ford House features a scale model of the 1890 town, photographs, tools, and relics from the lumber industry, displays about the local plant life, and information about the native California Indians. It is also the Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center and provides information about the park and things to do in the surrounding region.
Know Before You Go
- Mendocino, formerly called Big River, Meiggstown, and Mendocino City, is a popular tourist destination 9.5 miles south of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.
- The 347 acre Mendocino Headlands State Park sits on the headlands between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, surrounding the town of Mendocino on three sides.
- Admission to Mendocino Headlands State Park is free. The park offers day use access only.
- Three miles of trails wind around the cliffs at Mendocino Headlands State Park, passing a sea arch and hidden grottos. A trail and staircases lead down the cliffs from town to Big River Beach.
- Download the Mendocino Headlands, Russian Gulch, and Van Damme State Parks brochure.
- Ford House Museum and the Mendocino Headlands State Park Visitor Center, located at 735 Main Street, Mendocino, California 95460, is open daily from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Built in 1861, Kelley House Museum is open Memorial Weekend through Labor Day from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and is closed on Wednesdays. From Labor Day to Memorial Weekend, it is open Monday through Friday 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Kelley House Museum is located at 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino, California 95460.
- Nine episodes of the TV show Murder She Wrote were filmed in Mendocino and exterior shots throughout Mendocino were used in the remaining episodes. The residence of the main character Jessica Fletcher is now the Blair House bed and breakfast.