To celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary, my wife Jean and I chose the quiet western town of Mendocino, California, to cool our heels and chill for a few days in July. I had been traveling more than normal since late March, and on the advice of frequent travel companion Jason Chinnock, Mendocino was our first and only choice.
Starting at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the turn-off from US 101 north to state Route 128 west toward Mendocino is in Cloverdale, 81 miles north. Another 57 mildly twisty miles—including 11 through dense redwoods—takes you to the Navarro River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area, teeing onto CA-1/Shoreline Highway to parallel the mighty Pacific Ocean. From there you’ll hug the coast for another 10 miles, passing through Whitesboro, Albion, and Little River before arriving in Mendocino, population 894.
There’s no hustle and bustle in this artist’s enclave, a former logging town founded by hardy folk from Maine in the 1850s. When the logging industry dried up after the Great Depression, the seaside village went dormant for nearly 30 years. In 1969, local artist and resident Emmy Lou Packard coordinated an effort to save the headlands, the southern strip of Mendocino once owned by the Mendocino Lumber Company, and create a natural open space to stave off developers. The village was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and two years later the village was designated as a Historic Preservation District of Mendocino County. Gentle trails, rugged coastline, secluded beaches and timeless history were protected from rampant commercial intrusion.
No strip malls, no fast-food joints. One might call laid-back Mendocino a true nirvana without pretentiousness. As one local told us, “This is not a community in which previous accomplishments are flaunted; here, what you are as a person is what counts—not what you have done in the past.”
Where To Stay
We chose the Joshua Grindle Inn, set in an 1879 clapboard Victorian farmhouse, a saltbox cottage and a water tower on a 2-acre knoll of garden overlooking historic Mendocino Village. With a six-minute walk to the beach and a mile from Mendocino Headlands State Park, it’s ideal for slowing down one’s typical daily pace to relax. Bonus points come from its owners, Jeff and Lindsey Meyers, transplants from Long Beach, California, and former Yamaha Motor Corporation employees. Jeff worked as an engine specialist on Yamaha’s SuperBike racing team, and Lindsey worked in customer care and government relations. Rates: $179–$259.
Where To Dine
The popular lunch spot is the Good Life Cafe & Bakery on Lansing Street. Its locally roasted coffee is good, the pastries are fresh, and the flavorful paninis are rather filling. The side deck makes for great people and dog watching. Prices: $$
For dinner, Jason recommended Wild Fish in nearby Little River, a spot he and his wife Gail frequent often.
“Let them know it’s your anniversary, get a table by the seaside window, and set the reservation for 7:30 to make sure you don’t miss any of the specials; they’ll sell out,” he advised. “Bring sunglasses since the sunset can be blinding.”
Owners Liz and Kelvin Jacobs relocated from Devon, England, where the couple previously owned and operated a restaurant and inn. Liz is a tenured food writer, and her husband Kelvin is an award-winning chef. Wild Fish opened on Thanksgiving Day 2011. Prices: $$$
Mendocino has a cool summer maritime Mediterranean climate, with summers characterized by frequent fog and highs mostly in the upper 60s and lows in the 50s. Winters rarely see frost or snow, due to its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Mendocino averages about 43 inches of rain annually concentrated mainly in fall, winter, spring, and early summer. Our three days hovered between 69–72 degrees, with lows of 54 at night.
What To Do
With Mendocino as your base, there are several state parks to explore nearby. Hendy Woods is chock-full of invigorating redwoods, while Russian Gulch and Van Damme offer sea caves and coves for divers to explore, with a mix of fern canyons for hiking and forest filled with pygmy cypress trees.
Devil’s Punchbowl was formed in Russian Gulch State Park when pounding waves forged an inland tunnel and left a hole 100 feet across and 60 feet deep. The Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge rises 100 feet from the bottom of the gulch, providing some ideal photo ops.
Gardens are a also big deal in Mendocino County, and not just in the village. On the way to Fort Bragg, 10 miles north of Mendocino, are botanical gardens worth experiencing. A few miles further north is MacKerricher State Park, with 9 miles of carefree shoreline to enjoy.
On your way back to the Bay Area, head south on CA-1 35 miles to visit the Zen House, a specialty motorcycle shop run by David Harris and Kelley Litle on Main Street in Point Arena. If that extra moto jolt wasn’t enough, I’d recommend continuing another 25 miles down CA-1 to Stewarts Point, where you hop on Skaggs Springs Road east toward 101. Skaggs becomes Dry Creek Road near Lake Sonoma Recreation Area, winding its way north of Healdsburg. All told you’ll enjoy 48 miles of sweet twisties, and although there’ll be some southbound traffic on 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge, the 63 miles between you and the Bay are chock-full of vineyards and rolling ranches.
What We Wore
Jean wore her Aether Arrow leather jacket, Pando Moto Rosie jeans, Stylmartin Arizona shoes, Bell Vortex helmet, and Dainese Blackjack gloves. I wore my Fuel Downtown Denim jacket, Fuel Sergeant waxed pants, Chrome 503 Combat boots, Bell RSD Star helmet, and Fuel Rodeo gloves.
What We Rode
Our trusty 2003 BMW R1150RT, which just ticked over its 72,300th mile. We bought it from its original owner in Livermore with 42,000 miles on January 2, 2016. We added 5,845 miles on a round trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last year.
Why did we choose the RT in the first place? When experts like Cycle World ’s editor-in-chief Mark Hoyer and legendary travelers Peter Egan and Clement Salvadori all chimed in to give the bike its blessing, I would’ve been a fool to not heed their advice. Other than a quickly remedied clutch slave cylinder, the bike has been a trusty companion for 30,000 wonderful miles.