Rural Mendocino County in Northern California is big on gourmet food, tall redwoods, vineyards, and wineries. It's the ideal destination for a Bay Area weekend trip, and you can book a cottage or stay in one of the many lodges in the region. Severe drought is a relatively new issue, so don't book without knowing the town's current status. You'll have to take Highway 101 through Sonoma County, and after about three hours, you'll likely end up looking out over a cove at touristy Main Street.
Do a lovely 2.5-mile hike on the Ecological Staircase in Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. You'll be swept up by the coastal prairie, the wildflowers, and a patch of forest stunted by acidic soil. You'll crane your head to look up at the giant redwood trees in Hendy Woods State Park, and there's a good chance you'll make a show of hugging an enormous tree trunk for the camera. You'll have to drive another 2.5 hours north to get up close and personal with the fallen Dyerville Giant.
This 5-mile trail near Fort Bragg is now accessible after years of belonging to a lumber mill. It's awash with fiery orange poppies in spring, and you can appreciate the flowers and possible whale sightings. Once you've worked up an appetite, order fish and chips from Sea Pal Cove and dig in.
While in Fort Bragg, you'll want to look for the town's primary drawcard—its sea glass beach. Trash turned into treasure when the local dump got a makeover from the ocean. But word got out, and what was once a glittering spectacle is less impressive these days. Still, you can pop into the International Sea Glass Museum to glimpse the former glory or buy seed glass to place on the shore. The Glass Fire Gallery features mushroom lamps and jellyfish chandeliers.
In Mendocino, the culture on offer is dynamic and ranges from a circus to plays at the local theatre. Mendocino is also an artsy area, and besides paintings and glass items, artisans create pottery, jewelry, and woodwork. Once you've stocked up on gifts and souvenirs for your interiors, pencil Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House into your itinerary. It's more than an hour's drive east to the small town perfection that is Ukiah, the county seat. Grace Hudson created touching portraits of immigrants and native peoples, and they're worth the detour. In addition, Victorian architecture in Ukiah is impressive.
Also, in Ukiah, what used to be a California State Mental Hospital is now a large, thriving Buddhist monastery and campus. There are peacocks majestically going about their days, and you can eat yummy vegetarian food at the restaurant on site. It's a chill space where meditation and relaxation are possible, and you'll feel a sense of peace wash over you.
Treat yourself to a spa day at Sweetwater Inn in Mendocino Village. The rustic eco spa offers a communal redwood hot tub and cedarwood sauna where clothing is optional. But if that prospect stresses you out, you can stick to a massage or book a private sauna or open-air hot tub so you can gaze up at the night sky.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg is a top Northern California attraction. Roses and rhododendrons ensure the palette is pleasingly pastel. A stunning succulent display demonstrates what water-wise landscaping can look like. You'll be glad to know the main trails are wheelchair-friendly. And best of all, the organic garden here supports locals with nourishing fresh produce.
Mendocino is lucky to have passionate chefs like Matthew Kammerer in its midst. These professional foodies run self-assured restaurants such as the Michelin-starred The Harbor House Inn and the beautiful dining establishment at the Boonville Hotel. The mostly plant-based Fog Eater Cafe is another favorite eating spot with Southern influences. Make reservations if you don't want to be thwarted by hungry Bay Area folks.
Standout farms like Nye Ranch, Caspar's Fortunate Farm, and Pennyroyal Farm should be on your priority list. The latter offers tours and is connected to Navarro Vineyards. You can try freshly-made preserves and melt at the sight of lambs drinking milk in spring. Botanicals from Nye Ranch also show up in local beers.
Mendocino is hip and underrated. Historical landmarks like the Point Arena Lighthouse abound, and the coastal and forest scenery is Rivendell-like. Greenwood State Beach, for example, has black sands and is strewn with driftwood. In your excitement to seek views upon views, don't forget to stroll through Mendocino Village itself with its pretty streets and well-preserved buildings. You'll find bookshops, ice cream vendors, and so much more.