Need a mid-winter weekend away? If you’ve never been up to the charming coastal village of Mendocino, then it’s time to plan a visit. If you used to love it as a romantic getaway pre-kids, consider going back now with the entire family in tow. While always popular with tourists, the rains of January and February keep it from being too crowded. If you don’t mind a bit of walking in the mist or rain—with plenty of breaks to warm up with some hot chocolate—it can be downright invigorating and cozy.

What to Do

Why not pack a picnic and spend the morning at nearby Van Damme State Park, with its pygmy forest? Or go tidepooling at MacKerricher State Park.  This park has a stroller-friendly boardwalk that follows the coastline with viewpoints for bird-watching. We also love Big River Beach which has miles of white sand for the kids to play on. Point Cabrillo Light Station, a working lighthouse just north of Mendocino, is sure to be a hit with the little ones, and has a museum and a little aquarium. Or visit the gorgeous Mendocino Botanical Gardens which admits children under 5 for free.  They have an ongoing Fairy House Project where kids can let their imagination and creativity run free.  You’ll find this special place near the dahlia garden in a grove of tall trees.

Stroll around the town and admire the architecture which dates from the 1850s.  You’ll see grand Victorians (now primarily upscale B&Bs), Saltbox houses, and the characteristic water towers, which residents have used for generations to store their water. Mendocino is proud of its vibrant artist community: It’s the place to go for one-of-a-kind works of art, so peek in the galleries to see what’s new.  May through October, the Farmers’ Market downtown draws locals and visitors alike looking to pick up grass-fed beef, luscious local produce, and gifts and goodies hand-made from locally-sourced ingredients (sea salt, lavender, etc.) Before you leave, stop at the little playground outside the old schoolhouse.  Then walk to the nearby Mendocino Chocolate Company for a custom assortment of their wonderful handmade truffles or toffees to share.  Why not take one of their elegant boxes home, as gifts for friends and family?

ADVERTISEMENT

Where to Stay

We recommend grabbing an extra day to extend your weekend–the three-and-a-half hour drive makes a couple of days seem like too short a stay. Once there, check into the delightful Alegria Inn, the only Bed and Breakfast in town with direct access to the beach.  Walk through the inn’s lovely gardens and stop at the old wooden swinging bench for a peek at the ocean before heading down to the sea.  Big River Beach has a mile of white sand for the kids to play on, and lovely views both across the water and up to the cliffs.  Or stay at the Alegria’s quaint Raku House Inn just across the street, where a family of four can enjoy the entire second floor, which has a queen and two twins, plus a handy little fridge to store drinks and snacks for the kids.  Breakfast is brought to your room every morning on a tray, and include the chef’s melt-in-your-mouth fresh-baked scones.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for more luxury, treat yourselves to two or three nights at the renowned Stanford Inn, an eco-resort with its own organic gardens and spa.  Families are welcome, and enjoy oversized guest rooms and two-bedroom suites, all with a sea view.  The inn has its own gourmet restaurant, and even an indoor pool.

Where to Eat

When lunchtime comes around, kids are always welcome at Frankie’s Pizza and Ice Cream,  where the menu includes organic, vegetarian, and vegan fare. Try their made-from-scratch falafel and you’ll be begging for the recipe.  Eat outside at the picnic tables on the patio.

If you’re thinking about packing a picnic lunch, the best place is the tiny, family run, Mendocino Market. They have everything for your picnic needs, including pre-made and custom made sandwiches, and great hot foods. People rave about the clam chowder.  You can pick up drinks and snacks as well, or if you have kitchen access, grab your breakfast essentials and a bottle of wine.

—Annie Sheldon