By Annie Gallagher Yearout – What sort of ridiculousness are we in for? Two teenagers and a single mom on a road trip together, where service for cell phones and connections to social media might just be interrupted for a few moments by windswept beaches, spouting whales and wild bike contraptions that fly along train tracks? Why, an insanely cool adventure to Mendocino, California, of course, a fun and funky coastal town just three hours north of San Francisco.
Loading up kids before the trip, I warn that we just might have a great time. They’re non-committal at this point, but nonetheless, they’re both in the car, strapped in, and paying attention. Miracles can happen. And the miracles begin to unfold as we head north on Highway 101 and take a sharp left turn onto the stunning Highway 128 as it winds its way from more central California towards the Pacific Ocean.
In every direction we look, we’re immersed in the beauty of green fields and the chance for a quick stop at quaint fruit stands and renowned California wineries, if we are so inclined.
Just before we reach the Mendocino coast, we enter Navarro River Redwoods State Park in which we’re transported into a cathedral of towering redwood trees for 11 miles. This is a transformative, awe inspiring moment for the three of us, and we pull off the road for a moment and soak it all in.
Onward we go and the massive California redwood tunnel of trees opens up to coastal scrub and we bump into the rolling and churning ocean at the famous Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1, and head north for the final leg of the drive along the Mendocino coast.
Mendocino, CA Lodging: Little River Inn
The Little River Inn comes into view just minutes before town and we hoot with delight as it’s set up right on the Mendocino coast, just on the curve of the Pacific Coast Highway and looks out directly onto the ocean. We hop out of the car next to the quaint, white, Victorian main-building, ready to check-in and continue our adventure.
Of the 65 rooms on the Little River Inn property, we’re lucky enough to have booked a large room with two double beds, a fireplace, and a front porch with rocking chairs overlooking the Pacific ocean. We toss our things in the room and wander the property and a path to the nearby beach.
Teen stomachs start rumbling and luckily Executive Chef Marc Dym and his crew were firing up a delicious menu for dinner using local Mendocino ingredients. I will admit that we devoured dinner and breakfast at Little River Inn both days of our visit like giddy foodies.
Pro Tip: When you book Little River Inn via Booking.com, you are guaranteed the best price and no booking fees!
Mendocino, CA Rail Bikes & Skunk Train
The next morning, the weather has made a turn and the rain clouds settle onto the Northern California coastline for the day. Luckily, my kids are used to my rain or shine outdoor shenanigans, so we fill our bellies with breakfast and load into the car toward Fort Bragg north of Mendocino with rain gear on hand.
Our destination is The Skunk Train, a 130 year-old rail line which takes a 7 mile round-trip toot through the lush scenery of Ft. Bragg’s Pudding Creek Estuary. This is a perfect activity for littler aged kids to experience the joy of riding an old-fashioned train or simply as a relaxing ride for families.
The real lure for my teenagers, however, is the Rail Bikes outdoor adventure which follows along the same route as the Skunk Train. The skies continue to pour giant raindrops down on us as we hop off the Skunk Train, strap on bike helmets in our rain gear, and off we go, two at a time for our 7 mile ride on biking contraptions designed specifically for train tracks.
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We pedal like mad, hooting and laughing. It’s part exhilaration, part silly fun, and definitely a workout for the legs as we fly down the tracks and through the estuary. Although Rail Bikes are pedal powered, they have an electric assist feature in case riders need a boost.
My kids are burning loads of energy, my daughter has her umbrella up sheltering herself from the weather like a Mary Poppins’ character, and I can confirm that both teenagers thought the experience was “Cool, Mom!”
More Mendocino County Activities
Mendocino County has a plethora of activities to enjoy including wandering through the town of Mendocino’s eclectic art galleries, walking along the gorgeous beaches, visiting the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and paddling down Big River in outrigger-canoes to see wildlife including seals sunbathing along the river.
Whale-watching is a draw between November and April, and although we miss out on whales during this trip, we love the story a Little River Inn employee tells us. When visitors ask, “When will the whales show up today?” he picks up the telephone and commands with a giant smile and a wink, “Release the whales!!” fielding the ubiquitous, nonsensical question with quirky humor. Such is the spirit of Mendocino.
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On our final morning, I wake to a bright blue sky and a light, ocean breeze blowing directly onto our front porch. I grab my coffee and head out to soak-in the beauty of the ocean scene while the kids sleep in. I’m feeling a deep satisfaction from an unrushed and adventurous trip to the Mendocino area with my kids who put down their screens for the weekend and just had a blast. Miracles can happen.
How To Get To Mendocino, CA
From the South: Head north on Highway 101. Take Highway 128 West at Cloverdale. Highway 128 merges with Route 1. Head North on Route 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). Or follow Highway 101 to Willits. Make a left at the traffic light in town onto Highway 20 and head west. Highway 20 ends at Highway 1. Head south on Highway 1 to Mendocino.
From the East: From Sacramento, take the Highway 20 exit off of I-5 toward Clearlake/Colusa. At Highway 101, head north. 20 merges with 101 until you reach Willits. Highway 20 separates from 101 in the center of town – turn west (left) at the traffic light. At Fort Bragg at Highway 1, head south to Mendocino.
From the North: Follow Highway 1 down the coast to Mendocino.
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Annie is pursuing a master’s in Integrative Health, is a health coach, and incessantly espouses the importance of the relationship between nature and human health and well being. She can often be found on a mountainside hiking, biking or trail running with or without her kiddos. Find her on Instagram @OutdoorsyMama.