“Such is the beauty of California. You drive out 2 hrs from one point to another, and it will appear as if you are in a different country altogether”-anonymous store lady, downtown Mendocino.
I wanted to start off this post with the above quote, because honestly this kind of sums up the magic that is California, a state abundant in natural beauty so diverse that it will take your breath away, dotted with urban spaces comprising of world-class cities you would want to call home. Essentially, you can have the best of both worlds here (if you don’t mind shelling out some hard-earned moolah that we Californians pay for the privilege of occupying land and enjoying the gorgeous weather). All this meandering is for the mere fact that today I am going to talk about another amazing getaway destination, which is only a mere 3 hours drive from the city of San Francisco but which represents the holy trinity of what California is known for :a) a jaw-droppingly beautiful coastline, b) the majestic redwood forests and c) some of the world’s best grapes producing some of the finest, delicate pinot noir known to man. The icing on the cake is the fact that it is super dog-friendly and therefore provides perfect excuse to explore with your fur kids. I am talking of Mendocino county, north of the famous Sonoma county, which is welcoming to both bipeds of all kinds and four legged fur balls. The city of Mendocino is where we traveled to four years ago with Babu, in the era of crummy Android phones and a non-existent blog. With the tides that turned in a big way, we decided to make a repeat visit, this time to the small town of Little River, sitting right on the coast and just south of Mendocino. Part 1 of this blog post is about dog-friendly things to do and see in this area and will include some of our past activities, which we left out this time, to make room for a more leisurely retreat. I will also point out some amazing places to dine where your pooch is welcome. So, let’s get started!
MENDOCINO: WHERE TO STAY WITH YOUR DOG
As mentioned before, Mendocino county is known for its tall, majestic redwood trees, the breathtaking beautiful California coast and pristine beaches, plus the wineries along the Upper Russian River valley and Anderson Valley. All these places are dog-friendly to different extents, but overall Mendocino is very welcoming to dogs. There are several hotels/inns accommodating your canine companion, of which the Stanford Inn at the mouth of Comptche-Ukiah road has been rated the best (I will talk about it more later) and for good reason (impeccable hospitality and its world famous dining option), but there is one department where it is beaten handsomely by the Little River Inn, a few miles down the road, and that is because the latter is perched close to the ocean with a fantastic view of the coastline, that is unmatchable. Little River Inn is a series of Victorian houses overlooking the coast and sprawled over acres of land encompassing a beautiful garden. It has an excellent dining room offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with focus on local, sustainable produce and catch, but the best part of this again is the fact that they have a separate dining room for guests with dogs which you have to reserve slightly beforehand if you want to dine with your pooch there.
For these reasons and the warm hospitality that they extend to dogs (welcome treats, food and water bowl, doggie towels in the room), we chose Little River Inn as our place of stay this time. Pricey, yes you bet, but worth every penny for the view, the food, the hospitality and above all, Babu’s comfort. I highly recommend this place for all dog-owners if you plan to visit Mendocino (which you should) and make reservations well in advance (because dog-friendly rooms are limited) to have a great time with your four-legged friend. Imagine dining in a beautiful room with a vintage piano with your furry friend or sipping a glass of pinot on your rocking chair on the deck and watching the sun set on the Pacific with the waves crashing on the beach? Little River Inn is where you get to do all of this, get to eat some great food and decompress! Just be a responsible pet parent, follow the hotel pet policy to the Y and you will be all set for a great time!
MENDOCINO: WHAT TO EXPECT FOR WEATHER
Weather in Mendocino county is one deceptive beast, because of beach vs. inland micro-climes. A very hot inland may cause the coast to remain foggy all day (such as what we experienced during our stay) or it may clear up and you might experience a very hot and humid day. So its best to dress up in layers and wear sturdy footwear since you will be doing a lot of outdoor activities, specially with your dog. I highly recommend hiking shoes for exploration and a medium weight jacket for foggy, chilly evenings.
MENDOCINO: DOG-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES
Anything dog-friendly automatically includes humans (duh) and so even if you are visiting sans your puppy, you are guaranteed to have a good time with these options in tow. Its just that what makes Mendocino so visit worthy for dog-lovers is that here our furry friends are made to feel very welcome and many attractions are accessible to them. I am listing some of the major ones that we embarked on last time as well as on our latest trip, which are a must see/do kind.
Most of the redwood forests/preserves are off-limit to dogs for preservation and presence of wildlife. So one of the best options to experience them is to ride the Skunk train, from downtown Fort Bragg (12 miles north of Mendocino) which zips for 43 miles along the Californian Western Railroad right through the heart of the giant redwoods all the way to Willits and back. Best of all, this train allows dogs on board to enjoy the majestic views of the forest. There is an extra $10 charge for dogs and you need to make sure that your dog will be comfortable in a moving train. We boarded the Skunk train last time and really enjoyed the view from the open decks adjacent to the compartments. So if your dog is game for this trip, better get going! The other place where dogs are permitted is the drive through tree grove (privately owned) in Leggett, the main attraction of which is, you guessed it-a huge redwood tree with a hole in its trunk so big that a compact car can easily pass through it. Leggett is north of Fort Bragg and there is a $5 vehicle fee to enter the grove. It is pretty groovy to drive through this “chandelier drive thru tree” and a must one-time try. Dogs are NOT allowed in the Montgomery Woods state reserve as we found out after driving for 45 minutes inland and being bitterly disappointed. This reserve has some of the tallest redwoods but is infested with mosquitoes this time of the year! We took a quick walk with Babu in the car (windows rolled down, plus it was a cold, foggy day) and returned within 10 minutes, after warding off mosquitoes!
Mendocino county, bless its generous heart, is full of beaches that your pooch can enjoy on or off leash. Glass beach at Fort Bragg is a fascinating place (one we visited on our last trip) because the sand has shiny pieces of glassy marbles scattered everywhere, and is dog friendly. Even better is the Noyo beach, which pets can enjoy off-leash. The Mendocino botanical gardens is another great place to stroll along with your pet (free entry for the pooches). There are several beaches down south near Mendocino, such as the Russian Gulch State Park and beach, Mendocino Headlands State Park and beach and the Van Damme State Park and beach where on-leash dogs are allowed.
The one super fun activity from last time was our canoeing on the Big River in Mendocino, with Babu in the canoe, thanks to Catch-a-Canoe and Bicycles Too!, a company which offers pet friendly canoes to paddle the waters of the river. Again, your dog has to be calm enough or willing to sit in the outrigger canoe while you paddle. You do not need to be a seasoned kayaker to navigate the big river as long as you follow guided instructions.
Point Cabrillo lighthouse, nestled in one of California’s state parks, is one of the remaining five functional lighthouses in the state of the 200 that once were active. What makes it a must visit is that dogs are allowed inside the lighthouse to the museum in the lower level. The lens room, which hosts one a kind 3rd order Fresnel lens, is accessible to the public for only 8 days in a calendar year, and runs on automation. The lens throws out a sharp flare of light every 40 seconds in a certain direction, which was visible even in the midst of the dense fog when we visited. Like all lighthouses, this too is perched near the coastline, which is especially jagged due to the waves tearing away at the rocks. Looks scary, but makes for beautiful photos, specially with the field of wild flowers swaying away in the breeze juxtaposed against the choppy waves. The lighthouse runs completely on voluntary donations and so please loosen those purse strings towards the maintenance of this lovely piece of state heritage. There is an adjacent Aquarium & Marine Science Exhibit that is well worth a peak. You can also book an overnight stay in the rental units around the lighthouse, including that of the lighthouse keepers and the assistant keeper’s former residence. The parking lot is next to the visitor center and then you walk half a mile to reach the lighthouse.
For wine lovers with a pooch, Mendocino county is the place to be! Wineries dotted along 128 west in Boonville and Yorkville in Anderson county or those in the upper Russian River Valley around Ukiah, Redwood Valley, Hopland and Potter Valley will welcome man and dog alike! The insanely popular Sonoma county to the south may walk away with all the tourists, but Anderson Valley will entice you with its best pinot noirs, guaranteed. Since the closest winery was a 40 min drive from the coast where we stayed, we decided to give wine tasting a pass ( I had to partake of my fill of libations with my meals). For those interested, here, here , here and here are some excellent resources for all dog-friendly wineries in Mendocino county.
F) DINING OUT
Dog-owners, when traveling with their furry friends, almost always land in some kind of pickle owing to limited options for dining out due to lack of places with outdoor patio or in cases where the weather is not suitable for al fresco dining. Once again, Mendocino surprises you in both sectors, with warm and inviting places where you can dine indoors with your dog (yes, you read that right) or has several dog friendly cafes in downtown Mendocino and Fort Bragg where you can grab a bite with your pooch in tow. We had dinner one night and breakfast the following morning at Little River Inn, in our own special dining room with Babu, which has to be booked in advance. Our second night’s dinner was at the world famous vegan restaurant The Ravens (named after the pair which made its nest on the inn property) where a separate lobby is reserved for patrons with dogs. We also had some yummy lunch in a heated patio in Mendocino cafe, downtown Mendocino and got delicious kulfi ice-cream from Frankie’s (a MUST try). Downtown Mendocino has lots of cute stores and boutiques, many of which are dog friendly (do ask for permission while entering the store with your dog) and should be visited to pick up a local souvenir or two. I always stock up on my Provence soap bars from Sallie Mac, a cute little French themed boutique on Lansing. Another great store for fashionistas is Toto Zaida, on N. Main street in downtown Fort Bragg, which has lots of fun prints and affordable apparel (I had to give it a miss since the store was closed when we arrived in Fort Bragg but I was pretty impressed with whatever little I got to see from the exterior glass window).
This brings me to the end of this first post on all things dog-friendly in Mendocino county. Mendocino is a sleepy little Californian town north of San Francisco, and is haven for Bernie lovers (we were there last week just before the state primaries and saw the friendly senator from Vermont’s signs plastered everywhere, wine lovers, adventure lovers and dog lovers. Your furry friends will love the beaches and other fun activities, guaranteed! Part 2 covers our adventures further south along the Redwood coast as we drove down home along the scenic route via California 1.