Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Mendocino County, while not as well-known as the wine hubs of Sonoma and Napa, is quintessential Northern California. In Mendocino, you can drive through verdant golden valleys to discover small towns that feel like a blast from the past. It’s also one of the most picturesque sections of California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway, where waves crash onto rocky shores and salt air fills your lungs.
Mendocino has everything you need to enjoy the best of Northern California, from gorgeous wineries to windswept beaches to mountain trails that take you through the redwoods. It’s also one of the best places in the state to get to know California’s burgeoning marijuana tourism industry–and pick up some souvenirs.
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From San Francisco, Ukiah is about a two-hour drive (with no traffic) straight up the 101. From Ukiah, it’s an easy (and scenic!) drive to Booneville and on to the coast.
Any visit to Mendocino County should start with a stop at Emerald Pharms in Hopland for the ultimate cannabis dispensary experience. If you’re coming from a state where weed isn’t legal, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop. The solar-powered estate is like Willy Wonka’s factory for people who like weed, with lush gardens, wacky art, and a dizzying array of smokeables, edibles, oils, sprays, balms, and all the marijuana-related products you can possibly imagine.
For the full cannabis experience, it’s worth taking the five-mile detour to Flow Kana Institute, where you can take a tour to learn about how cannabis is grown and harvested. Weed tourism still has a way to go until it can compete with wine, but it’s a fascinating look into this budding industry.
From Hopland, continue north to the town of Ukiah, where you can explore the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a psychiatric hospital that’s been turned into Buddhist temple and education center. Visitors can stroll the incredible grounds (and gaze at the plentiful Buddha sculptures) before grabbing a bite to eat at the onsite vegetarian restaurant. If you’d like to indulge in something a little less pious for lunch, settle in for a cocktail-fueled meal at Patrona in downtown Ukiah, where you can feast on a fancy burger washed down with a cucumber gimlet.
From Ukiah, head to the adorable town of Booneville, tucked away in the hills on State Route 128. Make a reservation at the restaurant at the Booneville Hotel for quintessential California cooking—farm-fresh ingredients, expertly prepared.
Start your day with a coffee and a pastry at the Booneville General Store and pick up a few picnic provisions. From there, make a stop at Pennyroyal Farm to pick up some cheese and wine. They make all their cheese on site and you can take a tour to look at their adorable goats.
Once you have everything you need for a decadent picnic, drive to Hendy Woods State Park to find a nice shady spot to enjoy your feast. There are trails that take you through the old-growth redwoods and the “hermit huts,” the former home of a Russian man known as the Hendy Hermit who lived in the park for 18 years. (There are also campsites here for those who have their own gear and want to experience their own hermit vibes).
Once you’ve had your fill of peace and quiet in the redwoods, it’s time to explore California’s other great natural resource: wine. The Anderson Valley, though little-known, produces some of California’s best wines. There are vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms all along SR 128, but don’t miss out on Scharffenberger for some excellent (and affordable) champagne-style sparkling wine and Goldeneye for unbeatable pinot noir. If beer’s more your thing, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company is not-to-be-missed, especially when there’s live music.
After a long day of hiking and drinking, it’s time for burgers. Old-timey Redwood Drive-In is a blast from the past, serving milkshakes, burgers, and tacos. If you still have any energy left after dinner, make your way over to Disco Ranch to toast the day with one final glass at this casual wine bar.
Fuel up for a scenic drive at Mosswood Market before leaving Booneville to head for the coast. The road from Booneville to the coast is a gorgeous (but extremely curvy) drive that will take you through redwood forests until you reach the Pacific Coast Highway.
Once you hit the coast, you’ll want to head north to the seaside village of Mendocino. The historic MacCallum House B&B is a great place to stop for a boozy brunch. If you want to get some beach time in, visit the beach at Big River, where you can rent a canoe and paddle upriver–the ocean is beautiful here, but not ideal for swimming.
When it’s time to call it a day and head home, you can try and squeeze in one last great meal at Cafe Beaujolais for steaks, risotto, pizza, or burgers. After dinner, it’s time to cruise home along the PCH, reveling in the scenery at sunset.
WHERE TO STAY
Booneville is by far the cutest town in Mendocino County and a great base for your weekend getaway. The Booneville Hotel, which calls itself “a modern roadhouse” is a hip and vintage-inspired boutique hotel right in the middle of town. If you’d rather spend the night in Ukiah, Vichy Springs Resort is a quirky spa hotel with natural thermal baths. In the town of Mendocino, the history MacCallum House B&B is your best bet.
WHEN TO GO
There’s never a bad time to visit Northern California, but there’s something magical about visiting in the fall during harvest season. The grapes are ripe, the weather is beautiful, and everyone’s in a great mood.