8. June 2012 20:51
This spring I was fortunate to spend a week in Mendocino County, roughly a two-hour drive north of the San Francisco Bay area. If this is not the single most beautiful county in the U.S., it is certainly high on the list.
Although an area frequently overlooked on California tours simply because the Golden State has so many well-known attractions, Mendocino is well worth a multi-night stay. The area is not only sure to reward group travelers with an exceptional vacation experience, but one that is much more “laid back” than found amidst the bustle of the big cities.
As one arrives in Mendocino, one immediately notices that the highway traffic is now substantially reduced, the passing vineyards and wineries appear to be less overtly commercial and the scenic vistas surrounding them have grown substantially more impressive. With 95 winemakers and grape growers, the county bills itself as “America’s Greenest Wine Region.”
The winemakers I met in Mendocino stressed that their industry has now reached the point where Napa and Sonoma were about 25 or 30 years ago with mostly family-owned facilities and recent discovery by wine connoisseurs worldwide. Even though tours and tastings are just as readily available here, the atmosphere greeting the visitor is demonstrably more friendly and less rushed (as well as less expensive) than one finds frequently to the south. In fact, I found that employees at several vineyards, evidently quite proud of Mendocino’s unhurried pace and genuine hospitality, even referred to Napa Valley as the “Disneyland of the Wine Industry” in comparison. Whether or not that is an accurate description, the wineries of Mendocino are without question as attractive and picturesque, if not more so, than any I have seen anywhere in the world.
Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery
Navarro Vineyards & Winery
8. June 2012 20:48
I have found that one of life’s most humbling and least expensive pleasures is simply a walk under the canopy of majestic trees in a great forest, enhanced by the sounds of native birds and rushing streams. And while forests of the skyscraping firs and cedars of the Pacific Northwest run a close second, nothing equals a stroll through the towering coastal redwoods or massive giant sequoias found in California.
Although not as well known as Del Norte County’s redwoods, Mendocino County also offers a number of spectacular redwood groves for the visitor to explore. Among these are Hendy Woods and Mendocino Woodlands State Parks, as well as Montgomery Woods, Maillard Redwoods and Smithe Redwoods State Reserves. Unfortunately, some of these sites are a bit difficult for a full-sized motorcoach to access, plus California is currently in the process of closing quite a few of its lesser-utilized state parks due to budget woes.
The good news is that there are two outstanding redwood forest areas in Mendocino County that are ideal for group visits. The first is free and definitely cannot be closed, since CA 128 runs right smack through the middle of Navarro River Redwoods State Park for almost 12 miles. This incredible, awe-inspiring scenic drive is every bit the equal of the famed “Avenue of the Giants” further north.
Visitors will certainly want to pause at several of the many turnouts available along the way in order to delve even deeper into the forest on foot. Continuing east, past the park on 128, also leads to the lush Anderson Valley wine and fruit-producing region. Don’t miss it, if your tour is in the neighborhood!
The second ideal opportunity for a redwood experience is into Jackson State Forest via the renowned “Skunk Train,” which departs both from Fort Bragg (drawn by a historic steam engine) from the west, and Willits (aboard classic diesel motorcars) from the east. Narration on these daily summer excursions is provided en route with a stop for lunch and exploring in the heart of the redwoods. Incidentally, the bad-smelling fuel that earned the train its unusual name back in the 1920s, happily, is no longer utilized.
Navarro River Redwoods State Park
CA Highway 128 in Navarro River Redwoods State Park
Skunk Train in Jackson State Forest
8. June 2012 20:44
Two hours north of the San Francisco Bay area lies the Mendocino Coast in Mendocino County. Although there are splendid coastal views further south in Sonoma and Marin Counties, the truly memorable scenic drive that stretches from Gualala to Rockport offers unsurpassed views of the blue Pacific Ocean as it meets the rocky shoreline and cliffs of the California Coast.
Along the way are many state parks, beaches and reserves, picturesque communities like Mendocino, Point Arena, Manchester, Little River, Fort Bragg and Westport. Two historic lighthouses can be visited at Point Arena and Point Cabrillo, which is a State Historical Park with free entry. Wildflowers seem to grow everywhere, including at the formal floral displays of lovely Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.
Architecture in such towns as Little River, Mendocino and Fort Bragg reflects that of Coastal New England, which was the origin of many of the area’s early settlers. In Fort Bragg, the Guest House Museum boasts an impressive Victorian mansion, built in 1892 by a lumber king who became the city’s first mayor.
In addition to numerous inns and interesting shops all along the coast, first-class lodging is readily available at group-friendly properties convenient to the “Skunk Train” depot in Fort Bragg, as well as in Ukiah for those preferring to make a day trip “loop” from inland. Regardless of how the trip is planned, however, I’d suggest at least a three-night stay in order to take advantage of the major attractions that Mendocino County has to offer. With the addition of two or three nights in the San Francisco Bay area, group leaders can construct a wonderfully varied trip that their travelers are certain to recall fondly for many years to come.
Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America. He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).
Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small. He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see. He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible. His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”.
Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at email@example.com or by calling (435) 590-1553.
Village of Mendocino
Wildflowers and Rocky Coastline
The Pounding Pacific Surf