A trip to Northern California would not be complete without a stop in the quaint and rustic Village of Mendocino. This historic town, which sits on rugged bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, features dozens of shops, art galleries, bed-and-breakfast inns and is host to several special events every year, including the Mendocino Whale Festival in March and the Mendocino Music Festival in July.
The beauty of the town is what first impresses visitors. The New England-style architecture is the influence of homesick pioneers who “came ’round the horn” in the mid-19th century to be a part of the town’s lumber boom resulting from the Gold Rush. San Francisco was a booming city in need of building materials, and harvesting coastal redwoods abundant around Mendocino provided a source of prosperity for people in the small town. The area’s history is evident in its buildings, and the town of Mendocino has been designated a National Historic Preservation District.
Visitors will be delighted in and around this picturesque town. The area offers deep-sea fishing, whale-watching, canoeing, kayaking, abalone diving, hiking, biking and horseback riding. Trails lead from the headlands down to beaches where visitors can search for seashells or explore the numerous tide pools. However, beachcombers and hikers should always keep an eye on the ocean. Large “sneaker waves” are common, and can sweep unsuspecting hikers off the rocks and out to sea.
The Mendocino Hotel on Main Street is an attractive inn that was built in 1878. It still serves the same function today that it did more than 100 years ago, and its rooms are furnished with antiques, fireplaces and historic memorabilia. The Kelley House Museum on Albion Street is another historic building popular with visitors. Built in 1861, the Kelley House has period artifacts and photographs, as well as a lovely pond and gardens.
Little River began life as a mill town. Its first lumber mill was built in 1864, and next to it arose the shipyard of Thomas Peterson, whose vessels won prizes for their design and craftsmanship, including first prize in San Francisco at the Fourth of July Regatta in 1876. On average, three prime trees were used to build each ship. The mill closed in 1893, then burned down in 1910.
Little River Cove offers one of the most popular beaches on the Mendocino Coast. The protected cove is a great place for water recreation, and many divers splash into its smooth waters in search of abalone and other underwater treasures.
The cove is also near the entrance to Van Damme State Park, one of the coast’s favorite parks. It offers beautiful hiking trails in the lush Fern Canyon trail system along the fern-carpeted floors of the Little River Canyon. You will feel like a giant in the Pygmy Forest with its mature cypress and pine trees that grow between 6 inches and 8 feet tall, or you might decide to follow your nose to skunk cabbage at the Cabbage Patch bog. Van Damme offers several camping options and year-round guided coastal kayak tours.
In 1853 Captain W.A. Richardson built the first lumber mill in the town of Albion, on the river flats below the high wooden trestle bridge that spans the Albion River. The ancient name for England was chosen for the town in memory of Sir Francis Drake landing in Northern California in 1579 and naming it “New Albion.”
Today Albion features restaurants, lodging, a fully equipped grocery store and deli, and other necessities for the traveler. The area around Albion is rich with sheltered coves that are excellent for tide-pooling, hiking and exploring. Albion Ridge Rd., which travels east of Hwy 1, will afford the traveler panoramic views of the area’s rolling hills as they slope down to the ocean. It is an excellent place to watch red-tailed hawks and, in winter, the migratory tundra swans on their way to the Garcia River, south of Albion.