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Mendo on my Mind

Journal editor finds a quaint summer getaway (and cooler weather) in Mendocino County
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring/Real Estate Editor
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Earlier this month I felt as if I was living on another planet. Grey skies, a bright orange sun, stifling heat and the smell of smoke from fires had me aching for an escape. So I made one, and I didn’t go too far to get to another universe. Mendocino County was one such other worldly destination as my wife and I had made our vacation on the coast in the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. Located just a little over four hours and 200 miles from Auburn, these coastal towns in Mendocino County are a nice getaway from the summer heat as temperatures can hover in the mid-50s to high 60s. During our excursion we experienced temperatures in the high-60s, so be sure to pack some pants, long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts as the evenings can be cool, especially with the ocean breezes. I found this out the hard way when we arrived in the evening and I was dressed for the Sacramento valley heat — shorts, T-shirt and sandals. Along with the agreeable temperatures you’ll find something else you don’t see a lot of during the summer months here in the foothills: cloud cover. Most mornings you’ll experience an overcast sky and it usually takes some time for it to burn off. In one instance it took until 4:30 in the afternoon for us to finally see the sun. Getting to Mendocino County and the coast is a relaxing venture in and it of itself, except for the drive on Interstate 80. Our route took us through the Napa Valley on Highway 12 to 29, which then connected us to U.S. 101 and then Highway 128 and on to Highway 1. If you’re a fan of wine this is the route to take as you go through the world-famous Napa region. But you will find wineries all the way along your route as Mendocino County is also home to many vintners. This part of our trip took most of a day as we patronized several wineries — if your wine collection is down at home, it won’t be after you make this trip. Now you can take another route from Auburn to the coast taking Highway 65 to 20 and then on to U.S. 101 and Highway 1. One of my favorite parts of the drive is the journey through the 11-mile-long tunnel of redwoods on Highway 128 in the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. After taking in the scenic farm country in the Anderson Valley you roll through this tunnel of majestic trees on your way to the sea. Then you find yourself on the coast with Mendocino County’s unique shoreline filled with tall pine and redwood trees, sea cliffs and sprawling beaches littered with driftwood and seaweed. It’s a beautiful sight when you come out of the forest and the coast just opens up; there’s plenty of vista spots along Highway 1 for you to stop and take pictures. The little town of Mendocino offers unique architecture as the town was first listed as a post office in 1858 and then became known for agriculture and logging. The agriculture is still here as there are many wineries and farms throughout the region that focus on green farming. You’ll find the local fare on many of the local restaurants’ tables. Looking for a nice place to have lunch or even dinner? Try the Mendocino Café on Lansing Street. The lunch and dinner menus feature plenty of seafood along with a combination of Mexican and Thai influences. You can pair your meal with many of the local wines as well, all while sitting on their open-air deck with views of the ocean and the café’s beautiful flower garden. The town of Mendocino is awash in culture as there are many museums, art shops and jewelry stores that offer the casual shopper several options. Stop into the Mendocino Hotel and have an afternoon cocktail or lunch and stare into the ocean. Or keep on walking down Main Street and head out into the Headlands State Park that surrounds the town and walk the meandering trails and take in more views of the ocean. What adds to the quaintness of the town is the lodging that’s available. Many of the places to lay your head are bed and breakfasts, cottages and resorts. Prices vary by season and establishment, but the average can be anywhere from $100-$150 or more in the summer months. Mendocino County has more artists per capita than any other rural county according to Gomendo.com. With that said there’s plenty of culture that goes on in the little town of Mendocino and the county. During our stay we witnessed the 22nd annual Mendocino Music Festival (www.mendocinomusic.com), which features everything from jazz to classical to opera and big band. The county offers a plethora of activities from beer and wine festivals to garden tours and much, much more. For more information visit www.mendocino.com and www.gomendo.com. Even though most of our time was spent in Mendocino, we did venture north to Fort Bragg, the largest town on the North Coast between San Francisco and Eureka. Fort Bragg (www.fortbragg.com) has its history in logging like that of Mendocino and it features some of the same architecture, but Fort Bragg does have more of a big city feel. Fort Bragg boasts the famous Skunk Train, which goes from Fort Bragg to Willits, and features the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, the only botanical gardens in the continental U.S. that front an ocean. Other activities include sport fishing, whale watching, horseback riding and hiking, just to name a few. The town also has plenty of good cuisine, and seafood is no exception. Looking for that little place that features good food with a view? Try out Sharon’s by the Sea in Fort Bragg. Sharon’s is a Zagat-rated restaurant on North Harbor Drive (www.sharonsbythesea.com) that has outdoor dining and a very small indoor dining room. We found the staff to be very friendly and professional, and the food was what we expected from a restaurant so close to the ocean. The fresh Sharon’s Family Cioppino was splendid and the seafront view with dinner made for a romantic experience. You’re seeking an escape from your everyday world and looking for another universe full of recreational, cultural and dinning options, the North Coast and Mendocino County offer plenty to make for a very memorable vacation. The Journal’s Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at andrewd@goldcountrymedia.com.