Weekend Trip Guide | Mendocino

| Words and Photos by Kelsey Johnson

Finding the time to get away, unplug and relax for just one weekend can sometimes seem like an impossible task. Just planning a trip alone can keep you at home instead of on the road exploring. One of the goals of the Nomadic is to make those weekend adventures a little bit easier to get after with helpful advice from our team and our Nomad community.

Kelsey Johnson, a photographer and traveler (check out her blog here) recently took a weekend getaway to Mendocino. With some Nomad gear in her bag and the rugged nature of California's wild coast all around her, Kelsey had no shortage of natural beauty to explore and enjoy. Check out her guide below so you too can experience all Mendocino has to offer.

I lived in San Francisco for four years, working full time at a PR agency downtown. I absolutely loved the hectic pace of my life there, it was a wild ride and a ton of fun. But after awhile, you just need a chance to get away from the rat race for a bit and recharge. Luckily, SF is surrounded on all sides by some of the most beautiful nature in the world.

Recently, I took a quick trip up to Mendocino, an idyllic, sleepy little town overlooking the ocean, and was so impressed I’m naming it the perfect bay area weekend escape. Here’s everything you need to know to take this trip up north.

Mendocino Streets

Travel Logistics

How to Get There: Mendocino is located about 3 1/2 hours up the California coast from San Francisco, depending on traffic of course. Whether you go up Highway 1 or Highway 128, get ready for a gorgeous drive, and leave time to take plenty of stops for photos and to take in the views.

If you don’t own a car (or flew into SF and are without yours), there are a ton of rental car options in the Bay Area alongside your traditional companies – like Get Around, Turo and Zipcar – so be sure to shop around for the best deal.

When to Go: Because it’s on the coast, the weather in Mendocino is fairly mild throughout the year, so you really can visit at any time. Just expect it to be a bit chilly and overcast no matter what month you visit in. Even in July you’re probably going to want to wear a light jacket. I would recommend going for a longer, 3 day weekend (which is how I structured this guide) so your trip doesn’t feel rushed and because there is so much to explore in a small radius.

Mendocino Grove Glamping

Where to Stay: Other than a handful of Airbnbs, accommodations in the area are limited to a small amount of Bed & Breakfasts that are quite pricey. We opted to stay at Mendocino Grove, a fairly new glamping property right outside of town, and I couldn’t recommend it more. It was the perfect balance of escaping into nature and treating yourself in luxury. Side note: power is limited at Mendocino Grove so if you want to keep your gear powered while staying there, I would recommend bringing a battery pack like this one from Nomad.

Highlights for our stay included: the amazing heated bed in our canvas tent, roasting s’mores over our personal campfire overlooking the ocean, showering underneath redwoods, and grabbing coffee every morning at their gorgeous outdoor common area. It’s a beautiful location for a get-away, either with friends, family, or a partner. Just book well in advance because they fill up fast on summer weekend.


Day 1

Spend your first day strolling around the sleepy town of Mendocino. There are tons of cute little coffee shops, bookstores, art galleries, and more to browse.

Within walking distance is both the coastal bluff trail just outside of town as well as beach access. The trail to get to the beach is just behind the town’s church. It’s pretty easy to spot, but if you can’t find it, just ask a friendly local and I’m sure they will love to help direct you. We stumbled on a herd of seals here hanging out near the shoreline!

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also rent kayaks and canoes to paddle up the nearby river.

Relaxing while staying charged with the Nomad PowerPack
Coastal Bluff Trail Views

Day 2

Head just 10 minutes north and explore Russian Gulch State Park. When you first get here, it seems like the park is pretty small, but there is so much beauty tucked away here.

During the day, take the Fern Canyon loop trail and find a waterfall hidden in a redwood forest. The trail has little to no elevation, and is about 6 miles long if you do the entire loop (or if you just go to the waterfall and back, I think it’s 3-4 miles). The trailhead is at the very back of the park, so when you arrive, drive to the bottom of the hill and all the way through the campground until you see a small parking lot. This trail is heavily trafficked on the weekends though, so go early.

After a picnic lunch and time to relax at Russian Gulch Beach, head over to the coastal bluffs to shoot golden hour and watch the sunset. To get there, just route to Russian Gulch Bridge Viewpoint and continue down that road until it dead ends at a parking lot. There are tons of pretty little trails around there that will bring you out to the o cean.

Fern Canyon Loop Waterfall

Day 3

In the morning, make your way up to Fort Bragg and check out Glass Beach. This beach is covered in multi-colored sea glass, a surprisingly pretty bi-product of dumping garbage into the ocean further north in the early 1900’s (but let’s not try to re-create this again). This little spot is so unique, it’s worth a visit. Plus it’s part of another gorgeous coastal trail network.

In the afternoon, check out Van Damme State Park to the south and go on a quick day hike. We didn’t have a chance to make it here on our trip sadly, but I have heard that the 4 mile Fern Canyon Trail is a beautiful one (yes, this one is also called Fern Canyon, not confusing at all or anything).

The Rugged Northern Coast

On your way back home, be sure to drive through Navarro River Redwoods State Park along Highway 128. Until I accidentally came across this hidden gem on our recent trip, I had no idea it was here. This scenic drive almost rivals those in the redwoods further north.

Then it’s time to go home, recharged from your weekend along the sea and ready to conquer the week ahead!

Kelsey's Nomad Gear

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