- Visit Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian settlement in North America
- Picnic by the peaceful Gualala River
- Climb to the top of Point Arena Lighthouse
- Explore the Mendocino Headlands
- Sip the best reds and whites in Anderson Valley
|Day 1||San Francisco to The Sea Ranch||The Sea Ranch|
|Day 2||The Sea Ranch to Mendocino||Mendocino|
|Day 3||Mendocino to San Francisco|
Day 1: San Francisco to The Sea Ranch
This morning, head across the Golden Gate Bridge to start your adventure along the Northern California coast. You'll follow 101 to Petaluma, then cut across the rolling hills of Sonoma County to Bodega Bay (67 miles, approximately 1.5 hours). We recommend the fish tacos at The Birds Cafe if you got a later start and you're craving a bite to eat.
From here, twisting Highway 1 hugs the dramatic coastline of craggy rocks and crashing surf. After crossing the Russian River, be sure to take a break and stretch your legs in tiny Jenner (population 136), clinging to the hillside where the river meets the Pacific (10 miles, approximately 20 minutes). Grab a cup of coffee on the waterfront terrace of Cafe Aquatica, or a bite to eat if you didn't fill up on fish tacos in Bodega Bay.
Not far beyond Jenner, Highway 1 begins to climb the Northern Coast Range mountains that rise sharply out of the sea. The views from the top are spectacular, better perhaps than the more famous Big Sur stretch of Highway 1 a few hundred miles to the south. A little further, don't miss Fort Ross State Historic Park for a little-known piece of California history (12 miles, approximately 25 minutes). This well-preserved fort was established by the Russian American Company in the early 19th century as a fur trading outpost, and was the southernmost Russian settlement in North America. Be sure to spend some time wandering the buildings within the walls of the fort, including its Russian Orthodox church.
After Fort Ross, you'll make your way further up the scenic coast before arriving at your eventual destination: Sea Ranch. This modernist planned community along a 10 mile stretch of coast was built in a manner to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. Settle in and spend the remainder of the day exploring some of Sea Ranch's 50 miles of trails.
For dinner, although the Sea Ranch Lodge has the only restaurant in the community, we recommend heading just north to Gualala. If you're in town on a Friday night, Trinks Cafe serves great, locally-sourced fare, followed by their fresh-baked desserts. Alternatively, you can't go wrong with Upper Crust Pizzeria.
Day 2: The Sea Ranch to Mendocino
Don't rush to leave Sea Ranch. There's no cell service here, and it feels a world away from the city. If you've already explored the coastal trails, we recommend packing a lunch and heading to the picnic area located on the Gualala River known as the "Hot Spot." Alternatively, see if you can spot harbor seals in Gualala Point Regional Park where the river meets the sea.
Heading north in the direction of Mendocino, the Point Arena Lighthouse is worth a quick detour (20 miles from Gualala Point, approximately 30 minutes). The lighthouse is perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Pacific. You probably won't catch any tropical breezes here, but this is the closest point on the mainland to the Hawaiian Islands, located 2,353 miles away. You can take a guided tour, and visit the small museum explaining the history and importance of the lighthouse on this rough stretch of coast.
Continue onward to the charming hamlet of Mendocino (36 miles, approximately 55 minutes). Located on a point sticking out into the Pacific, its quaint streets are full of shops, restaurants, and B&Bs. Take some time to wander the village's streets, and to explore the surrounding bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park. If you're looking to relax, head to Big River Beach. This sandy beach where the Big River flows into the Pacific is usually relatively sheltered from the strong winds that regularly blast the coastline.
For dinner, Trillium Cafe is a good bet for locally-sourced Californian cuisine.
Day 3: Mendocino to San Francisco
After breakfast at your hotel or B&B, make sure you pick up a loaf of bread for later at Goodlife Cafe and Bakery. As you start to make your way back to San Francisco, there are a few worthwhile detours along the way for wine lovers. Your route will take you through the heart of the Anderson Valley, still under-the-radar compared to Napa and Sonoma to the southeast but increasingly renowned for the quality of the pinot noir produced here, as well as Gewürztraminer.
If you only have time for one stop, we recommend Navarro Vineyards (30 miles, approximately 40 minutes). As you relax with a glass and admire the views of the surrounding vines, they also have cheeses and meats available from their deli to pair with the bread you picked up this morning in order to make your stop into a picnic lunch.
After lingering at Navarro for a while or stopping off for a few more tastings at other nearby wineries, it's another 2.5 hours back to San Francisco (125 miles).
Looking for more long-weekend getaways? Check out our top long weekend trips in Northern California.