From wildflowers to hops and buds, Mendocino County is gearing up for a summer certain to swell all the senses. Long known as an outpost for rugged individualism, edge-pushing vintners and off-grid farmers, this stretch of turf just two hours north of San Francisco offers an ideal reboot, adult style. With plenty of room to roam (2.4 million acres to be exact), 24 state and national parks, new cannabis tours and beer trek, the time for an escape is now.
What Napa was to wine, Mendocino is to California cannabis. Long a clandestine culture, today the region’s robust operations offer a modern, regulated slant saluting the long-time farmers who cultivated a brand based on hard work and creativity. A key player in the legendary Emerald Triangle, Mendocino County stands ready to showcase its world-class cache. Two new tours offer an inside look at operations and a solid schooling on what makes this region’s green so spectacular. All aboard for a day of play, one toke at a time.
Largely due to the region’s unique terroir – blending soil, sun, topography and weather – Mendocino’s cannabis and CBD products are a world-wide medicinal and recreational product. Coupled with Trinity and Humboldt counties, this Northern California outpost represents the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States. Start the day just north of Sonoma County in Hopland, where Northern California Cannabis Tour’s Mendocino Experience kicks off with a four+ hour guided tour.
MendoCann dispensary is the warm up, before heading deep into the Redwood Valley for a personal tour of an impressive licensed and fully-operating sun-grown cannabis farm and heirloom cultivation nursery. Meet the master grower and enjoy an afternoon of bud-tasting by the koi ponds while wandering among the crops for the ultimate Instagram post. The day wraps with an optional visit to an alfresco cannabis lounge, private wine tasting or deep dive into the ancient redwood groves Mendocino is renowned for. Note: this is a guided self-drive tour; designated driver recommended.
From Mendocino’s interior to the sharp contrast of Anderson Valley, a wine region sporting top-shelf Pinot Noir, sparkling and dry Alsatian-style wines, Emerald Farm Tours offer a different slice of nirvana. Tuck behind the green curtain for a day of exploration on the “Mendocino County Cannabis Trail,” starting with a luxury Mercedes Sprinter bus departing in Marin County and arriving deep in the Mendocino redwoods for a hillside “weed walk” with a host grower, followed by a box lunch in the forest. Next, visit a cannabis edibles manufacturer in Philo (population 349) followed by an intimate wine tasting flight at Bee Hunter Wines. The full day (6+ hour) tour concludes with a 4:20 PM “Smoke Sesh” before departing back to the Bay Area. Gift bag, coffee, and munchies included.
From the first organic brewery in the United States to the craft-centric suds rocking palates at Anderson Valley Brewing Company, all signs point to Mendocino. Kick off a visit via scenic Highway 101 in the gateway town of Hopland. Lending to the town’s original mission, growing and drying hops for beer, this hamlet of 920 is home to Hopland Tap, set in California’s first brewpub to open following prohibition. The classic interior, with 1880s brick walls and stamped tin cladding, has a strong brew evolution from the HopVine Saloon to Hopland Brewery, originally crafting Rd Tail Ale in 1983. Pull up a chair for a robust lunch and brew in the hop-covered beer garden before heading north for the next pit stop.
Northern exposure hits a high note 13 miles north in Ukiah, home to the nation’s first organic brewery — Ukiah Brewing Company. Here, brewmaster Scott Jones crafts a lively list of ales and lager with a seasonal slant. Pull up for 12+ brews on tap, including the potent Boch – Doppleboch Emancipator, wheaty Willits Wit or Orr Springs IPA. The restaurant offers a solid menu with a variety of venison, bison and boar burgers, wonderful charcuterie or a tasty three pigs pizza. Organic, vegan dishes and a full bar round out the romp. Nearby, Cultivo is the stop on Thursday nights for piquant wood-fired pizzas and an impressive line-up of 15 brews on tap.
As Highway 101 curves north, it’s a 24 mile trek to the quaint town of Willits and the new Northspur Brewing Company. Set smack on Main Street, this is the stop for seasonal ales and a super laidback vibe many travelers relish. Belly up for a refreshing Mendo Summer Kolsch-style ale, Havabru, Bru IPA or Hazy on the Details. The taproom and beer patio serve up a revolving menu of sausages – Butifara, Dante’s Inferno, Boerewors, Jalapeno Cheddar, Garlic Ginger – served with Dusseldorf mustard. For a true slice of American, try the legendary John Ford hot dog.
Quality obsessed and relentlessly inventive Anderson Valley Brewing Company is the stop for a full immersion in all things beer. From industry leading Goses to perfectly balanced IPAs and patiently barrel-aged bottlings, brewmaster Fal and team continue to push the palate. Set in wine-centric Anderson Valley, this solar-powered brewery is constantly reinventing. Why have a beer garden when you can lounge in a new 30-acre Beer Park (2021), paired with a renovated tap room, 9,000 sq. ft., lawn area with wi-fi, 18-hole disc golf course and table service from the tap room. Specialties include the Huge Arker, Summer Solstice and Boonville Gold brews.
As Highway 128 dips west toward the Pacific, wine country fades to ancient redwoods and the salt of the sea. Here, the next ale adventure awaits at Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing Company. Founded in 1988, the lively brewery has long set the standard for aspiring brewmasters with such masterworks as Red Seal Ale and Thelonious Abbey Ale among other fine north coast brands. Their logo, “Make the World a Better Place, One Pint at a Time,” certainly seems relevant. Sustainably driven with a non-GMO ethos, the brewery steps up with seasonal brews as well as its legendary limited reserve, barrel-aged Old Rasputin and Old Stock Celler Reserve ales. Lightly battered fish and chips, a vegan black bean burger and traditional shrimp po’ boy, fried with Scrimshaw beer batter and served with Old No. 38 tartar sauce, round out the lunch menu.
Just over on Elm Street, Overtime Brewing focuses on small batch ales in a cozy, casual setting. On the lighter side, summer brews include Princess Oat Pale Ale, Jasmine Green Tea and Drinkin’ Beer. A move to the darker side unveils some real gems, including the Workin’ Late Milk Stout, Overkill Chocolate Raspberry Stout and “new brew” 2020 Shutbrown, a smooth brown ale that is malt forward, loaded with blackberry flavors. A rich mac-and-cheese with jalapeno peppers and crumbled bacon, barbequed pork shank and signature Overtime Burger round out the pub fare.
Drop into scenic Noyo Harbor for an afternoon brew and front row seat at the fire pits at Sea Pal Cove. This is as local as it gets, rustic and weathered with just the right amount of kitsch. Take in the local scenery as boats ply the estuary, bringing in the day’s haul of sea urchin backed with a selection of 18 brews on tap and killer prawns and chips.
Sliding south along Highway 1, the historic village of Mendocino is flush with suds potential. Tucked on a side corner on Ukiah Street in a vintage 1893 Victorian farmhouse, Café Beaujolais is a pilgrimage worth plummeting. Ready for its close-up, the stunning beer carte features 90+ offerings spanning the globe. From porters to barleywines, Trappist, Saisons and farmhouse ales, as well as Lambic and sour ales, the list is nothing short of mind blowing. Dive into Belgium Cantillon, Fou’ Foune, Lambic aged on apricots ($220/750 ml) or an esoteric Drie Fonteinen – Hommage, aged in cherries and raspberries ($100/750 ml.). There’s also a Loverbeer from Italy ($33), 8 Wired from New Zealand ($24) and a California Hen House ($5) for those on a budget.
Step up for an organic, free-range, wild caught affair backed by chef Julian Lopez’ culinary heft. The eclectic menu includes a classic beef Bourguignon or steak frites, as well as a left turn to a zippy Oaxacan ceviche or Cubano pulled pork sandwich, a 15-hour slow cooked dream served with house-made mustard. Set in the peaceful back rose garden, the new Brickery also offers casual wood-fired pizzas.
Doubling back, a sidetrip to the Point Arena Pier is always a restful stop. Located on Highway 1 just south of Point Arena Lighthouse, The Pier Chowder House and Tap Room steps up with 31 beers on tap with a perch overlooking the Pacific. Dive into a true-to-form seafood menu boasting a hearty clam chowder, beer battered scallops, rock cod tacos, linguini and clams or the signature fresh crab cakes.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Plan your trip to visit Mendocino County and see what all the talk is about!