Mendocino County Bucket List

Skunk Train tracks
Photo: John K CC

There are so many wonderful things to see and do in Mendocino County that we thought a “Bucket List” would help you decide. From trains to trees, from antelope to zebra and beaches to wine… here are our top picks. Feel free to send us yours.

Skunk Train
This iconic symbol of Mendocino County has been rolling for 129 years! Depart from either Fort Bragg or Willits for a ride on the back of the Skunk in its natural habitat. Forty miles of railroad run through majestic redwood forests, scenic mountain meadows, and over 30 trestles bridging the pristine mountain waters of Northern California. A railway ride like no other! www.skunktrain.com

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
A jewel in the crown of the coast, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has spectacular displays of plants and flowers year-round. This magnificent site is located on 47 acres that lie between California's scenic Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, and includes canyons, wetlands, coastal bluffs, and a pine forest. Set among this striking background is a varied array of plant collections, most particularly the spring blooming of more than 125 species of rhododendrons with190 cultivars and a breathtaking dahlia display in the early fall. www.gardenbythesea.org

City of 10,000 Buddhas
Nestled against the benchlands of the Ukiah Valley, just beyond the Gate of Three Arches, is the City of 10,000 Buddhas, the first large Buddhist community in the United States. Set on the grounds of the former state mental facility, the 80 acres currently in use contain a university, schools, a vegetarian restaurant, and the remarkable Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas, in which 10,000 images of Buddha line the walls. Wildlife, including white peacocks, roam the grounds. www.cttbusa.org

Glass Beach
So much has been written about Glass Beach, the former dumpsite for the town of Fort Bragg, that to write more is almost an exercise in repetition. Nevertheless, to visit at low tide on a clear, bright day is to experience how time and nature heal man's disregard of his environment. Take off your shoes and stroll the beach, catching glimpes of light from the tumbled shards of glass that stud the sand. www.fortbragg.com

Montgomery Woods
To stand among the redwood spires deep in the forest is to stand in the nave of one of nature's cathedrals. Stop and listen—you will hear little in the redwood forest bar the occasional bird, a rustle in the fern canyon, or Montgomery Creek winding along the forest floor. If you're lucky, you'll see native red-bellied newts, looking like smart little scuba divers, and trillium and irises among the understory. High up in the canopy, past flying buttresses of enormous branches, the green tree tops soar 300 or more feet above.

Point Arena-Stornetta Lands
This is the only land-based portion of the California Coastal National Monument, which is comprised of over 20,000 islands, rocks, and reefs stretching along the 1,100-mile California coastline. Roam the over 1,660 acres and marvel at the geological formations that have created this very special place, where sinkholes and islands are being created in real time. This beautiful piece of the California coastline is perfect for a leisurely hike and picnic with unrivalled seal, whale and bird watching from the bluffs.

B Bryan Preserve
Giraffes in Point Arena? Surely not!! But it's absolutely true. Frank and Judy Mello, both dedicated wildlife conservationists and educators, have created B Bryan Preserve—their own piece of African savannah on the southern Mendocino coast. They are committed to the breeding and conservation of African hoof stock, which are in declining numbers in the wild. Take a tour with them to feed and view Roan, Sable and Greater Kudu Antelope, and endangered Grevy’s and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra and Rothschild’s Giraffe. www.bbryanpreserve.com

Bowling Ball Beach
At high tide, Bowling Ball Beach lies hidden, as did the Terracotta Warriors. But once the tidal forces begin to ebb, the retreating ocean reveals rows and rows of what appear to be perfectly round boulders wedged into the sand, appearing somewhat like that mighty army that is revealed after centuries of secrecy. These “bowling balls” are not man-made, though, but geological formations called “concretions,” left behind as the surrounding mudstone eroded over millenia.

Drive-Thru Tree
What stands over 300 feet high, is over 2,000 years old, and is almost seventy feet in diameter? You'll find your answer at the Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett, at the north of Mendocino County. Also known as the Chandelier Tree—because of the enormous branches on either side of the trunk—this sequoia sempervirens has been the subject of souvenir photos since the tree was opened to the public in 1937. www.drivethrutree.com

Highway 128 Wine Road
This magnificent 75-mile drive is studded with family-run wineries, picturesque vineyards, quaint towns, and towering redwoods. On the serpentine two-lane highway, take your time to appreciate the Yorkville Highlands and a stop in Boonville, the “bahlest” town in the county. Gaze across the valley floor to spy unique wineries, plenty of sheep and endless verdant vistas. Ride through old growth redwoods that tower hundreds of feet above you and emerge into bright sunshine or cool grey-blue fog two miles south of Navarro Beach where the river empties into the sea.