VILLAGE OF MENDOCINO TO LOST COAST (36 mi.) – 2 NIGHTS

This is where the relax button hits.  Tucked along the Pacific with a sweet New England-style visage, Mendocino – a Designated California Historic Landmark – is the stop for gallery hopping, freshly renovated lodgings and inspired dining.  Break the drive with a hike to Devil’s Punchbowl at Russian Gulch State Park then slither into a stay in a vintage water tower, retro inn or classic B&B.  Just short of town at the Conde Nast Traveler’s 2020 top pick, the stately Brewery Gulch Inn, is the call for romance or go off-grid at the 37-acre Mendocino Grove for a glamping experience.  Dinner at nearby Ravens at the Stanford Inn is a solid choice, with its plant-based menu and deep wine list.  As the sun rises, book a canoe trip up Big River at Catch-a-Canoe or a sea kayak cave adventure nearby.

Slow walks, art galleries, rest and reboot.  The village of Mendocino is just that, topped with quirky bars, heady hikes and quaint walkways packed with adventure.  Pop in for a night at the uber-sleek five-room Blue Door Inn, historic Joshua Grindle Inn, Alegria or Raku House or water tower suite at Sweetwater Inn, old school hot tubs onboard.  Stroll the headlands fronting the sea, scout Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, or knock back a few at Dick’s Place, an institution along Main Street with legendary Bloody Marys.

All cuisines are represented here with a plenty of standouts.  Set in a water tower, Flow restaurant is the stop for panoramic views backed with a custom cocktail.  On the kitschy side, the new Fog Eater Café specializes in Southern fare with a vegan twist, pleasing both palate and pocketbook.  Trillium Café offers a fresh garden setting with entrees spanning short ribs to bouillabaisse and nearby Café Beaujolais steps up with classic French bistro cuisine, a heady beer list and wood-fired pizzas on weekends.

Next it’ on to Fort Bragg, once a sleepy lumber town that is mounting a renaissance with new lodgings, a lively harbor scene and network of kitschy retail and museums.  Opened in 2018, the Arts & Crafts-style Noyo Harbor Inn is the place to tuck in and check out.  Perched on the harbor overlooking the Noyo River, the 15-room inn is set in deep cherry wood with original oils and commanding views.  Days are spent trekking town or after a restful night at the ocean front Beachcomber Motel take a beach cruiser and trek along the trestle of 10 Mile Beach or bluff side walk through Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Dine on local crab while seals and sea lions vie for basking space on the docks at Noyo Harbor.  Lunch at Princess Seafood – run by an all-female crew and fishing operation – or a brew at Django’s Rough Bar adds a slice of local color.  Take a tour around the harbor with Captain Dan on his electric boat or head out on the high seas to snag salmon, albacore and other creatures of the deep.

This is where you catch the historic Skunk Train or, for an offbeat outing, snag a seat on the new railbikes (seasonal).  These pedal-powered vehicles set on the working rail line tracing the Pudding Creek Estuary through stands of pristine redwoods set deep within Mother Nature’s den.  A stroll through town delivers Triangle Tattoo & Museum, one of the few museums in the world dedicated to the display of tattoo artifacts.  An offbeat afternoon might include trekking out to Pacific Star Winery for a tasting overlooking the sea and heading north to the Lost Coast’s entry point, the 2.3 mile Peter Douglas Trail, for a moderate hike among the surreal ancient candelabra-shaped redwoods, Roosevelt elks on board.