From learning the ropes at circus camp to tucking into a DIY tour of exotic African veldt animals, Mendocino County is a wonderland waiting to be explored. You and your tribe can tap into harbor safaris, wildflower tours, giant locomotives or nuzzle a newborn goat at a classic farmstead cheese outpost. From canoeing up Gualala River to trekking the Pygmy Forest, the options for adventure – paired with a dose of outback education – make this Northern California gem a goldmine.

From inns with llamas, chickens and resident goats to touring a farmstead cheese operation, there are plenty of opportunities for you and yours to cavort with animals on an off-grid Mendocino escape. Start at Pennyroyal Farm, a polished venue marking the entrance to wine-centric Anderson Valley. Morning tours of the award-winning farmstead creamery include a walk-through of the solar-powered barn to meet the animals – 140+ dairy goat companions and 30+ dairy sheep on full, fun display, a view of the working creamery and finale cheese tasting, juice and wine flight, spotlighting their farm’s top-notch sauvignon blanc.

Time to kiss a Rothschild Giraffe? Secluded along Mendocino County’s south coast in Point Arena, B. Bryan Preserve is the stop for an escape to the African veldt. Ideal for that holiday card or Instagram post, on tap are an assortment of rare and endangered African hoofstock including Grevy’s Zebra (the largest of the breed and known to be most untamable), Greater Kudu (considered to be the most handsome of the tragelaphine antelopes) and stately Rothschild Giraffes – the tallest land animal on earth. You can join the twice-daily tours or take to the wheel in your own vehicle for a DIY guided car safari ending in on a very tall kiss.

Next, it’s off to Fort Bragg for an immersive Noyo Harbor Tour with Captain Dan. Ideal for kids of all ages, historic Noyo Harbor is a study in sea life, one shrimp taco at a time. Kick the day off with an hour tour aboard the 18-foot Duffy electric boat scouting marine life and venturing under the Noyo Bridge. Back on land, you can catch the daily haul of purple sea urchin, visit the Noyo Center for Marine Science, then belly up for affordable fresh-off-the-boat fish and chips backed with a slap of fresh salt air.

Another walk on the wild side is a trek on the historic Skunk Train, either in a classic locomotive or aboard railbikes that ply the redwood groves. The Wolf Tree Run out of Willits is a quick two-hour tour delivering nature at its zenith. In Fort Bragg, you can book the Days of Steam running August and September, on a classic steam locomotive, as well as railbikes – which are electric – or try the new Hike to the Glen, a guided walking tour along a new 3.5-mile path coursing the tracks. A naturalist’s dream, the tour includes a picnic lunch at The Glen and return trip aboard the Pudding Creek Express.


For those who enjoy getting high, the seasonal series of moon tours at Point Arena Lighthouse is certain to please. You and your kids can rise above it all with a Full Strawberry Moon Night Tour or Full Pink Moon Night Tour, among others starting every April. There are Sap Moons, Worm Moons and Sturgeon Moons… all docent-led atop the towering 1870, 115 ft., towering light house, the tallest on the West Coast. Wrap the night with sparkling juice, champagne and a tour of the Museum grounds.

If your kids are serious circus buffs, you can sign on for a multi-week class under the big top tent in Albion. Flynn Creek Circus Camp is the ideal escape hatch, launching every inner-kid to new heights as professional circus performers tutor kids and adults in all aspects of vaultige, swinging trapeze, Chinese Pole, tight wire, acrobatics, choreography and artistic cohesion. Seasonal, multi-week.

In Mendocino’s interior, Roots of Motive Power is the stop for an al fresco walkabout in Willits. Housing massive heaps of steel and an inside track on California’s rich logging history, the stunning display of guts and girth, behemoths – including a classic 1885 Porter steam engine – stand ready for their close up in a symphony of steam; visits are limited to key events and workdays (first and third Sundays of each month); trains are also visible from the street on off days

Straight out of a Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn novel, the magnificent Gualala River is the stop for a four-hour canoe adventure, steeped with bursting wildflowers, redwood forests, ducks, deer and an optional spin on a rope swing. Set along Highway 1, Adventure Rents Canoes and Kayaks sports the perfect launch for your group aboard a four-seat, 16-foot Mad River Canoe. Float the day away on a 9.3-mile upriver excursion delivering a true Americana adventure, one paddle at a time. Single and tandem kayaks make for a more intimate experience, swimming optional.

Mendocino has no shortage of jaw-dropping stops showcasing Mother Nature at her naked best. With 24 state and national parks and a litany of oddities for the eyes, you’ll have plenty to pull from. Top of the list is Bowling Ball Beach, located just south of Point Arena on Highway 1. Rare and wonderful, this small enclave has caused speculation for centuries given the mass of almost perfectly spherical stones. Hidden like the Terracotta Army, the geological phenomena known as “concretions” are rare and picture-ready, formed by a natural process of sedimentary rock binding to minerals and/or stone. A walk through this outer-world landscape is truly awe-inspiring. Located at Schooner Gulch State Beach, you can access the site via a short hike across the bluffs and moderate scramble down a dirt path. Note: Low tide access only.

Equally alluring is a visit to Glass Beach located in Fort Bragg. Formerly the city dump, this strand along the Pacific has evolved over tide and time, polishing the glass from head- and tail-lights, jars and bottles into tiny, colorful glass pebbles. A boardwalk links the coves, making it safe and easy to maneuver. It’s trash to treasure time; the red and blue pebbles are the rarest.

If your family is more suited to terra firma, scout south Mendocino for a Seascapes & Wildflower Tour led by Unbeaten Path Tours. This is a nice spin on the history, geology, flora and fauna of this magnificent coastline via a two-hour tour, with ideal backdrops for the ultimate IG posting. Wildflower season and summer are true show stoppers, especially with a knowledgeable guide.

Small wonders can deliver big smiles. Mendocino’s Pygmy Forest is the perfect showcase for these little guys that could as well as offering a solid romp to tamp off steam. Located south of the village of Mendocino in Van Damme State Park — a region rife with towering redwoods — the Pygmy Forest is a refreshing study in fortitude. With cypress and pine trees stunted to ten feet, this elevated walkabout with signage unveil the oddities Mother Nature sometimes delivers. Lead the family on a hike through Van Damme in the misty morning fog with surreal stands of redwoods reaching for the sky. Quaint wooden bridges, the constant calm of a lazy brook and exotic fern sanctuaries round out the moderate four-mile loop; a shortcut directly to the Pygmy Forest can be had via Little River Airport Road off Highway 1.

Adding water to any adventure is certain to pack on the smiles. In Mendocino’s interior, slumbering in a narrow canyon at the foot of Cow Mountain just 5.5 miles east of Ukiah, Mill Creek is home to a mix of oak, madrone and bay forest, spectacular spring wild flowers and three sizable dams, the third being the largest and most sought-after swimming hole. Pack a picnic and take to a network of nature trails in this 400-acre park replete with panoramic backdrops of Ukiah Valley.

Size matters. True north just off Scenic Highway 1 near Leggett is a must-do drive through. Soaring at 315 feet high with a girth of 21 feet, the 2,000-year-old Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is nothing short of a towering show stopper. Cut in the late 1930s as a tourist attraction, this massive redwood seems to defy nature, allowing autos a smooth passage through its center, albeit tight at times. Ideal for Instagram Live, a $15.00 fee gains entry through this gentle giant; nearby take to the wonderful hiking trails Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area.

Mendocino County welcomes nearly 1.8 million visitors annually who explore its 90 miles of prime Pacific coastline, 90+ wineries and 12 diverse AVAs (earning the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards in the United States), 24 state/national parklands and 450+ unique accommodations. Straddling scenic Highways 1 and 101, “The Redwood Corridor,” the County delivers an ideal vortex of waves, wines and redwoods laced with historic villages and outback adventures. Located 114 mi./184 km. north of San Francisco, the region’s gateway airports are San Francisco International (SFO), Oakland International (OAK), Sacramento International Airport (SMF), and Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS). Visit Mendocino County is a non-profit destination marketing organization designed to enhance the economic vitality of the community by increasing tourism revenue. For more information, go to