8 of the Most Unique Things to Do in Mendocino, California
Ever since visiting Mendocino County for the first time several years ago when living in San Francisco, I’ve often considered Mendocino among the most unique corners of California. However, after this most recent trip, partnering with Visit Mendocino, I think it may be the single most unique, interesting part of the West Coast, if not all of America.
I believe the ingredients that make Mendocino County so interesting are many of the same ingredients that you’ll find in most of the world’s most interesting places. Mendocino affords a combination of natural beauty, culture, history, and unique things to do that are reflective of its region, but also unique to the destination itself. In other words, Mendocino offers experiences that can only be offered here.
So in my first post from my recent Mendocino trip, I’m sharing 8 of the most unique things to do in Mendocino County, California.
City of 10,000 Buddhas
City of 10,000 Buddhas was my first stop in Mendocino County, and really set the tone for the entire trip. I imagine that many people have perhaps seen a sign for it, or have even driven by, and never considered stopping. But now having visited for myself, I can’t imagine going to Mendocino and not going to this Buddhist community and monastery set to the backdrop of rolling hills and vineyards.
After stopping at the Visitors Center to sign-in, I headed to the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which literally has 10,000 Buddhas inside. I arrived just in time for prayer, as residents and guests started filing in. I found a seat in the back, where I observed the ceremony, and while I’m not a practicing Buddhist myself, I can confidently say that it was one of the most powerful, reverent travel experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Interestingly enough, my next stop was to Craft Distillers, which I’ve known about and wanted to visit for years. That's because Craft Distillers, started by Ansley J. Coale, is responsible for one of the best, most famous brandies in the world, Germain-Robin. Germain-Robin has been coveted by many a statesman, including Ronald Reagan. However, a visit to Craft Distillers in Ukiah isn’t your typical trip to a distillery. That’s because it’s part tasting room, part retail shop and part museum (yes, really). Additionally, Craft Distillers makes bottled cocktails, numerous other spirits and liqueurs, and is a distributor of other spirits, including mezcal. Small as it may be, Craft Distillers is truly one of the most unique craft drinks spots in America as far as I’m concerned.
Vichy Springs Resort
Continuing with the theme of Mendocino County locales known among dignitaries is Vichy Springs Resort, where I stayed my first night. Among the list of guests who’ve stayed at the Ukiah hot springs resort: Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, William Harrison, and Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Jack London, Sandy Koufax, and Dustin Hoffman, just to name a few. So no, it’s not a new hotel, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting, unique and historic hotel in Northern California.
While Vichy Springs Resort opened in the mid-1800s, it’s believed that the actual springs here are millions of years old. Today, however, guests can stay in a variety of suites or cottages, which are a short walk from the individual Vichy mineral baths and communal hot tub. These 154-year-old tubs (yes, seriously) and the carbonated, mineral water that flows inside are meant to be both relaxing and healing. For me personally, the 104-degree "hot pool" was where it was at, as I was quite literally a raisin when I finally got out. Finally, there's also a natural pool, Chemisal Falls pool, which is a 30-minute hike from Vichy.
Orr Hot Springs Resort
Orr Hot Springs Resort feels uniquely “Mendocino” even before entering, as it’s a clothing-optional spa resort that’s literally in the middle of the woods, just beyond a forest of redwoods (as seen below). Having recently returned from Iceland, it reminded me of some of the hot springs destinations there (minus the nudity). Like Vichy, you’ll find a number of private tubs and communal pools, but with the addition of a small communal soaking tub, steam room and dry sauna. While Orr Hot Springs is available for overnight stays and day use, it’s highly recommended to call weeks in advance for day use (it was sold out on the off-season day I visited). If I were to go back, however, I’d definitely want to stay overnight, because yurts.
In full disclosure, after first coming to The Madrones many years ago to write about it for 7x7, I’ve become friends with owner Jim Roberts. While The Madrones wasn’t expressly part of the trip, I had to stop by one of my single favorite destinations in all of Northern California, especially since Long Meadow Ranch, a Napa winery, had just been added.
The best way to describe The Madrones is to call it a “wine country destination,” but not the type of wine country destination you’ll often find in California. That’s because it’s part accommodations, part restaurant and part collection of wine tasting rooms. The latest addition is Santé, a spa and salon, and Long Meadow Ranch, which is a well known ranch and winery out of Napa. Additionally, just on the other side of Indian Creek is a collection of new unique accommodations, The Brambles, set below the cover of a small redwood grove.
The Apple Farm
Continuing with the theme of unique accommodations is The Apple Farm, which is literally a working apple farm, located just around the corner from yet another redwood grove, Hendy Woods State Park. Like many farms, The Apple Farm is deeply rooted, as the Schmitt family that owns it is the same family that was the original owners of The French Laundry, considered one of the best restaurants in America.
Accommodations at The Apple Farm consist of a collection of several A-frame cabins, set amidst apple trees. While you can simply stay at the farm, which includes fresh coffee and breakfast every morning, the most unique way to experience The Apple Farm is over a “Stay & Cook” weekend. These weekend experiences affords a taste of a working farm, literally, as guests get a behind-the-scenes tour of the farm, followed by a guided cooking experience for Saturday dinner. Now that’s working for your vacation!
Beer and disc golf at Anderson Valley Brewing
Anderson Valley Brewing was one of the first craft beers I had many years ago in Northern California, and it’s since become one of my favorite Northern California beer destinations. Located in Boonville, Anderson Valley Brewing was making beer before many of you may have been born, starting in 1987. Today, many of their beers are as unique as their beer names, which are worlds from the Boontling dialect, a dialect only spoken in Boonville (yes, really).
AVBC has many of your classic beer styles, including several IPAs, pale ale, stout and my personal favorite, the Boont Amber Ale. Adventurous beer drinkers will find a lot of unique beers, like any number of their gose (pronounced “goz-uh”) style beers and barrel-aged brews. Finally, when’s the last time you went to a brewery with its own disc golf course? Grab a six-pack of AVBC beers, a course map and hit to the links of the brewery’s disc golf course. If you don’t have your own discs, the brewery has them for sale.
B Bryan Preserve
Zebras, and giraffes, and antelope, oh my! Welcome to B Bryan Preserve, which has all of the appearances of Africa, but just off the Mendocino County coastline. Started by founder Dr. Frank Mello and his wife, Judy, what began as the study and conservation of antelope a couple decades ago has now grown into a 110-acre preserve of more than 70 African hoof stock animals, including antelope, kudu, giraffes and zebras. Twice daily (once in the winter) tours naturally take place in an open-air safari rover, and are available by online reservation. Continuing with the unique accommodations theme, B Bryan Preserve also has two cottages and a carriage house, which can be booked for overnight stays.