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Mendocino Headlands & Big River Activities

Mendocino County




Caution: Check with rangers or lifeguards that conditions are safe for your planned activities.


Enjoy All the Seasons at the
Mendocino Headlands


When is the best time of year to visit the Headlands? Probably any season. Winter months are best for viewing migrating whales. Bring your binoculars, a warm coat, and cast your eyes seaward. Winter also can bring heavy surf crashing onto the rocks; it's a time particular for caution near the water.

In spring the wildflowers burst into bloom and linger into summer. It is a great season for leisurely strolls along the bluff-top trails. With summer weather adventures may be found on Portuguese Beach or up the Big River estuary. As the rainy season returns consider touring the Ford House museum and stopping in at a cozy restaurant in town.

Ford House Museum

45035 Main Street, Mendocino, CA
Open Daily 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM

The Ford House Museum and Visitor Center has both permanent and seasonal exhibits illustrating the town's early history, local natural history, and the story of the area's Pomo Indians. Among the most popular items in the museum is a scale model of the town as it appeared in 1980. Videos are available on topics such as the early logging era and gray whales.






Explore the Big River Estuary


The gentle and scenic waters of the Big River Estuary are a favorite with paddlers of canoes, kayaks, and even outriggers. The 8-mile long estuary extends up the Big River valley past grassy meadows and through redwood forests with birds and other wildlife.

Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too! is located conveniently at the Standford Inn on the south shore of Big River. (44850 Comptche-Ukiah Road) You can rent your own small craft and set out exploring on your own, or you may choose to sign on to one of their guided tours. They can help you plan your trip to coincide to best advantage with the tidal currents which affect the estuary.

Among their rentals are several sizes of redwood outrigger canoes which can seat up to 9 passengers. Stable, fast, and easy to steer, the outriggers are among their most popular rentals. They also have 2 and 4-person canoes along with sit-on-top kayaks.

Guided Outrigger Tours

Guided tours aboard their 5-9 person Solar Wind outrigger or the 4-passenger Redwood Cruiser are available from late June through September. Cruises include a Bioluminescence Tour, Solar Eco Cruises, Wildlife Tour, and Full Moon Paddle. No reservations are necessary unless you have a group of 8 or more. (707) 937-0273

Cycling up the Estuary

An old logging road that runs along the north shore of Big River is a popular cycling route. The nearly level road winds 8 miles up the river through redwood forests. Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too! rents bicycles and can suggest some more routes connected to the logging road.



Travel through Time at the
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve


Location: Along Highway 1, one mile north of Caspar, midway between Fort Bragg and Mendocino
Open daily, admission free
Five terraces at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve are the result of fluctuations in the sea level and the rise of tectonic plates. Each terrace represents a time about 100,000 years older than the one below it, with the highest terrace being the oldest. The soil and plants in each terrace are different. By hiking The Ecological Staircase trail, visitors can pass from one ecosystem to another as if walking back through a half million years of the earth's evolution.

Parking and portable toilet are available immediately off Highway 1. Trail guides are available there. From the parking lot visitors can take the Ecological Staircase Trail down to the coast before circling back closer to the creek and passing under the highway bridge. From there the trail crosses Jug Handle Creek and continues up the valley through the rest of the terraces. The highest terrace is home to a pygmy forest.

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, Mendocino County, CA

Jug Handle Reserve Coast


The Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center

The Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center, located adjacent to the Reserve, is a nonprofit organization which provides educational facilities and programs for schools and nature groups. They also serve as an information center for the Reserve's Ecological Trail.
15501 Highway 1


map of Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, Mendocino County, CA



Point Cabrillo Light Station
State Historic Park

13800 Point Cabrillo Drive, Mendocino, CA
Open daily sunrise to sunset, admission free

Visitors park near the entrance adjacent to the restored Kearn farmhouse and walk a little more than one-half mile down a road to the light station. Those with disabled access placards or those staying in one of the rental cottages are permitted to drive down to the point.

Point Cabrillo Facilities


Point Cabrillo Light Station aquarium, Mendocino County, CA

Point Cabrillo Light Station Aquarium


Tours of the light station grounds are available on Sundays. During the summer four dates are set aside for guided tours of the Lantern Room. Docent led tours must be reserved at least three weeks in advance. $5 per person, including children.
Tours reservations email: info@pointcabrillo.org
Information: (707) 937-6122.

Visitors can stay in one of the historic vacation rental homes at Point Cabrillo. Two larger homes and two smaller cottages are available through Mendocino Coast Reservations. See more details on the LODGING page.


map of Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, Mendocino County, CA

Point Cabrillo Trails

Frolic Cove Trail - In 1850 the clipper brig Frolic ran aground here and sank. The trail leads north from a point mid-way between the keepers' house ands the blacksmith shop. Out and back is 1.2 miles. An alternate route, the North Trail makes a 3.4-miles loop from the main parking area down across the prairie land and out to the edge of the bluffs and the cove.
South Trail - a 1-mile loop of the southern bluff area.


Nearby Activities and Events


Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center

Nature Center, Gardens, 40-acre nature preserve
Nonprofit organization, regional conservation and education center
Guests are welcome to tour the gardens
Spring Plant Sale and Open House
15501 Highway 1, mid-way between Fort Bragg and Mendocino
Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

18220 N. Highway 1,
Fort Bragg, CA
Open daily, 9 AM - 4 or 5 PM
General admission $14
Paths wind through gardens of regional plants, cafe
Festival of Lights with music and events, every December
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

World Champion Abalone Cook-off

October 6, 2018
South Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg
Dance to live music, savor wines, sample abalone and clam chowder, silent auction
Cooks compete by preparing their favorite abalone recipes
Abalone Cook-off

Mendocino Whale Festivals

First 3 weekends in March
3 weekends, 3 locations:

Whale Watching Festivals

Historic Walking Tours

Saturdays and Sundays, 11:00 AM
Kelley House, Mendocino
Docent-led 2-hour stroll through historic Mendocino, $10
Walking Tours

Mendocino Music Festival

July 7-21, 2018
Director and Conductor Allan Pollack guides the Mendocino Music Festival Orchestra
Mendocino Music Festival

Temple of Kwan Tai

45160 Albion St., Mendocino
Taoist temple dedicated to the Chinese god of war
Tours offered by appointment
Temple of Kwan Tai

All Aboard Adventures
Whale Watching Tours

Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg
2-hour trips aboard the 30-passenger Sea Hawk
December 26 through April 30
All Aboard Adventures

Unbeaten Path Tours

Guided walking tours of unique places along the Mendocino coast
Stornetta Lands Tour, Architectural Tour, Photographer's Tour, Seascape Tour, and many more.
(707) 888-6121
Unbeaten Path Tours



Books of Local Interest




Ocean Safety

California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at
CA State Parks: Ocean Safety

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