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Traveling Canine

Magnificent Mendocino

by Sharon Miller

mendocino photo

There is a beautiful, dog-friendly community in northern California with scenic beauty, a variety of tourist attractions, exceptional food and drink, and a remarkable fondness for dogs: the town of Mendocino and its beautiful surrounding areas along the coast.

You and your pup will definitely want to stroll the laid-back little village of Mendocino itself. You’ll find dogs everywhere here. Just ten miles north, you will discover additional places to explore around the more built-up Fort Bragg.

The village of Mendocino, spread out on a headland surrounded by the beautiful Pacific, had less than a thousand permanent residents at the last census. It is filled with artists and quaint, historic old buildings, some of which are B &B’s or small restaurants. A large proportion of these establishments welcome pooches.

After getting your fill of good food, fine microbrews, excellent local wines, and vibrant culture in Mendocino, you and your doggie will want to put on your hiking boots and head out to one of the many nearby state parks.

You may first want to check out Mendocino Headlands State Park, surrounding the village of Mendocino on three sides. Here you and your pooch can walk for miles on the bluffs, looking down to the ocean. Be very careful of the steep cliffs! Like in most of the state parks here, there is a six-foot-leash policy for dogs, even when swimming.

To the south, the Big River section of the park includes the longest undeveloped estuary in northern California. What a perfect place to hike down to the river! You might want to paddle a canoe or kayak. Catch-a-Canoe not only rents canoes, kayaks, and bicycles, but also welcomes dogs on most of their larger boats and provides dog lifejackets.


Two miles north of town is Russian Gulch State Park, with a small rocky beach. The best part of this park is hiking on the bluffs and seeing Devil’s Punch Bowl sea cave or the thirty-six-foot waterfall. Should you go a few miles south, you’ll find beautiful Van Damme State Park with its young redwoods, lush Fern Canyon scenic trail, and the Pygmy Forest. Unfortunately, this park does not allow dogs on its trails, but they are permitted to hang out with you on the small beach.

Your next stop should be the wonders of Ft. Bragg, ten miles north of the town of Mendocino. The first thing of interest to you and your dog may be the fact that there are several off-leash areas here. Six miles north of Ft. Bragg is the new off-leash Seaside Beach, backed by beautiful tall cliffs. Dogs can also romp and roll in the sand unencumbered by a leash here at Noyo Harbor Beach, but as a working harbor, it has a different ambience.

MacKerricher State Park, just north of Ft. Bragg, provides miles and miles of on-leash walking around Cleone Lake, a tidal lagoon, or Ten Mile Beach Trail, including a long boardwalk to Laguna Point. The draw here is the wildlife, especially seals, but there are also more than ninety species of birds, and seasonal whale watching. This is an excellent place to camp. There is plenty to do right here with your pooch without ever getting in the car.

One of the most astonishing attractions in Fort Bragg for you and your dog, however, is the 47 lush acres of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. You are both sure to enjoy this jewel, with its flower-filled coastal bluffs, fern-covered canyons, unique rhododendrons, and manicured formal gardens.

After exploring some of the marvelous Mendocino-area parks, why not try two more unusual outings? Dogs on-leash are invited to join a docent-led tour or to just stroll around the meadows and bluffs of Pt. Cabrillo Light Station, a few miles north of Mendocino. Or perhaps you and your pup want to ride on one of the most scenic railroads in North America, the Skunk Train running between Ft. Bragg and Willitts.

After all this activity, you and your doggie are probably ready for a bite, and you are in luck. PAWS in Mendocino has a wide selection of yummy organic homemade dog and cat cookies, plus exceptional leashes and other pet items designed by local artists. Be sure to visit Cowlick’s Ice Cream Café in Fort Bragg. Besides “normal” flavors, Cowlick’s makes in-house such flavors as yellow-cake-batter, ginger, mushroom, or grapefruit and campari. And your pooch gets a free vanilla cone! If you’re in Mendocino looking for an ice cream fix, you can’t go wrong at Frankie’s Ice Cream and Pizza with its fresh, organic, locally-made fare.

When you are ready for more substantial fare, you will find many restaurants welcoming dogs on the patio. Here are a few of them, just to stimulate your appetite. In Mendocino, try Lu’s Kitchen (organic, cross-cultural vegetarian cuisine where your dog will love the veggie sausage) or Mendo Burgers (you and your dog will gobble up the fresh-cut fries).

In Ft. Bragg, you have Piaci Pub and Pizzeria (large selection of food and beverage) or Laurel Deli (great desserts, next to the Skunk train station).

A unique resource for finding just the right meal is Hairy Putter, Mendocino County’s Official Dining Dog Ambassador. You can read this Cairn Terrier’s restaurant reviews at www.hairyputter.wordpress.com.

For that special occasion, the Stanford Inn on the outskirts of Mendocino is a pet-friendly, zenlike inn where you can stay with your very pampered pooch or dine with Fido in the lobby.  If you like to travel on a tighter budget, one of our other favorite places to stay is Caspar Beach RV Park and Campground. It is located between Mendocino and Ft. Bragg.

Mendocino County offers a wide range of dog-friendly accommodations, from camping to cozy B & B’s to luxury coastal resorts. Check out this website for extensive information on lodging in the Mendocino area: http://www.mendocino.com/dog-friendly.html

Mendocino, we can’t wait to return!


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