You’re Never Far from the charm of Main Street when you hike the Mendocino Headlands.
We spent two nights in historic downtown Mendocino just weeks before the novel coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. We discovered that little had changed since our last visit 25 years earlier.
Some shops and restaurants doubtless had new names and owners, but we were hard-pressed to pinpoint any new construction or radical renovation in the 170-year-old village perched atop a promontory above the Pacific Ocean. The merchants told us that the Mendocino Historical Review Board takes its mission “to preserve the architecture and character of the Historic District of the Town of Mendocino very seriously. And rightfully so. This is a special place.
(NOTE: As 2021 begins, be be sure to review the latest Novel Coronavirus Health Guidelines for Mendocino County before planning a visit. Find them here. )
Part of what made the visit special is that after a shopping spree in town, a hearty meal and a good night’s rest, we found a magnificent coastal landscape just minutes away by foot. We began our headlands hike at the trail head behind the Presbyterian Church and wandered down to Big River Beach.
There we joined a line of seagulls gawking at the mouth of the 42-mile river that flows from the Northern California Coast Range and ends as an eight-mile estuary before dumping into the Pacific Ocean.
Fragments of yellow and blue sea glass glinted from the sand, refugees from the historic underwater dump that populates Glass Beach in nearby Fort Bragg with a seemingly endless supply of wave-worn treasure. The trunks of giant redwoods litter the shore.
Closer to the bluff, the previous day’s rainwater fell from rivulets in the grassy headlands to the beach below in drips, trickles and flows, in some instances spiraling down exposed roots onto the sand.
Unsure of the day’s tides, we splashed through the shallow meanders in the sand and climbed back atop the bluff for the hike’s main event.
The headlands trail winds through the grass and brush along the edge of the promontory for three miles, offering panoramic views of wave-whipped rocks offshore, glimpses of tiny beaches, and rugged grotto overlooks.
Looking for a sea arch? Listen for that tell-tale hollow splash.
The hike is easy, but you can pump it up a tad with scrambles across oceanfront rocks or by descending a long staircase to one of the tiny beaches below.
We visited in December, and were amused to find a single red Christmas tree ornament adorning one of the scrubby firs atop the bluff.
Please be sure to heed all posted caution signs and common sense. And watch your back, because you’re always just a 180-degree turn and short walk away from the allure of a great meal, yummy glass of wine or fine arts gallery.