Kayla rides the Skunk Train.
Many Mendocino County visitors stay glued to the scenic stretch of coastline between Little River and Fort Bragg, but to do so is to miss out on redwoods, wineries, off-the-beaten-path seaside preserves and small, inland towns that extend a warm welcome to travelers with pets.
Traveling north from Santa Rosa on Highway 101, you’ll come to Cloverdale and have to make a decision: continue north to Ukiah, Willits and Leggett, or branch left and explore the Highway 128 Mendocino Wine Road.
The 101 route is most practical if you’re headed up the North Coast toward Oregon. Among its attractions is the Willits terminus of the Skunk Train, Northern California’s best-known excursion railroad and a top attraction for families. A good place to spend the night in this neck of the redwoods is Baechtel Creek Inn and Spa in Willits. The proprietors will be happy to pack a snack, provide a map and point you toward a web of scenic, dog-friendly trails that follow old logging roads converted to hiking trails through the redwoods.
Leggett, about 45 miles north of Willits, is a great turn-around point for travelers who want to head back south on coastal Highway 1. It also boasts an irresistibly kitschy roadside attraction in Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park, where tourists have been snapping photos ever since a tunnel was bored through a giant redwood in the 1930s. But that’s just the centerpiece of a 250-acre property that also includes trails through old-growth redwood groves, picnic grounds and other delights for DogTrekkers.
A more weatherproof option for winter travelers is the scenic, 55-mile Highway 128 Wine Trail leading from Cloverdale to the coast. If your dog is like most dogs, she doesn’t give a woof about the subtle notes of raspberry or leather that distinguish a 2009 pinot from its 2011 counterpart. What matters most is that Coco has a comfortable place to curl at your feet while you imbibe. There’s no shortage of wineries that fit the bill in Mendocino County Anderson Valley, an area bisected by Highway 128 and encompassing the Boonville, Philo, Yorkville Highlands and Navarro wine regions.
Laid-back is the keyword at Navarro Vineyards, just off Highway 128 near Philo. Here water bowls and treats await, and an enclosed exercise area is available for pups not quite ready to settle down. Nearby Toulouse offers an enthusiastic welcome, along with a warehouse-like tasting room and shaded picnic tables with sweeping views of valley vineyards. Husch Vineyards, also in Philo and the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley, makes 22 varieties of vino and welcomes furry visitors in the converted 19th-century pony barn that serves as a tasting room. Round out your visit to the Anderson Valley with an overnight stay at a dog-friendly property such as Anderson Valley Inn in Philo or The Other Place outside Boonville, which features four fenced and secluded cottages on a 500-acre ranch that you and yours are welcome to explore. Also near the wine road is Welshwood Guest House, a two-bedroom vacation rental that doesn’t just allow pets, but encourages them. Bring groceries, books and your hiking shoes and prepare to explore and relax. This property is fenced for your dog’s safety, and she’ll enjoy seeking out scents and experiences not available at home.
When hunger strikes, lead Max to the outdoor seating area at Mosswood Market Cafe in Boonville, where he can lap from a water bowl as you enjoy tasty homemade soup and a fully loaded panini sandwich. A few doors down is Boonville General Store, serving delights such as wild mushroom calzones, stone-baked pizzas and garden-to-table soups and salads. For fine dining in warm weather, Table 128 at the dog-friendly Boonville Hotel invites canines to curl up at designated outdoor tables where they can watch their people chow down on family-style, prix fixe dinners featuring fresh, farm-to-table cuisine.