A mere glimpse of Mendocino’s gorgeously sculpted coastline is all it takes to turn urban angst into rural revelation. The scenery is so intoxicating you can yappily spend a week along the Highway 1 corridor without venturing beyond sight or sound of the sea. Visitors on a short leash, time-wise, will find plenty to occupy themselves and their pups along the 13 miles of coastline between diminutive Little River, to the south, and Fort Bragg, the county’s “big city” (population 7,500), just up Highway 1 to the north. Distances are short, so it’s easy to cruise from place to place and get back to base camp before dinner.
And there’s no shortage of places to hang your hat. Choices include the ocean-view Stanford Inn by the Sea, just south of Mendocino village and renowned among DogTrekkers for its pet-passionate services and amenities. You name it, they provide it, from food and water bowls to dog beds, sheets for covering the furniture and towels for wiping muddy paws. And there’s no need to leave Bella in the room or car when it’s time for dinner: the inn’s top-notch vegetarian restaurant, Ravens’, serves patrons with pets at specially designated tables in the lobby area.
Nearby, in Little River, the fur-friendly Little River Inn is celebrating 75 years of welcoming guests with bed, breakfast and majestic views of the sea. Outdoor dining areas are pet-friendly, and there’s a footpath leading down to the water. Less than a half-hour north, in Fort Bragg, the dog-friendly Surf & Sand Lodge is so close to the ocean you can whale-watch from your balcony, while the nearby Beachcomber Motel & Spa has gone to the dogs in a big way with the addition of a fenced dog park and two suites outfitted with doggie doors leading to private kennels.
If you and your four-legged buddy love to hike, you’re in for multiple treats along a strip of coastline that in winter experiences bright, bluebird days interspersed between soft gray ones. A top trek for DogTrekkers is Ten Mile Beach Trail, a converted logging road accessible from downtown Fort Bragg or from MacKerricher State Park, 3.5 miles to the north. If you start from town, your camera will see lots of action as you cross the dramatic Pudding Creek Trestle, a 515-foot former Union Lumber Company railroad bridge converted to a road in 1949 and to pedestrian and bicycle use in 2007. Just a mile and a half farther on is gorgeous Virgin Creek Beach, one of the great surf spots on the North Coast and especially dramatic in winter (be sure to stay on the trail, as dogs aren’t allowed on the sand).
Another favorite destination for outdoorsy DogTrekkers is much-photographed Mendocino Headlands State Park, one of few reserves in the state system to allow dogs on dirt trails. The Headlands Trail, two to five miles round trip, depending on where you turn around, follows seaside bluffs from the downtown Mendocino historic district to Big River Beach, where the Big River empties into Mendocino Bay. Bluff-top benches are interspersed along the way, providing great spots for resting tired paws or soaking up the views. And don’t overlook Van Damme State Beach, a dog-friendly (on leash) cove of sand in the state park of the same name in scenic Little River.
Not into hiking? Dog-friendly Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, just south of Fort Bragg, is best known for its fragrant and rare species of rhododendrons, which start blooming in February. Earlier in winter, you’ll enjoy late perennials, winter heathers, camellias, wild mushrooms—and the frequent sight of whales migrating along the coast. Of note: the gardens’ trails are not just dog friendly, they’re wheelchair friendly, too, with electric carts available on a first-come basis.
For multigenerational families visiting Mendocino with four-legged companions, nothing beats an excursion on the historic Skunk Train, whose December schedule includes almost three full weeks of Christmas Trains departing out of Fort Bragg and Willits. Live music, hot chocolate, cookies and visits with Santa are featured. Adding to the fun, passengers of all ages are encouraged to wear their pajamas and dogs their fanciest holiday collars.