Though the California coast dazzles throughout the state, its most striking displays seem to cluster in Mendocino County. Mist-shrouded sea stacks, sweeping coastal prairies, and unspoiled beach coves provide the inspiring backdrop for quaint fishing hamlets. Follow the sweet, salt-tinged air and discover scenic gems sculpted by the churning Pacific.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
The Ecological Staircase Trail offers a rare peek at the formation of Mendocino’s unique landscape via a succession of stepped sandstone terraces that have raised up, layer by layer, over millennia. The first half-mile forms a stand-alone loop that traverses tranquil headlands with knockout ocean views before dropping down to a secluded, sandy cove. Along the way, visitors marvel at the fantastical krummholz forest, a tangle of twisted spruce and pine trees misshapen by salt-laden winds.
Russian Gulch State Park
It’s tough to find a ho-hum spot in Russian Gulch State Park with an enticingly diverse landscape to explore. Past fragrant pines that teeter over swirling turquoise waters, cliffside trails lead to Devil’s Punchbowl, a massive, collapsed sea cave that reverberates with the crash of the waves within. And the aptly named Fern Canyon Trail skirts a rippling, overgrown creek that flows from an inland waterfall out to a sheltered bay spanned by a magnificent concrete arch bridge.