5 Hidden Gems in Mendocino County, California

Five great reasons to skip the beach and explore inland in Northern California.

trail through redwoods in Mendocino, California, photo
There's more to Mendocino County than the beautiful coast.
Geartooth Productions / Shutterstock

Dramatic ocean vistas lure visitors to the region, but shaded redwood groves and peaceful retreats await on Mendocino's roads less traveled. Here are five reasons to leave the coastline behind and explore the county's interior.

City of 10,000 Buddhas

East of Highway 101, an expansive swath of Ukiah Valley meadowland is home to one of the largest Buddhist monastic communities in the West at City of 10,000 Buddhas. Gold-accented murals and a Jewelled Hall―lined with 10,000 hand-etched Buddhas―enliven this former state hospital site, where peafowl wander serenely and visitors are welcome to attend daily services and sample restorative fare at Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant.

Vichy Springs Resort

Jack London's favorite hot spot has been in operation since 1854, but local Pomo American Indians are said to have prized the healing properties of the springs' naturally carbonated alkaline mineral water for thousands of years. Book a cozy cottage and take "the cure" in outdoor concrete baths, cross a winding creek on a replica of Monet's Bridge at Giverny, and explore the vast trail network at this relaxing overnight destination.

Skunk Train

Departing from Willits, this justly famous attraction transports riders deep into the verdant Noyo River Canyon and back in time, as train cars clickety-clack through a fairy tale forest harboring thousand-year-old redwoods and once-thriving logging communities. Spring and summer bring a blush of rhododendron to the forest, as well as an expanded schedule including sunset barbecue rides and overnight camping excursions along the Noyo.

Skunk Train Rail Bikes

For a more active experience along the tracks, check out the Skunk Train Rail Bikes, which launched in the spring of 2019. These two-seat, train-wheel vehicles are like paddleboats on rails—pedal like you would a bicycle and an electric motor helps maintain a consistent speed of about 9 mph. The journey crosses three wooden bridges and covers seven miles total: 3.5 miles up from downtown Fort Bragg and 3.5 miles back. At the turnaround point, guests are encouraged to hop off and marvel at the west end of a tunnel that was closed because of  a landslide in 2015.

Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

From 1996 to 2000, the reserve's 367.5-foot Mendocino Tree was officially the world's tallest. Despite the loss of that title to Humboldt County, locals still whisper that the redwoods at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve are second to none. An inconspicuous entrance along Orr Hot Springs Road belies the spectacle awaiting hikers along the 2.5-mile Montgomery Loop Trail: five virgin groves of coastal redwoods, unfathomable in girth and height, illuminated on sunny days by shafts of beatific light. The spongy forest floor―carpeted with moss, dampened pine needles, and lime-green clover―absorbs all sound, allowing visitors to commune with nature in tranquil silence.


This article was first published in March 2016 and last updated in October 2019.