Mendocino, California, USA

Living in Mendocino

Iyna Bort Caruso

It would be a challenge to find a more ideally situated spot on a map than Mendocino, California. The tiny, well-preserved village is perched on a bluff about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco. Its “front yard” juts out into the Pacific Ocean while its “backyard” is a forest of redwoods.


Mendocino’s development was sparked by a shipwreck. A ship sailing from China to San Francisco struck a rocky reef and went aground nearby. In a twist of fate, a search party launched to find the sunken cargo discovered old-growth redwood trees instead, which turned out to be exactly what was needed to support San Francisco’s Gold Rush building boom. In fact many of San Francisco’s Victorian “painted ladies” were constructed out of Mendocino timber.


About a hundred years after Mendocino’s founding in 1850, the Mendocino Art Center opened transforming the one-time logging town into artist colony. 


Today, Mendocino is a favorite getaway destination, particularly for those from the Bay Area. It’s home to a cross-section of residents, from creative types to CEOs, and offers a cross-section of activities, from cultural to recreational. The town hosts a film festival in the spring and the long-running Mendocino Music Festival in the summer. A series of wooden water towers built in the late 19thcentury are a distinctive feature of the village. Some have been converted into artist studios and gift shops.


For outdoor enthusiasts, the Mendocino Headlands State Park is a treasure. It surrounds the village on three sides and offers miles of trails along the coastline and down to secluded beaches. Hikers and cyclists are familiar sights, as are photographers and artists. Every season has its pleasures, particularly in the spring when fields are covered in wildflowers and winter, the season for the migrating grey whale.


The town is protected as a National Historic Preservation District, the only one on the California Coast that enjoys the designation. Mendocino is celebrated for its Victorian architecture, but saltbox cottages, owing to early settlers from New England, give this tucked-away West Coast town a Northeast feel.