Mendocino has been on my list for a while, but due to the distance (about a 3 hours drive) it kept getting pushed to the back burner in lieu of closer destinations. That was until a couple of months ago when we decided to heck with it! Sure it's a long drive, but it's also an adventure, and we were very much in need of an adventure. So we woke the kids up at 6am, packed them into the car and we were off!
We broke up the drive by making a pit stop in Healdsburg to fuel up on coffee and pastries and to let the kids stretch their legs. We loaded up on muffins, scones and rolls from Downtown Bakery & Creamery, grabbed some drinks at Flying Goat Coffee and got back on the road for the last leg of the trip. While this is certainly a long trek to make for a day trip...the scenery is pretty amazing. The drive takes you along windy country roads, through a Redwood forest and along the coast for the last leg.
The main draw of this trip for me was getting to rent an outrigger canoe at Catch a Canoe. With two young kids, we don't get a lot of opportunities to tackle water sports, so a family friendly and safe option for canoeing was very attractive to me (and worth a 3 hour drive!). The outrigger canoes are longer and narrower that a typical canoe and don't tip over making them a great option for groups with small children.
The staff at Catch a Canoe were extremely accommodating and friendly and had us out on the water about ten minutes after our arrival! The canoe route takes you inland along Big River, which is an estuary for the first 8 miles. The scenery is breathtaking. Not far from where we rented the canoes, we found ourselves alone on the river, surrounded by hills of lush forest and wildlife. Five minutes on the river and I was ready to relocate our lives to Mendocino and spend my days floating down the river. Of course I quickly realized once we were in the canoe that my camera battery was dead, so unfortunately you are stuck with my iPhone pictures.
Aside from the beautiful scenery, Big River is also known for being home to river otters. We were really crossing our fingers that we would have at least one sighting, since we had jumped the gun a bit by promising the kids we would see otters. Thankfully we hadn't gotten far before we saw a small otter floating on it's back along side us, eating a fish!
A bit further down the river we spotted what we initially thought was a massive rock, but turned out to be another seal! This one was laying happily in the sun and had it not been for some small movements, I think we would have floated on by without noticing it. It was HUGE and we got a nice video of it waving to us on our way back.
Our rental was for a generous 3 hours (and only cost $60 since the kids were free) so we paddled down the river for a bit over an hour before turning around and heading back. Even after the excitement of the otters, we were still in awe of the nature surrounding us. It felt so special to be paddling down this river with almost nobody else in sight.
The river is tidal, meaning when the tide changes, the flow of the river changes with it. The ideal scenario is to paddle out with the incoming tide and then return with the outgoing tide so you are never paddling upstream. We didn't time our trek perfectly and found ourselves paddling upstream on the way back. This wasn't particularly straining aside from a few stretches that were exposed to the wind. Definitely plan on your paddle back taking a bit longer than your paddle out. I would also suggest wearing lots of layers. We had spectacular weather inland, but much colder weather as we approached the mouth of the river and hit the coastal fog. Thankfully we had brought along a blanket that the kids wrapped up in. Our youngest actually fell asleep on the way back, a testament to the comfort of the canoe I suppose (or the 6am wake-up)!
After getting back on land, we headed over the bridge to the town of Mendocino. We indulged in a warm meal at Goodlife Cafe and then took a leisurely stroll around town. Despite being a fairly small town, there were a number of shops to peruse and lots of tiny alley ways with cafes and small gift shops. Definitely a place I could relax for a long weekend!
Since we had a long drive ahead of us, we said our goodbyes and got back on the road. Our plan for the afternoon was to make a stop in Boonville, but we had no firm itinerary for our visit. Our first stop was at the Philo Apple Farm, where we purchased some fresh apple juice from their self-service farmstand. The gardens on the property are so beautiful!
We had planned on stopping by Anderson Valley Brewing (see our first visit to the area here), but unfortunately they have an early closing time on Sundays! Aside from a stop in Healdsburg for ice cream at Noble Folk (their pies are also amazing!) and a quick change into PJ's for the kids, we made good time on our trip back to Berkeley. The kids fell asleep on the last leg of the drive and we were able to easily transition them into their beds when we arrived home (love when that happens!!!).
While I hope to post more often in the coming months, please follow along on instagram for more frequent updates!
Details: Mendocino is about a 3 hour drive from Berkeley. Outrigger rentals at Catch a Canoe are $28 for adults, half off for kids 6-12 and free for kids 2-5 and include 3 hours on the river! Lunch at Goodlife Cafe was very reasonable, with most dishes under $10 (and organic/local ingredients). Fresh pressed apple juice is $2 at Philo Apple Farm (self-service, so bring cash) and access to the adjacent river is free!
Have you been to Mendocino County? Any recommendations?