With its windswept bluffs, rugged beaches, and charming Victorian architecture, the coastal town of Mendocino beckons Bay Area city-dwellers north with promises of rest and rejuvenation. Luckily, folks up there seem to recognize that it wouldn’t be a very restful or rejuvenating trip if you had to leave your best friend behind, so the town welcomes dogs enthusiastically.
Just a three-hour scenic drive north of San Francisco, Mendocino and the equally dog-friendly Fort Bragg a few miles north offer a variety of adventures for canines and their humans. Dogs can take wild romps in the surf at any number of beaches, hike out to the Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse and the wreck of the Frolic, stroll through the Botanical Gardens, canoe up Big River to find big trees – to name only a few of the area’s many dog-friendly activities.
Having heard tail-thumping rumors of this dog-loving land, I packed up my Beagle-ish mutt Pali and her dad for a weekend getaway. It didn’t take long for Mendocino to start working its magic. We stopped at Navarro Vineyards on the way and the tasting staff, seeing Pali in the car, urged us to bring her in. Somewhat shocked, we happily obliged. A local explained to me later that the attitude of most winery owners in the Anderson Valley is that bringing your dog wine-tasting is a no-brainer.
The pleasant surprises and welcoming, down-to-earth attitude continued. Our lodging, The Stanford Inn by the Sea – a picturesque, sprawling property built where Big River meets the ocean – is one of the most dog-friendly places we’ve ever stayed. Not only did the staff provide Pali with her own raised bowls, Frisbee, pet sheets (for couch and bed lounging), and a map of dog-friendly local hikes; they also welcomed her with a sweet potato dog biscuit fresh from the kitchen of their gourmet vegetarian restaurant, The Ravens. Seating options include an indoor dining area by the fireplace that isn’t technically part of the restaurant, so dogs are welcome to join you there for breakfast or dinner. (Think Greens, only with your pooch snuggled under your table and admiring wait staff expertly stepping around her to refill your coffee.)
The owner, Jeff Stanford, a no-nonsense sort who went green long before it was trendy, often has his two dogs, Murphy and Gypsy, with him when he works at the canoe launch or the organic vegetable garden. He opened a dog-friendly hotel because he’s spent a lot of time on the road with his dogs. “I’ve traveled with dogs my whole life, and I have a fantastic trust in dogs – more than in most people,” he says, leaning over to give Pali her second belly scratch in five minutes.
The warm welcome didn’t end at the inn. This town doesn’t just stick “We’re dog-friendly” signs in store windows. It also puts water bowls out front and stashes dog biscuits behind the counter. Stores and galleries happily welcomed Pali inside. Everyone we encountered seemed to be a dog lover or dog parent (usually both), which meant Pali got lots of oohs, ahhs, and head pats – not to mention free ice cream at Frankie’s, Cowlicks, and the ice cream stand in the Botanical Gardens (and those are just the spots Pali was able to nose out in one weekend)!
After spending several pleasant hours meandering through Mendocino village and exploring the Pt. Cabrillo lighthouse (volunteers there keep dog treats handy), we decided to explore the only botanical gardens in the continental U.S. that offers coastal access. It may also be the only botanical garden that welcomes dogs, but the staff didn’t seem to realize how unusual this policy is. When I asked David Emmons, resource development coordinator at the gardens, why they allowed dogs, his answer was typical of the attitude we experienced throughout our trip. “When it comes to allowing dogs,” he said, “The attitude around here is, ‘Why not?’”
The Mendocino-Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg boasts 47 acres of native flora. While Pali enjoyed the rhododendrons, magnolias, and orchids, she especially loved the wild, rugged sea bluffs located through the deer gates and down a coastal prairie path. With her nose inhaling the sea spray and her ears flapping in the wind, she took in the view and the rambling trails ahead with obvious appreciation – this was her idea of the perfect garden tour! (Tip: It’s an excellent spot for a picnic.)
Our next excursion was to the area’s biggest attraction, its majestic shoreline. Almost all of the local beaches allow dogs on leash, and a few permit off-leash fun. Being Hawaii-born, Pali loves nothing better than a run in the surf, and she’s of the firm belief that the only truly dog-friendly beach is one that offers this experience.
With that in mind, we headed to Seaside Beach, located ten miles north of Fort Bragg, a long stretch of sand scattered here and there with giant boulders. We didn’t spot any signs about leash status, but the locals told us it was okay – just to take lots of baggies and to use common sense, since all area beaches can be dangerous, with their “sleeper” waves and treacherous currents. Pali’s joyful run in the surf proved contagious, and several other dogs came to frolic with her.
We headed back to the inn for a cozy night by the fireplace and woke up the next morning to rain. In Mendocino, somehow, inclement weather only adds to the romance. Most inns and cottages provide hot tubs to chase the chill and books and movies to enjoy indoors. Pali sighed contentedly, happy to snuggle in for a good, long fireside nap.
The dog-loving town of Mendocino lives up to its reputation, and then some. Rest and rejuvenation? Check. Fun for the whole family? Check. Plan a return trip soon? Check. Pali is still raving about a certain mushroom ice cream.
- Abigail’s Bed & Breakfast, Mendocino
- Beachcomber Motel, Fort Bragg
- Blackberry Inn, Mendocino
- The Blair House Inn, Mendocino
- Cleone Gardens Inn, Fort Bragg
- Delamere Seaside Cottages, Fort Bragg
- The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, Little River
- Little River Inn, Little River
- MacCallum House, Mendocino
- Mendocino Seaside Cottages, Mendocino
- Pacific Mist Inn and Cabins, Mendocino
- Pine Beach Inn, Fort Bragg
- Quality Inn and Suites Tradewinds, Fort Bragg
- The Rendezvous Inn and Restaurant, Fort Bragg
- S.S. Seafoam Lodge, Little River
- Shoreline Cottages, Fort Bragg
- Stanford Inn by the Sea, Mendocino
Parks and Beaches
- Big River Beach, Mendocino
- Caspar Beach RV Park and Campground, Caspar
- MacKerricher State Park, Fort Bragg
- Mendocino Headlands State Park, Mendocino
- Navarro River Redwoods State Park, Mendocino
- Noyo Beach Off-leash Dog Beach, Fort Bragg
- Old Haul Road/ Pudding Creek Trestle, Fort Bragg
- Pomo RV Park and Campground, Fort Bragg
- Seaside Beach, North of Fort Bragg
- Van Damme State Park, Little River
- Cowlick’s Handmade Ice Cream, Fort Bragg
- Frankie’s Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor, Mendocino
- Home Style Cafe, Fort Bragg
- Laurel Deli, Fort Bragg
- Lu’s Kitchen, Mendocino
- Mendo Burgers, Mendocino
- Mendocino Cafe, Mendocino
- The Moosse Cafe, Mendocino
- Nemo’s Fish Market, Fort Bragg
- Piaci Pub and Pizzeria, Fort Bragg
- Ravens Restaurant (at Stanford Inn), Mendocino
- Rendezvous Inn and Restaurant, Fort Bragg
- All Aboard Adventures, Fort Bragg
- Anchor Charter Boats and the Lady Irma II, Fort Bragg
- Dolphin Isle Marina, Fort Bragg
- Catch a Canoe Rentals, Mendocino
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg
- Mendocino Village shops and galleries
- Navarro Vineyards and other Mendocino County wineries
- Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
- A walk to the Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse and around the Mendocino bluffs.
- Breakfast or dinner at The Ravens, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant at the Stanford Inn and Spa with an indoor dining option for you and your pooch.
- A walk at the Botanical Gardens, the only coastal Botanical Gardens in the continuous U.S. and a great place for a picnic. (Tip: The Little River Market and Deli in Mendocino has a great deli for picnic supplies.)
- A romp at McDog Off-Leash Beach at Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg or Seaside Beach 10 miles north of Fort Bragg just past a bridge construction site (this beach doesn’t have signage , so ask a local for directions).
- A long walk on the 10-Mile Haul Road (again, ask a local as directions are a touch difficult).
- A ride on the Skunk Train (only for small dogs that can fit inside a travel bag).
- A canoe ride up Big River at Catch-a-Canoe & Bicycles Too.
- Shopping in Mendocino Village where most galleries and stores happily welcome dogs.
- Wine-tasting at any of the 40 local wineries.
For more ideas, see www.MendocinoFun.com/pet-friendly.
Daneen Akers is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. She loves to explore the City and beyond with her husband, Stephen and their “first-born,” Pali, a fun-loving mutt who has traveled far and wide in her eight years.