It’s hard to believe, but I assure you it’s true: there is an undiscovered place in Northern California that is home to 90+ wineries (many of which are organic), Redwood Forests with staggering 300 foot tall trees, plenty of chances for active beach adventure and even a Buddhist Monastery where you can join in or observe monks in a daily meditation practice. The best part? In Mendocino County, it comes with no crowds and at a low-key pace. For now, this part of California is off radar for many, but my travel instincts tell me not for long.
The best of Mendocino County can be found both on and off the coast. The two areas feel like they are a world apart in scenery and atmosphere, but are less than an hours drive between points.
Getting There: Fly into either San Francisco or Oakland airports, rent a car and cruise north for the next two hours on highway 101. A bus is available but having a rental car makes travel easier in the spread out towns.
Travel Tip: Fly in and out around non-rush hours to avoid heavy California traffic.
Start your visit along Inspiration Highway, or Highway 101, in Ukiah, a city surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Before sampling the grapes, stop off at City of 10,000 Buddha’s where a gate with three golden arches welcomes visitors. After checking in at the information center, guests are welcome to join in prayer inside the Buddha Hall, where monks wearing traditional robes file into the temple one by one. Inside, 10,000 tiny golden Buddha statues gaze down on meditating monks and nuns. Outside, roam the grounds and campus of one of the first Buddhist monasteries in the United States. It won’t be hard to spot a few of the many peacocks strutting around and flaunting their feathers.
Next up: wine tasting. Ukiah is home to the first organic winery and many have kept suit. Almost 30 percent of grapes grown in Mendocino County are certified organic or biodynamic. And at several wineries, winemakers or owners are still involved in the day-to-day operations, including pouring samples for guests, like at Rivino Winery, a boutique operation located on the Russian River. Owners, Jason and Suzanne McConnell, can often be found on property talking to guests on the patio style tasting room.
Parducci Wine Cellars is both the oldest and greenest winery in Mendocino County. An Italian immigrant started the winery in 1921 during prohibition and his family later and later sold it 2004. Keeping the same name, current owner, Tom Thornhill, came up with a master plan to create an eco friendly winery that is operated with 100 percent green power, focuses on water conservation and recycling and Is the first carbon neutral winery in the United States. Wine tours can start to feel stale, these unconventional tours showcase sustainability practices, and the ecosystem created on property and takes a look at the 20,000 old growth redwood tanks built by the Parducci’s in the 1930’s.
Continue north on Highway 101 towards Willits through Montgomery Woods, which is made up of 5 groves of old growth coastal redwoods, for about 25 miles towards the home and resting place of legendary racehorse, Sea Biscuit. Tours of Ridgewood Ranch, offered June through September, show visitors the stud barn Sea Biscuit lived, the home of his owner, Charles Howard, and even descendants of Sea Biscuit running around in an outdoor space. Sea Biscuit raced during the Great Depression and became known as the small horse with a big heart after defeating War Admiral in a high stakes race in 1938.