Stroll through town, survey the architecture, and browse through the dozens of galleries and shops. My favorites include the Highlight Gallery, 45052 Main St. (tel. 707/937-3132; www.thehighlightgallery.com), for its handmade furniture, pottery, and other craft work; and the Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books, at Main and Kasten streets (tel. 707/937-2665; www.gallerybooks.com), one of the best independent bookstores in Northern California, with a wonderful selection of books for children and adults. Another popular stop is Mendocino Jams & Preserves, 440 Main St. (tel. 800/708-1196; www.mendojams.com), which offers free tastings on little bread chips of its natural, locally made gourmet fruit spreads.
After exploring the town, walk out onto Mendocino Headlands State Park, which wraps around the town. (The visitor center is in the Ford House on Main St.; tel. 707/937-5397.) Three miles of trails, with panoramic views of sea arches and hidden grottoes, wind through the park. At the right time of year, wildflowers blanket the area, and blackberries grow beside the trails. The headlands are home to many unique bird species, including black oystercatchers. Behind the Mendocino Presbyterian Church on Main Street, a trail leads to stairs that take you down to the beach, a small but picturesque stretch of sand where driftwood has washed ashore.
On the south side of town, Big River Beach is accessible from Hwy. 1; it's good for picnicking, walking, and sunbathing.
In town, stop by the Mendocino Art Center, 45200 Little Lake St. (tel. 707/937-5818; www.mendocinoartcenter.org), the town's unofficial cultural headquarters. It's also known for its gardens, galleries, and shops that display and sell local fine arts and crafts. Admission is free; it's open daily from 10am to 5pm.
After a day of hiking, head to Sweetwater Spa & Inn, 44840 Main St. (tel. 800/300-4140; www.sweetwaterspa.com), which offers group and private saunas and hot tub soaks by the hour. Additional services include Swedish or deep-tissue massages. Reservations are recommended. Private tub prices are $15 per person per half-hour, $18 per person per hour. Group tub prices are $10 per person with no time limit. Special discounts are available on Wednesdays. The spa is open daily from noon to 9pm and Saturday from noon to 10pm.
Mendocino's Secret Sinkhole
Known by locals as the Little River Cemetery Sinkhole, this almost perfectly circular (and massive!) sinkhole is simply amazing. At low tide you can walk through the wave-cut tunnel to the tide pools at the bottom of the bluff; at high tide, you can sit on the tiny sandy beach and look at the tunnel as the waves blast through. Either way, the feeling of being within this natural phenomenon is almost eerie. To get here, park across from the Little River Cemetery on Hwy. 1, walk to the southwest corner of the cemetery, and look for a small opening in the chain-link fence. The sinkhole is only a few dozen yards down the trail, but be prepared to enter and exit the hole on all fours or you might end up buried alongside it.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.