Explore the Big River by renting a canoe, a kayak, or an outrigger from Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too (tel. 707/937-0273; www.stanfordinn.com), open daily from 9am to sunset, on the grounds of the Stanford Inn by the Sea. If you're lucky, you'll see osprey, blue herons, harbor seals, deer, and wood ducks. These same folks will also rent you a mountain bike (of higher quality than a standard rental), so you can head up Hwy. 1 and explore the nearby state parks on two wheels.
Visitors can ride horseback (both English- and Western-style) on the beach and into the woods through Ricochet Ridge Ranch, 24201 N. Hwy. 1, Fort Bragg (tel. 888/873-5777 or 707/964-7669; www.horse-vacation.com). Prices range from $45 for a 1 1/2-hour beach ride to $295 for an all-day private beach-and-redwoods trail ride.
In addition to Mendocino Headlands State Park, several other state parks are within an easy drive or bike ride from Mendocino. The brochure Mendocino Coast State Parks, available from the visitor center in Fort Bragg, has information on all the parks, with maps of each. These areas include Manchester State Park, where the San Andreas Fault sweeps to the sea; Jughandle State Reserve; and Van Damme State Park, with a sheltered, easily accessible beach.
My favorite, on Hwy. 1 just north of Mendocino, is Russian Gulch State Park. It's one of the region's most spectacular parks, where waves crash against the cliffs that protect the park's California coastal redwoods. The most popular attraction is the Punch Bowl, a collapsed sea cave that forms a tunnel through which waves crash, creating throaty echoes. Inland, visitors can pedal along a scenic, paved bike path or hoof it on miles of hiking trails, including a gentle, well-marked 3-mile Waterfall Loop that winds past tall redwoods and damp green foliage to a 36-foot-high waterfall. Admission is $6 and camping is $25 per night. Call tel. 800/444-7275 or log on to ReserveAmerica at www.reserveamerica.com for camping reservations; for general state park information, call tel. 707/937-5804 or visit www.cal-parks.ca.gov.
Deep-sea fishing charters are available from Fort Bragg, which is just a short ride up the coast.