Redwoods to gawk at, world class Pinot to sip; it’s no question why a getaway in Mendocino wine country is the perfect weekend trip from San Francisco.
Northern California has a particularly crafty, whimsical brand of cool. Small villages are tucked into rugged seaside cliffs up the coast, the views are breathtaking all throughout the year, and wineries, farms, and art galleries abound. One of our favorite destinations is Mendocino County, a stretch of forest, coast, and vineyards North of Napa. It’s home to Anderson Valley wine country, which is charmed with spotty cell reception, hole in the wall eateries, and winding roads that make you feel worlds away from the urban metropolis of San Francisco. It also happens to be the stomping grounds of half of Maker’s winemakers from our 2020 portfolio.
Here’s your itinerary for a weekend in Mendocino’s wine country, via quirky Boonville, with COVID-conscious spots that are all vetted and open for socially distant, outdoor gathering.
Assuming you’re coming from the Bay Area, try to get on the road by 3pm to beat traffic and make it to your first wine stop on time.
You’ll hit the 101 North and take it all the way to Boonville – the trek will take you about 2 hours in total, so prepare a good playlist. Be warned that the final 30 minutes of this drive are not for the faint of stomach; the single lane road is full of hilly twists and turns that weave you into the wine country. Potential nausea aside, you’ll start to exhale and feel the ease of life in the country as soon as you hit Main Street.
5:30 pm – You only have one stop to make tonight, and it’s Rivino Winery. They host killer gatherings with local music for happy hour every Friday, at least in good weather, so check out their calendar beforehand to anticipate the vibe. Grab a glass (or bottle) of one of their delicious, affordable wines – our favorites are the Cab Franc & Sangiovese – and bring a picnic to enjoy it with.
After Rivino, make your way to your hotel for the night to rest up for a big day of wine tasting tomorrow.
Waking up in Mendocino wine country is a bit of a dream. Cozy up in your bed & breakfast or Airbnb, enjoy your coffee, and take a stroll – there are tall trees and ocean views close to nearly every hotel.
9am – Time to fuel up for the sipping that’s in store. Little River Inn is an adorable bed & breakfast that doubles as a hidden gem for drinks & brunch, and right now they’re doing a delicious takeout breakfast. Order ahead, then pick it up and take it to a turnout to eat while you soak in views of the Pacific.
11am – Hit the road. The drive from Mendocino to the wineries is a destination in itself. Massive, decades old redwoods border the road, and the sun rays that stream through branches set the tone for a magical day in Northern California.
First stop: Handley Cellars. It’s a stunning property with fantastic wine, and even better winemakers – the Maker Pinot is produced by the Handley Cellars team. Sip a flight on the patio and read the story of Handley – it’s touching, and makes the experience even more rich. In addition to their award-winning Pinot Noirs, try the Pinot Gris and Blanc de Blancs, a favorite of founding winemaker Milla Handley.
1pm – The trick to a successful wine tasting day is eating often. Boonville General Store is a simple, classic establishment with everything you need from a deli complete with picnic tables to put your feet up for a moment. Another option is nearby Boont Berry Farm: a funky local’s market featuring mouth-watering vegetarian take-out and local produce. If you’re looking for a little detour, stop at a farm stand on the side of the road for fresh cider, pie, & pears.
2pm – At Toulouse Cellars, you come for the wine but stay for the views. Grab a table on the back deck – or just stand at the countertop overlooking the valley – and opt for their tasting menu. They’re known for their Pinot, and rightfully so – we couldn’t help but take a bottle back with us.
3:30pm – Pennyroyal Farm is a bit of a fairytale; you’re about to devour one of the better cheese plates of your life. Part winery, part creamery, part farmstead, Pennyroyal is more than just your average winery. They require a minimum purchase of a bottle of wine per group, so we recommend picking your favorite and slowly sipping while eating every last crumb of one of their charcuterie plates and watching the free range sheep run through the vineyards.
5pm – Three wineries in, it may be time to head back to the coast. If you’re in for a last call before dinner, pull off at Disco Ranch, which we think is the very best name for an establishment that we’ve ever heard. Wine bar by day, dive bar by night, this place manages to pull off serving some of the best premium, local wine flights on a rustic, low-brow patio. Grab some artisan cheese or handmade chocolate to bring back as a souvenir.
7pm – Head into Mendocino village and park near Cafe Beaujolais. Before 5pm they fire up yummy pizzas in a wood fire oven, but you can’t go wrong with the rest of their menu, either. Order one of their warming dishes at the window and enjoy it in their backyard garden. Great food, affordable pricing, and a casual but charming setting.
8:30pm – We’re dessert people, and Frankie’s Ice Cream is the place to go up North. The vibe is cute, coastal ice cream shops meets country diner, and they’re generous with their flavor tastings. Grab a scoop and walk around the adorable village before heading back to your home away from home to rest after a long day of well earned indulgence.
9am – If I had it my way, every Sunday would start in Mendocino village. It has an almost European aesthetic, creative air, and know-your-neighbor feel. Wander the streets and see what catches your eye, before eventually making your way to Good Life Cafe. There’re not many other breakfast spots open right now, so our suggestion is to call in your order ahead then take your grub to nearby Portuguese Beach. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the restaurant, and you can enjoy your breakfast on a cliff overlooking crashing waves.
11am – The rugged coves and wild Pacific are tempting enough to explore no matter the season. Rent a canoe and paddle around the bay for a very Notebook-esque experience. Bring blankets, a picnic, and maybe even a can of local wine to complete the picture.
1pm – Not many art galleries are open for the time being, so if you’ve gotten your fill of the town it’s not a bad idea to head back to the city before late weekend traffic arrives. However, if you’re up for a bit more, we actually recommend venturing a bit north for a side trip. Drive up the 101 towards Fort Bragg and check out these coastal gems:
Classic Tents for $135 a night
This dreamy slice of NorCal can get pricey, especially in the tourist months of May to October. Mendocino Grove is one of the more affordable places to stay. It’s glamping at its finest, with tastefully furnished platform tents overlooking redwoods and the ocean. Make a fire, cozy up under a heated blanket, and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Doubles for $355 a night
This 10-room bed-and-breakfast was built in 1916 and shows off the beauty of the local lumber; it’s made with redwoods, and is everything you want in a charming b & b. Come for the coastal views, stay for the Michelin Star dinner.
Doubles for $335 a night
We can’t mention a getaway to Mendocino wine country without mentioning Brewery Gulch Inn. The esteemed inn has been on the hotel hot list of numerous travel companies multiple times. It sits atop a bluff, has a sleek but warm feel, and is well-worth every penny for a special occasion.