Time stands still in idyllic Mendocino

  • By Steve Dulas / The Oakland Tribune
  • Saturday, October 14, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Unless you look closely, little seems to change in the scenic hamlet of Mendocino, Calif., 150 miles north of San Francisco. It’s idyllically trapped in time.

And it all seems familiar, too, whether you are heading to the Mendocino headlands for the first time or strolling through the galleries, craft shops and gourmet dining establishments on Main Street for the umpteenth time.

It may very well be familiar: The two-lane road from the shops to the headlands is the same lonesome lane that Hermie walked to reach Dorothy’s beach cottage in “Summer of ‘42.” And Alan Arkin’s crew of submariners helped townspeople scale a church tower here to rescue a stranded boy in “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.”

The scenery in this area – which ranges from bucolic to breathtaking – the quiet surroundings and the abundance of lodging (from campsites to cozy bed-and-breakfast inns), combined with the charm of the little village and its proximity to the Bay Area, have kept it a favored destination for tourists.

What’s not to like about strolling, shopping and eating among such natural beauty? What’s not to like about a visit to a casual, no-pressure place like this, where you can simply relax and don’t feel like you have to examine historical monuments, visit museums and such (all fine endeavors but not for all vacations), a place where perhaps the most exertion you muster is on a nature hike?

Mendocino began to flourish and evolve as a tourist destination in the late 1970s as artisans settled in the area and opened galleries and shops. Later, foodies opened acclaimed restaurants, most notably Cafe Beaujolais, and attracted more visitors.

Lately, however, tourism has slowed down and local commerce is suffering a bit.

“We need more people coming up here,” said Pamela Moorage, co-owner of one of Mendocino’s older business, the Deja-Vu hat shop. Moorage and her husband, Robby Robinson, have seen a number of businesses open, close or just change hands since they began selling hats here in 1980.

“Some people come in and start a new business and sometimes they just change hands,” she said. “We’ve had a downturn since 2001. The economy up here really needs a good boost.”

Still, you can you buy beads or incense at a store with a hippie-era ambiance named Rubiyat; check out the Color and Light Stained Glass shop; look at quilts, jewelry and linens and breathe in the fragrance of exotic soaps at a boutique called Sally Mac, where friendly photos of the owner’s family decorate shelves; or snap photos of an array of wildflowers that seem endless.

Then you can step into Moody’s Internet Cafe and get an espresso or an Italian soda while you e-mail your photos to your vacation-starved friends.

Moody’s is one of the local businesses currently up for sale. It probably isn’t a good spot for a florist. Thanks to the cool oceanside climate, downtown Mendocino is an explosion of color, from the stark white of beds of daisies to brilliant shades of orange, red, purple, yellow and blue flora nearly everywhere you turn.

“We have flowers pretty much from April through November,” said one shop owner.

If the flowers downtown are a color explosion, resident Alan Sussex’s yard, between Main and Albino streets, is a volcanic eruption of technicolor.

You can’t help notice, just walking by, the colorful forest of flowers and countless flea-market decor knickknacks including a totem pole and a few cats in the big lot in front of Sussex’s house, originally a gas station. Access to the yard is limited to Sussex, his invited guests and any cat who happens to stroll in (Sussex makes a weekly trip to Santa Rosa for $75 worth of cat food to keep the strays well-fed, he said).

Even though the shops in the village are mostly confined to Main Street, which fronts the bay, and Albino Street behind it, it can take you the better part of a day to poke around the myriad offerings.

Showcasing painting, photography, jewelry and glasswork, 18 galleries are in Mendocino. Jewelry stores, such as Celtic Creations and Old Gold, feature work by local artisans.

Cuisine has remained another art form. Although official statistics probably don’t exist, Mendocino may have more upscale dining per square foot than in some cities.

If you go …

Getting there: From the Bay Area, travel north on U.S. 101 to Cloverdale, then go west for 55 miles on Highway 128, a winding, two-lane road through foothills, farmland and redwood forest, before reaching Highway 1 about seven miles south of Mendocino. From the north, exit I-5 at Williams and travel west about 140 miles on Highway 20, reaching Highway 1 about five miles north of Mendocino. Driving south along the Northern California coast, take U.S. 101 from Eureka to Leggett, then Highway 1 about 50 miles to Mendocino.

For more information: mendosearch.com or www.mendocinocoast.com

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

Most Read