Romantic Road trip to Mendocino from the Bay Area via Highway 101

Romantic Road Trip to Mendocino from the Bay Area via Highway 101, Marin Magazine

The North Coast’s windswept headlands, picturesque lighthouses and cozy inns create the ideal destination for couples, especially those who are also rather fond of food and wine. Exploring the rugged seashore and redwood forests by day creates a prime excuse for indulging in the region’s gourmet treats at night — and for cuddling after, perhaps by a glowing fireplace. It’s tempting to take the sinuous ribbon of coastal Highway 1 all the way from Marin, but the romance might suffer a little if one of the partners gets carsick or conversation lags. Instead, pick the slightly longer route via Hopland; you’ll reach Mendocino a half-hour earlier and find some mood-enhancing provisions along the drive. Plus, if the getaway goes really well, you can always extend it by taking the slow road back. 

Where to stop 

Healdsburg A half-mile west of the highway, pose for a pic amid the biodynamic garden’s flower blooms of DaVero Farms & Winery, where you can sample olive oil, jams and wines (but not too many).

Hopland After a light, locally sourced lunch at The Golden Pig, ensure good vibes later by picking up an aphrodisiac chocolate bar or other sweet treat infused with cannabis at Emerald Pharms, an elegant dispensary on a 12-acre “permaculture oasis.”,

Philo Whether you backtrack to Highway 128 from Hopland or take Highway 253 from Ukiah to Boonville, you’ll encounter hilly, tree-lined curves. Enjoy a brief respite and gorgeous Anderson Valley views with a stop at low-key Lula Cellars, known for limited-production pinot noirs.

Albion You’ve reached the Shoreline Highway (Highway 1); reward yourself with views of sea stacks and headlands on a loop walk around the 55-acre Navarro Point

Mendocino Founded in 1850, the former logging town credits its clapboard buildings to settlers from New England. Those who established the 347-acre Mendocino Headlands State Park, protecting wild headlands, two beaches and the banks of the paddle-worthy Big River, also deserve credit for the village’s enduring appeal. For romantic repasts, savor French cuisine in a Victorian farmhouse at Cafe Beaujolais or head south for intimate, ocean-view dining at the Albion River Inn in Albion or try the newly reopened Harbor House Inn in nearby Elk.

Fort Bragg Stop at photo-worthy Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park and the sprawling Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as you head north. If you and your squeeze find, as Amtrak once advertised, that there’s something about a train, take a ride through the redwoods on the Skunk Train. Admire the polished shards of Glass Beach before exploring miles of sandy beaches and rocky tidepools to the north in MacKerricher State Park. After dinner downtown, share a scoop of the signature candy cap mushroom ice cream at Cowlick’s Ice Cream Cafe.

Where to Stay


Mendocino Grove Sixty safari-style tents (some ocean-view) with luxurious communal bathrooms, a 20-minute walk from Mendocino. From $120.

Russian Gulch State Park Two miles north of Mendocino in a forest canyon are 26 standard campsites with restrooms, plus trails that lead to an ocean sinkhole or a 36-foot inland waterfall. From $45.


Little River Inn Sprawling full-service resort with 65 ocean-view rooms, some with fireplaces and hot tubs. From $175. 

Point Cabrillo Light Station No cell or Wi-Fi, just glorious views from two one-bedroom cottages (and two keepers’ houses) by the lighthouse. From $263.


The Inn at Newport Ranch The vast ocean bluffs of this 2,000-acre ranch north of Fort Bragg offer eight unique accommodations and an impressively perched hot tub; rates include ample breakfast. From $375.

Brewery Gulch Inn Sumptuous organic breakfast and dinner buffet encourage lolling in the inn’s 11 plush modern rooms with gas fireplaces. From $385.



Jeane Cooper

Travel and features writer Jeanne Cooper fell in love with Marin and the Bay Area as a graduate student at Stanford University. After 20 years as an editor and writer for the Washington Post, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, she began a freelance career that has taken her from the Austral Islands to Zimbabwe, with many visits to Hawaii in between. Her stories have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines, including Hemispheres, Sunset, San Francisco and Nob Hill Gazette, as well as Marin and Local Getaways. The author of several Frommer’s guidebooks, she now lives on the Big Island, where she’s active in animal rescue. She still enjoys exploring Northern California with her husband and friends.