Mendocino in Mendocino County is a small but pretty California coastal town, popular with artists and with travelers. It has featured in many songs and movies, and the TV series Murder She Wrote.

It's also popular with songwriters. It inspired the title track of the 1969 Sir Douglas Quintet album, Mendocino, and the Kate and Anna McGarrigle song, Talk to Me of Mendocino, which was later beautifully covered by Linda Ronstadt. Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack also wrote Mendocino County Line.

The town also gets a name-check in the Gordon Lightfoot song Cabaret, and in The Trip to Pirate's Cove by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It's referenced in several other songs too, so you could even put together a Mendocino playlist if you were planning to visit on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

If you do visit, you'll see why the town has inspired artists and songwriters over the years, in a way that's remarkable for a place where only about 1,000 people live.

Murder, She Wrote

The town has also appeared in many movies, such as Forever Young, Karate Kid III, The Russians Are Coming, and Summer of '42. It was most notable, however, as the setting for several episodes of the TV series Murder, She Wrote, even though the real setting was supposed to be on the east coast. It also appeared in many other episodes of the show, which were filmed in the area.

Getting to Mendocino

Mendocino is about 150 miles north of San Francisco. If you drive the inland route on Highway 101, it ought to take you about 3 hours in light traffic, but you should allow 4-5 hours as the traffic is seldom light.

A far prettier option is to go west after the Golden Gate Bridge and take Highway 1 along the coast. This only adds about twenty miles to the journey but it will take you longer as you will want to keep stopping as you pass by the Point Reyes National Seashore and through tempting towns like Bodega Bay. This would be our choice but it will then take you all day to get there.

The Stanford Inn

Where to Stay in Mendocino

We stayed at the wonderful Stanford Inn, just the other side of the river from Mendocino, but if you want to be in the heart of the town, search here. There are some lovely old houses that have been converted into boutique B&Bs and chic hotels, such as MacCallum House.

You can expect to pay a little more for your accommodation here as the place is very popular with people from San Francisco, and accommodation is limited. Book early.

What to Do in Mendocino

There are few attractions as such in Mendocino, the main attraction is simply being there. It's a place to wander round and check out all the cute shops and art galleries, and the quirky houses. You can walk along the clifftops and take in the impressive views and breathe in that refreshing clean sea air.  The headlands are also popular for whale-watching as they give such excellent views over broad patches of ocean. The cliff paths take you through Mendocino Headlands State Park. 

Ford House

The park headquarters are at Ford House, a historic house on Mendocino's Main Street that was built in 1854. It's also a local museum, one of the most interesting exhibits being a model of the town in 1890. The town was founded in 1850 as a logging port, and prior to that there was a settlement of the indigenous Pomo people nearby.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

About 4 miles north of town on Highway 1 is the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, in the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park. The lighthouse opened in 1909, as there had been a number of shipwrecks off this coast.

It's open daily from 11am-4pm, and the grounds around are open from sunrise to sunset. You can even spend the night there and help support the lighthouse by renting the Head Lightkeeper's House, the Second Assistant Lightkeeper's House, or one of the two cottages in the grounds. See here for more details.

Naming Mendocino

One interesting thing historically is that the town was originally named after Henry Meiggs, who ran the lumber company. Somehow it's hard to see that name inspiring songs like Talk to Me of Meiggsville. It was later changed to the more melodious Mendocino after Cape Mendocino. This in turn gets its name from Antonio de Mendoza, a Spanish politician.

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