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Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

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Tulsa
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Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

I have been doing a lot of research on the best routes from San Francisco to Mendocino and I am not sure which option is best. We have a full day (potentially) to drive. I would like to definitely see some scenic spots and get out some, but not necessarily do any large hikes, etc. I also won't have an all terrain vehicle, but would still be ok with a some windy, narrow roads if they allowed for some good scenic views. Any suggestions?

Santa Cruz...
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1. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

You essentially have two choices, the coast highway or Highway 101 to Highway 128.

For some wonderful scenery you might consider Highway 1. You can start just over the Golden Gate Bridge, which will take you past Stinson Beach and Point Reyes National Seashore (which is a day by itself). The the road skirts Tomales Bay (stop for oysters) and goes inland until Bodega Bay.

My preference is to take Highway 101 to Petaluma, take the East Washington St. exit and drive through town, which puts you on the Bodega Highway, going through pastoral scenery, and ends up on the coast at Bodega Bay. This is a small fishing village famous for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", which was partially filmed here.

Drive out on Bodega Head for some wonderful ocean views.

The next 10 miles are easy driving passing several state beaches. The last one of these is Goat Rock State Beach. If you follow the signs and go down there you will have a view of the Russian River entering the Pacific. This can be quite dramatic, depending on the tides and wind. The village of Jenner is high on the cliff. You will be there next.

Cross the Russian River, turn left and go to Jenner. If you are in the mood for a coffee, or lunch if it is lunch time, there is a restaurant, Rivers End, which has great views.

Speaking of lunch time, you will not be passing any restaurants until Timber Cove, mentioned below, so you might want to have some snacks with you if you don't eat in Jenner.

Now you will be driving through some outstanding scenery, up on the cliffs with the ocean below. You will want to stop at turnoffs.

About 8 miles of this is quite winding, but the road is very good and well engineered. You will not need anything but your standard passenger car.

Then you will come to Fort Ross State Historic Park, which was a Russian trading post and outpost in the early 1800's. Stop and tour the buildings and pay special attention to the lovely wooden Russian Orthodox chapel.

http://rrparks.mcn.org/fortross/

Just north of this is the Timber Cove Inn, which has some great architecture with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace and views from the dining room, as well as a very tall sculpture on a rock outcropping at the south end of the Inn, which was done by a famous SF sculpture, Benianamo Bufano, as a tribute to St. Francis. It is dedicated to peace. Ironically, it lay in a meadow for several years during the Vietnam War because it needed a large helicopter to raise it in place. Stop and wander into the lobby and admire the work of a 1960's eccentric architect.

http://www.timbercoveinn.com/

The drive from here to Mendocino is lovely, but tame.

You will pass Sea Ranch, which is a 1960's development of Castle and Cooke with individual houses, specifically placed to allow common space. It is huge, and encompasses both the ocean side of highway 1 and the hillsides on the east side. The architecture is interesting, and strictly controlled. You will notice that the houses are usually unpainted, or stained in such a way that they look rustic. The idea is that they should "blend into the land".

(I like it, but it reminds me of the Petaluma area when they raised chickens there and I call it "chicken shack architecture".)

Just across the Gualala river from there is the town of Gualala. This is quite an art colony and I would stop and visit the arts center and also some of the galleries in town.

http://gualalaarts.org/

If you are a bookstore fan, there is a great independent bookstore here, run by two brothers who read all of their books and can recommend whatever you want, or find an obscure book. Called the "Four-Eyed-Frog". They also have readings by authors.

http://www.foureyedfrog.com/index.htm

The next stop is Mendocino.

This is my favorite way to get to Mendocino when we have time.

Otherwise, you would take Highway 101 to Healdsburg, which is a charming town with a central square and wine tasting rooms. And from there continue up Hwy 101 to Hwy 128 at Cloverdale. This is a scenic route (think vineyards and some wineries) which will take you to the coast just south of Mendocino.

This will take less time than the coast route I outlined, of course.

Colorado
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2. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

Highway 1 will be the most scenic but longest.

When we go (almost every year), we do Highway 101 to Highway 128. For us it allows a nice, more direct drive, and the opportunity to hit wineries along the way. Also good places to eat, and some other interesting stops along the way (Philo, Redwoods in Anderson Valley, etc).

If you've never done highway 1, do it either on the way there if you have the time - it is worth doing at least once. You can then decide which way you want to come back to San Fran.

Santa Cruz...
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3. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

I agree, do it one way up and the other way back, whichever works for you. That would give you the best of all possible worlds.

Fort Bragg...
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4. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

Don't forget you can also take 101 all the way north to Willits and take 20 across to Fort Bragg. Hopland and Ukiah are great towns to explore with many wineries between them.

Any way you go will be enjoyable - just take your time and soak it all in.

Washington, DC
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5. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

My husband and I are doing this trip this week. This route sounds fantastic. About how long does it take, with minimal stopping? Thanks!

Mendocino...
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6. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

101 to 128 to Mendocino takes between 3-3.5 hours from the Bay area. Highway 1 takes about 5 hours. I personally love Highway 128. You get rolling vineyards (20+!), 10 miles of redwoods and you pop out at the ocean. It just doesn't get any better than that:) You can grab a burger at Picks in Cloverdale, or lunch at one of several great restaurants in Boonville or Philo.

Loxahatchee, Florida
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7. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

I have a question - how much beautiful scenery will we miss if we go North on 101 and take the Bodega Highway from Petaluma instead of taking Rte 1 north right from San Francisco? Some of the travel books say this is a beautiful part of the drive. Is it worth the extra time for this section? (We only have half a day for this trip from San Fran to Mendocino).

Laura W.

Santa Cruz...
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8. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

Compared to what you will see north of Jenner, this is not that spectacular. There is some cliffy drive at first, but the road goes inland on the east side of Point Reyes, skirts Tomales Bay and then inland again, so you don't get much coast here. Some nice pastoral scenery.

You would be fine to take East Washington St in Petaluma and then the Bodega Highway over to Bodega Bay.

Loxahatchee, Florida
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9. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

Thank you so much for the quick response! This sets my mind at ease that I won't have a full five hour drive from San Fran, especially if my plane comes in late. It would also give me an extra hour for something else. One of the books said that Agate Beach was very beautiful.

Thanks,

Laura W.

New York
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10. Re: Best route from San Francisco to Mendocino

great thread