Mendocino: Honeymoon and Wedding by Car

Honeymoon, Wedding, Mendocino
Mendocino Headlands Park surrounds the village and provides spectacular views. All photos by James Riswick

Constantly rising airfares are making it difficult for couples to reach the honeymoon or wedding destinations of their dreams. And even if you do fly there, you might not have much money left for quality accommodations. Luckily, there are plenty of dream-worthy destinations right here in North America reachable by car.

Towering redwood trees with trunks as wide as trucks. Pristine coastline with dunes, beaches and cliffs unmarred by man. Picturesque wineries with gardens to enjoy a glass or a romantic picnic.

mendocino-california-mapAll of these can be enjoyed during the drive into Mendocino, Calif., alone. Upon arrival, you’ll find a sleepy small town perched on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean; its colorful Victorian-era buildings seemingly untouched by the progress seen in oh-so-many other California coastal communities. The real attraction, however, is the majestic coastal scenery. Whether taking it in by car, wrapped in a blanket on your B&B’s porch or during a hike in the Mendocino Headlands Park that surrounds the town, you can enjoy the beauty of California’s north coast from virtually anywhere in Mendocino.

Couples can also enjoy the many opportunities for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing. Why not earn that glass of Pinot Noir enjoyed while cuddling next to your B&B’s in-room fireplace?

And we’re not alone thinking of this spot located three hours north of San Francisco as a great place for couples: be it on their honeymoon, wedding or simply a romantic vacation. Multiple couples were enjoying their honeymoon at our hotel, the Brewery Gulch Inn, even during a relatively slow time in early April. On the drive in, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company was teeming with young couples making a pit stop on their way north to Mendocino.

Yet, even if you find Mendocino a little too relaxed to spend your entire honeymoon, it’s without question a great place to stop for a spell should you be heading further north up California’s redwood-dotted “Lost Coast” or as a little something extra following a few days in Sonoma or Napa wine countries (about 2 to 3 hours away, respectively).

Plus, it’s definitely worth consideration for those looking for a picturesque destination wedding.

Distance from:
Santa Rosa, Calif. (Sonoma): 2 hours
San Francisco: 3 hours
San Jose: 3.5 hours
Sacramento: 3.5 hours
Los Angeles: 8 hours
Portland, Ore.: 9 hours 45 minutes

northern california mendocino honeymoon hotel
Sunset over Smuggler’s Cove in Mendocino
mendocino honeymoon
Not only does the Brewery Gulch Inn in Mendocino provide a great view, but a complimentary wine and beer tasting every day.
Honeymoon, Wedding, Mendocino
The Victorian homes of Mendocino viewed from the Headlands State Park
Honeymoon, Wedding, Mendocino
Another great Mendocino view.

Detours and Day Trips:

Sonoma and Napa Wine Country
The various towns and valleys of Sonoma wine country are home to countless wineries, from small mom-and-pop operations with humble tasting rooms, to big time, big name producers with vast complexes and inspired architecture. Besides stopping in for a tasting or bringing home a few bottles, wineries often provide unique lodging opportunities (be it guest houses or B&B’s) as well as event spaces for weddings. If you plan on taking in multiple wineries (or are looking for something to entertain your wedding guests), we urge you to rent a winery tour limo for the day. Not only does it prevent drinking and driving, but they often know the best places to go.

Nearby Napa has many of the same qualities, but is more of a detour from Mendocino.

Honeymoon, Wedding, Mendocino, Winery, Napa, Andretti
Andretti Winery is just one of the many wineries to visit in Napa Valley.

Highway 1
Known as the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California and Highway 1 in the North, California State Route 1 almost always grants its travelers spectacular scenery and Mendocino County’s stretch is certainly no exception. For something truly special, pick it up near Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge, driving along the coast to and through Mendocino, before heading north to its terminus at US 101 in the tiny town of Leggett. If you’re looking for a truly memorable honeymoon road trip, this is it.

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Make sure to pause along Highway 1 to admire the scenery.

Avenue of the Giants
This awe-inspiring 21.5-mile stretch of two-lane road meanders its way through multiple groves of redwood trees that grow along the Eel River. The enormous trunks of these millennium-old trees are often mere centimeters from the blacktop surface that twists and turns to avoid them. Whether you want to go for a hike or simply a leisurely drive, the Avenue of the Giants is an absolute must. Plus, the two-hour drive to get there from Mendocino is pretty special itself, requiring that aforementioned final leg of Highway 1 along the coast and a beautiful, circuitous mountain pass.

Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants

We love stopping at breweries. Not only do we enjoy tasting what the brew-masters have to offer, but unlike wineries, they usually come attached to restaurants. After Avenue of the Giants, drive an extra 15 minutes north to the small town of Fortuna to visit the Eel River Brewing Company. Besides offering a wide variety of organic brews, they offer a menu of excellent, well-prepared pub food in a friendly environment indicative of a German beer hall. Another 20 minutes north you’ll also find a similar vibe at the Lost Coast Brewery Restaurant in downtown Eureka (the Navajo Fry Bread Chicken sandwich is fantastic), while yet another 20 minutes will find you at Mad River Brewing Company in Blue Lake, Calif. This has a charming small town vibe where it seems like everyone knows each other’s name.

Closer to Mendocino, the North Coast Brewery and Tap Room provides a casual dinner spot 15 minutes north in Fort Bragg. There’s also the aforementioned Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which doesn’t serve food, but is nevertheless a fun place to stop.

Honeymoon, Wedding, Mendocino, Anderson Valley Brewing
The tasting room at Anderson Valley Brewing Company is popular with couples


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