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The Ultimate Guide to Mendocino Headlands State Park

The Ultimate Guide to Mendocino Headlands State Park

Check out the unparalleled beauty of Mendocino Headlands State Park in a variety of ways, from hiking to bird watching. Team


4 min read

June 20, 2023

Positioned along California's breathtakingly rugged northern coast lies Mendocino Headlands State Park. This standout California state park is situated in the quaint town of Mendocino, just a three-hour drive north of San Francisco. Spread over an impressive 347 acres; the park encompasses an expansive, windswept coastline adorned with dramatic sea arches, hidden grottos, and towering bluffs that offer sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

The history of Mendocino Headlands State Park is intricately tied to the vibrant community of Mendocino. Before becoming a state park in 1974, the land was occupied by the Pomo, Cahto, and Yiki peoples, whose rich heritage is still evident in the surrounding area. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the region thrived due to its logging and fishing industries, evident in the well-preserved Victorian architecture of Mendocino town. The area's serene beauty has long captivated artists and nature lovers, creating a vibrant artist community that contributes to the area's charm.

When to Visit


Spring brings a refreshing burst of life to Mendocino Headlands State Park. The trails are covered with an array of colorful wildflowers, providing stunning scenery for hiking and photography. Migratory grey whales can often be spotted off the coast, making it a popular time for whale watching. The weather can be somewhat unpredictable, so visitors should pack layers to accommodate cooler temperatures and the occasional rainy day.

When exploring Mendocino Headlands State Park during warmer months, use that as an opportunity to check out the great landscape features.


The park truly shines in the summer months. While inland California swelters under the summer heat, Mendocino Headlands State Park boasts a moderate, maritime climate with temperatures rarely exceeding the 70s. It's an ideal time for picnicking, beachcombing, and exploring tide pools teeming with marine life. Due to its popularity, summer can be a bit crowded, so it's recommended to plan ahead and arrive early.


Autumn is a quieter yet equally beautiful time to visit the park. The fall foliage adds a vibrant backdrop to the rugged coastline. As tourist traffic subsides, it's a perfect time for those seeking a more solitary and peaceful experience. Birdwatchers would find autumn especially rewarding as a variety of migratory birds pass through the park.

Catch migratory birds at the right time of year for a fantastic day of birdwatching and hiking.


Winter brings a different kind of beauty to the Mendocino Headlands. The park is quieter and the coastline often shrouded in mist, creating an ethereal atmosphere. Powerful Pacific storms offer a chance to witness the dramatic surf, making for an unforgettable spectacle. Dress warmly, pack your rain gear, and enjoy the solitude and dramatic beauty of the winter sea.

Getting There and Fees

Getting to Mendocino Headlands State Park is a scenic adventure in itself. From San Francisco, take the US-101 N highway, then take exit 522 for CA-20 W towards Fort Bragg. A couple of hours on this winding, picturesque road and you'll find yourself in the charming town of Mendocino.

Once in the town, the state park can be accessed from multiple points. Main Street leads directly to the park's headlands section, while the west end of Heeser Drive will take you to the park's Big River Beach section. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, and entry is free of charge.

Parking within Mendocino village is limited, especially during the summer months, so visitors are advised to arrive early. The park does not offer camping facilities, but accommodations ranging from cozy B&Bs to more luxurious hotels are plentiful in Mendocino town. The park is a day-use area, meaning there are no camping or overnight fees. However, donations are always welcomed at the park's visitor centers. These contributions go directly towards maintaining and preserving this beautiful coastal jewel for generations to come.

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Top 5 Things to Do at Mendocino Headlands State Park

1. Hiking the Coastal Trails

Mendocino Headlands State Park boasts an extensive network of trails that meander along the stunning cliff edges, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Hikers can traverse the trails at their own pace, soaking up the breathtaking coastal vistas and the incredible biodiversity. The Blow Hole Trail is particularly recommended, leading you to a dramatic sea cave that spurts ocean spray during high tide.

Feel free to enjoy a scenic hike when visiting Mendocino Headlands State Park.

2. Exploring the Tide Pools

At low tide, the rocky coastline of the park reveals a fascinating world of tide pools, teeming with marine life. Bring a pair of sturdy shoes and explore these miniature ecosystems, where you can spot starfish, sea anemones, crabs, and various species of colorful seaweed. Remember to tread lightly and not disturb the delicate creatures that call these tide pools home.

3. Bird Watching and Wildlife Viewing

As a significant stopover point on the Pacific Flyway, the park offers excellent bird-watching opportunities, especially during the migration seasons. Bring your binoculars to spot a variety of bird species, from coastal birds like gulls and cormorants to majestic raptors like hawks and ospreys. The park's coastal waters are also a prime location for whale watching, with gray whales commonly sighted during their spring and fall migrations.

4. Picnicking on the Bluffs

The expansive grassy bluffs overlooking the ocean provide the perfect setting for a scenic picnic. Enjoy a meal with friends or family while relishing the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, the distant cries of seabirds, and the scent of wildflowers in the breeze. The park doesn't have picnic tables, so bring a blanket to create your own comfortable seaside haven.

Portuguese Beach is one of the many excellent locations to check out when visiting Mendocino Headlands State Park.

5. Photography

With its dramatic cliffs, rugged seascapes, and vibrant wildflowers, Mendocino Headlands State Park is a photographer's dream. Capture the park's beauty through your lens, whether it's the silhouette of a sea arch at sunset, the crashing waves against the rocky shore, or the serene beauty of a coastal trail lined with blooming flowers. The park offers ample opportunities to document your adventures and create lasting memories of your visit.

With a wealth of natural beauty, fascinating wildlife, and invigorating outdoor activities, Mendocino Headlands State Park offers something for every visitor. Whether it's the thrill of hiking along the dramatic cliff edges, the joy of discovering vibrant sea creatures in the tide pools, the serenity of a seaside picnic, or the opportunity to capture the park's stunning vistas through your camera lens, the possibilities are endless. Take your time, explore the park, and create unforgettable memories amidst the wild beauty of the Mendocino coastline.

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