The town of Mendocino sits on a scenic headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is nestled in northern California between the border between the state and Oregon. Its spectacular beauty and fascinating attractions make it a popular family getaway destination. Many Mendocino vacation rentals offer easy access to an abundance of outdoor activities, which include swimming, surfing, horseback riding, and hiking. Points of interest include an African wildlife preserve, botanical gardens, historic lighthouses, and the majestic redwood forests. Learn more about the top 12 things to do with children in and around Mendocino.

1. Go Swimming

The CV Starr Aquatics Center in the nearby town of Fort Bragg has two large heated indoor swimming pools. The lap pool, with eight lap lanes and a diving board, is for exercise, while the leisure pool, which has a twisting 146-foot waterslide and a lazy river, is for family fun. If you want to swim in the midst of meadows and towering redwoods, head for Hendy Woods State Park, which features a family-friendly swimming hole on the Navarro River as well as picnic tables, barbecues, and shelters.

2. Comb the Beaches

Your Mendocino vacation rental provides convenient access to several pristine Pacific Coast beaches that are perfect for combing for attractive stones, shells, driftwood, and other treasures. Van Damme State Beach on Little River is surrounded by fern forests and redwoods. A few miles to the north, family-friendly Caspar Headlands State Reserve and State Beach offers a wide stretch of soft sand. Don’t miss Fort Bragg’s famous glass beach, with its coves full of wave-polished sea glass.

3. Learn to Surf

Mendocino County has some fine surfing spots, including Caspar State Beach, Point Arena Beach, and Virgin Beach. North Coast Surf School at Caspar offers lessons to help you get started. The lessons include your wetsuit and surfboard rental and instructions on water safety. Surfing is a great workout that puts you in close touch with nature and the sea.

4. Ride Horseback

Ross Ranch in the village of Elk and Ricochet Ridge Ranch in Fort Bragg offer you unforgettable horseback riding experiences on Mendocino County beaches and through towering redwood groves. As you ride, you’ll observe sea lions, seals, shorebirds, and other wildlife. The outfitters select horses to match your level of experience. Horseback riding tours range from an hour to several days, and you can follow a designated route or create a custom plan.

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5. Visit the Lighthouses

The Point Cabrillo Light Station is an active-duty lighthouse just a few miles north of the town of Mendocino. Walk a half mile from the parking lot to the lighthouse buildings, which include the lighthouse itself, a museum in a former keeper’s house, and a marine science exhibit in a restored blacksmith and carpenter’s building. The Point Arena Light is also active. It lies on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. You can tour the tower and an adjoining museum. The peninsula is also renowned as a great location for whale watching.

6. Hike the Trails

Mendocino vacation rentals are within close proximity to several outstanding hiking trails. Van Damme State Park has paths ranging from easy to challenging through the Pygmy Forest of bonsai trees, Fern Canyon Trail, and the Old Logging Road Trail. Just 2 miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park offers 15 miles of trails over coastal headlands and through beautiful redwood forests. Sights you don’t want to miss include waves surging through the Devil’s Punchbowl and a gorgeous 36-foot waterfall in a redwood grove.

7. Go Biking

Riding bicycles is a great way to explore the town of Mendocino and the Mendocino coast. Bring your own bike, or rent road bikes or mountain bikes from a local outfitter. Mendocino Headlands State Park offers some pleasant cycling paths, and Mendocino Woodlands State Park has an enjoyable single-track path through Manly Gulch. To enjoy an open 50,000-acre range of mountain biking trails, check out Jackson State Demonstration Forest.

8. Tour the Wildlife Preserve

B. Bryan Preserve is a private facility that houses endangered African animals, including greater kudus, zebras, giraffes, roan antelopes, and sable antelopes. The preserve is not in traditional zoo, as animals roam free in spacious, open ranges. Enjoy a short lecture to educate you about the animals, and then a ride in an open land rover. Along the way, you can take close-up pictures. You have an opportunity to feed a giraffe at the end of the ride.

9. Marvel at the Botanical Gardens

The breathtakingly beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens lies just south of Fort Bragg on the Coast Highway. Its 47 acres include coastal bluffs, a pine forest, wetlands, and canyons. Highlights of the gardens are collections of roses, dahlias, magnolias, camellias, and rhododendrons. There’s also a collection of mushrooms, a Mediterranean garden, and a vegetable garden. Among the birds that frequent the gardens are hummingbirds, chickadees, warblers, cormorants, and ospreys.

10. Be Mystified at Confusion Hill

Your kids will be amazed at the gravity house at Confusion Hill in the nearby town of Piercy. The tilted structure creates an optical illusion that makes you appear to be able to lean at impossible angles. The attraction also has a mini train ride that takes you on a loop through a forest of oak, fir, and redwood trees. The site includes a playground for children and a sculpture listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the world’s tallest freestanding redwood chainsaw carving.

11. Drive Through a Tree

The world-famous Chandelier Tree is a 6-foot-wide redwood with a tunnel cut into its base so that cars can drive through. The enormous tree is about 315 feet tall and has massive branches that resemble the arms of a candelabrum. Visitors come mainly to take pictures of their vehicles passing through the tree, which sits in a pleasant park with meadows, ponds, and picnic tables.

12. Ride the Skunk Train

The California Western Railroad, also known as the Skunk Train, follows a 40-mile route from Fort Bragg inland to Willits. Along the way, it follows a pristine coastline, passes lovely vineyards, and goes through magnificent redwood forests. You can often spot wildlife during your ride, such as deer, egrets, blue heron, ducks, and ospreys.

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