Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Visit the Best Beaches in Mendocino

Jul 11, 2012 12:00AM

Mendocino County’s wild, windswept beaches are among the most spectacular in the world. Each has its own characteristics, and many offer unique features, making any coastal visit ever-changing and fresh. The lengthy Mendocino coastline offers everything for families: eye-popping scenery, wildlife viewing, camping and endless stretches of sandy beach-perfect for “getting away from it all.”

Jughandle State Park

Jughandle State Park offers hikers an incredible glimpse into the earth’s geology, and one of the county’s safest beaches for young children. The 2½-mile Ecological Staircase hike culminates in an astonishing “pygmy forest”—full-grown trees, only several feet tall. A wooden walkway winds through the miniature forest, where the soil’s high mineral content turns standing water the color of blood, and trees resemble a bonsai stage-set.

Jughandle offers a small, sheltered and safe beach with the added shallows of Jughandle Creek meandering to the sea. Don’t miss the wind-sculpted krummholtz trees, which create sheltered environments for wildlife and magical chambers for children who love their fairy-like atmosphere.

McKerricher State Park

Campers, beach walkers and wildlife enthusiasts appreciate the varied activities at McKerricher State Park. The scenic wooden walkway offers families an opportunity to walk far beyond shoreline and view the huge, cresting waves from behind—an unusual vantage point! Nearby, the Lagoon is home to many species of migratory birds, and the park offers the largest collection of campsites along the coast.

McKerricher is home to a portion of Ten Mile Beach, and hearty walkers can just keep going along the shoreline. But the pounding surf is best left for the seasoned surfers or the numerous seals that populate the region.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park

Everyone who has driven the scenic route to the coast via Highway 128 has viewed the idyllic Navarro River as it winds into Pacific. Families will enjoy viewing the colony of sea lions that often rest on the north side of the river as it meets the ocean.

Though the waves are too strong for swimming, the enclosed beach area and predominance of driftwood and access to the gentler shoreline of the river make this a scenic and often warmer beach, within easy access of Anderson Valley and nearby redwood groves. Limited camping is also available along the access road.

Gualala Point Regional Park

The idyllic, expansive beach at Gualala Regional Park is well worth the walk, which follows the Gualala River as it empties into the sea. The combination of woodland and meadow areas are home to many types of wildlife. Numerous driftwood structures have been created and maintained by visitors, which kids love for playing and families appreciate for their wind breaking capacity. Otters often lope along the banks of the river.

Check at the visitors’ center for information on the park and seasonal fishing regulations. Camping is also available, and the park is just minutes away from the delightful town of Gualala.

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Sweeping vistas, nearby toy stores and bookstores and Big River Beach make Mendocino Headlands a favorite for vacationing families. Walking along the lengthy Headlands, the blue-green water sloshes and churns, and intrepid kayakers traverse the currents into sea caves.

Though well worth the walk, parents should exercise caution, keeping a safe distance from cliff edges and bluffs. There is a safe and expansive beach along nearby Big River, where gentle waters offer play areas for the youngest members of the family, and the Ford House is a treasure trove of local history and culture.