California Coast: Mendocino Access Tips

Mendocino is a small town on the coast of Northern California where the jagged shoreline meets the lush forests filled with redwood, sequoias, and ferns. There has been a lot of effort to keep this cost under developed to maintain its pristine beauty. Coming to Mendocino or other such small towns, like Bodega Bay, means embracing the simple, low-key life-style. Come here for a day or two to relax with a book, take long walk outside and enjoy a leisurely meal. 

Around spring break in April a friend and I decided to flee the San Francisco Bay Area and headed to Mendocino. I was hoping for warm, at least sunny, weather but the drizzly overcast ended up creating an enchanted backdrop to a cozy get-a-way weekend.  Since both of us are health conscious I picked a hotel that raved about its organic gardens and sustainable ways. It also happened to be completely vegan, a detailed I had overlooked. We pulled off Pacific Coast Highway 1 to the driveway of the Stanford Inn, one of many properties hosting bed and breakfast. After checking in we took off to an accessible walking path right along the ocean a few miles north on highway 1 in Fort Bragg.

At MacKerricher State Park there is a wheelchair accessible trail that takes you through the trees, over a meadow and right up to the California coastline. The trail itself is a raised wooden platform wide enough for a manual or power wheelchair. There are almost no gaps in between the wood planks; my roller blade wheel size castors never got stuck. A few lookout points are along the way where you can possibly see sea lions and the tide pools below.

The Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historical Park is something else that tourists explore and is wheelchair friendly. Follow the signs to handicapped parking because it will take you real close to the lighthouse whereas others have to hike down the road. A paved walkway takes a wheelchair user right up to it as well as to view of the ocean. There is a paved ramp that takes you inside; unfortunately it’s blocked by merchandise so one needs to use the main entrance that has a bit of a lip to go over. Inside are display cases of information and photos about the history of the lighthouse, those who worked to keep it running and their families. You can buy a small souvenir to support the preservation of the lighthouse or simply make a donation in the donation box.          

Another way to enjoy the outdoors in Mendocino is visiting the Mendocino Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg. There is a main north and south trail that remains paved but you can also expect to find side trails composed of dirt that my manual chair was able to explore on. ­Some trails, however, are too steep and narrow and are marked with signs that say so. It doesn’t matter if you start on the north or south trail because each direction will have some kind of hill. If you rather not push a manual chair up and down the many hills then rent one of the five electric scooters from the garden, which is available for guests with special needs on a first-come, first-served basis. A pleasant surprise was a paved trail to the ocean’s shoreline. There is also one with small rocks, so take the easier route.

The gardens themselves are beautiful and thrive in the moist ocean climate. The Rhododendron is the signature plant of the garden with a number of different species but there are all kinds of plants, flowers and trees to see. To access the Heritage Rose Garden enter through the Display House. Watch for birds and other native wildlife. Also, somewhere deep in the garden is a fairy village but who knows how long it will last; it may very well move around.  Each season brings its own surprises too.

There are a couple of restrooms along the way that are wheelchair accessible as well as one in the main building, in which the entrance is in the parking lot. At the nursery you can find many of the plants that you’ll see in the garden. The ground is made of thick small rocks which was very difficult for my manual chair to navigate through and avoided it entirely.

Also in Fort Bragg are the Pomo Bluffs along the ocean where you can enjoy an accessible trail. 

There is not much to the quaint and small town of Mendocino. The general setup in Downtown Mendocino is not too friendly to wheelchairs because many of the buildings are old and run down. Some store fronts cannot be accessed but there’s really no need to spend much time down here. To take a stroll in the town requires fighting a few inclines, so it’s best to choose something you can to see and park close. The town has a few glass and painting galleries, cafes and a spa or two; again, some not being accessible. Some stores may close early too, like on a Saturday afternoon during spring break. Around 2pm my friend and I were looking to get something to eat and settled on the Mouse Café because of positive reviews it got. We found an accessible parking spot right outside but were turned away and were forced to eat at the crowed and short staffed Mendocino Café because it was the only place open. The food was pretty tasty and certainly organic but the experience took a nose dive.

On the way to Mendocino there are a few wineries along the way, including Husch Winery which is not distributed in the bay area and is a good place to stop. In Mendocino County alone, there are over 40 wineries so if you are a wine drinker then you can make tasting into a day activity. Another popular thing to do in this area is to visit a spa. Every spa treatment no matter where you go starts at around $100 and can be anything from massage to facials to scrubs and wraps. Most spas are located in the hotels and b&bs with varying wheelchair access, so call and be sure to tell them about the wheelchair.

RELATED READS: Van Damme State ParkThe Coast of Northern CA
PLACES TO STAY: Stanford InnThe Little River Inn

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