I love spending time outdoors. I come from a family of nature lovers and have spent much of my childhood and teen years exploring Northern California with my family. The biggest perk to living in California again, after a 10 years absence, is all the wonderful outdoor activities so easily accessible. Of course with my love of nature comes a love of camping and when it came up that my friends out here wanted to go on a trip I was excited to plan it. Of course it being summer finding an open campsite on a weekend is quite hard but I managed to find a spot at Van Damme State park outside of Mendocino for the weekend following the 4th of July.
Since my friends live in Sacramento and I was housesitting in Marin County they picked me up early Saturday morning and we were on our way for our mini escape and camping adventure in Mendocino County.
On our way up to the Mendocino area I made sure we took a pit stop to one of my favorite wineries, Navarro Vineyards, I mean how better to start a camping weekend than a little break to stretch your legs and great wine? Not much if you ask me. Navarro Vineyards is located right off Hwy 128 in Philo in Anderson Valley (an under-explored wine producing region in my opinion) which is directly on your path to Mendocino if you are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.
The estate is a lovely sprawl of grape vines, picnic area, and a tasting room/ the winery office with plenty of parking. The tasting room is a good size and provides free tastings. Both times I have been to Navarro Vineyards the tasting room has been busy but not crowded which is a nice reprieve from a lot of the Napa and Sonoma wineries. The staff is wonderfully helpful and the selection of wines is small yet diverse which is great for someone who gets overwhelmed by too many wine options (ie me). You are lead through the tasting process starting with the light wines of course and can taste around 10. I enjoyed most of what I tried but decided to come home with the 2016 Pinot Grigio and the 2016 Edelzwicker. The tasting room also sells plenty of delicious cheeses and meats so that you can take advantage of the lovely property or you can bring your own picnic.
Navarro Vineyards was founded in 1973 and has won a plethora of awards over the years at various fairs including the California State Fair. Not only are the wines great but they are committed to using a variety of sustainable farming practices and no pesticides which is always a plus in my book. As they are primarily a direct to consumer winery you can order their wines online or obviously by stopping by the winery. I didn’t realize until going on their website to get the links that they offer daily tours of the vineyards which I am so going to check out next time I stop by!
5601 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466
When making your way up to the Mendocino area one of the ‘big’ attractions is still Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, just north of Mendocino proper. Basically a former dump that the ocean turned into beach glass that is now basically your standard pebbly beach just with a lot of people. For decades this beach was a spot to go to see it covered in multicolored beach glass but over those same decades hundreds of thousands of tourists have come and taken the beach glass away piece by piece (or bucket by bucket as some people do). To me this is kind of the most hilarious thing ever. People make a big mess of trash that becomes pretty which attracts tourists and then they by taking the glass away (like they are not really supposed to but whatever in this case) are slowly returning the beach to it’s natural state sans beach glass. Now if only plastic bags and Styrofoam were so appealing to clean up…
Anyway Glass Beach is still pretty even though it is quite crowded. The day we went had a particularly beautiful array of seaweeds that had washed ashore that I was much more fascinated with than the remnants of the beach glass. My dad has a degree in Marine Biology so I tend to geek out over marine stuff because him and this area is known for it’s wide variety of seaweeds (quite a bit is farmed from the region) so it was fun seeing them on the beach (seaweed salad anyone! haha).
Elm Street & Old Haul Road, Fort Bragg, CA, 95437
After stopping for lunch in Fort Bragg at the North Coast Brewery (good beers and food just expect to wait for a table on the weekends). We decided to head to the Mendocino Headlands before heading to the camp ground. This area is a California State Park that surrounds the town of Mendocino. There are plenty of spots to stop off and take some pictures and a short walk or a proper hike if you have time for it. I just love being along the Northern California coast in general, so it was great to find that the Mendocino Headlands are so easy to access when in the area!
The park surrounds the town of Mendocino, just off Highway One
CAMPING AT VAN DAMME STATE PARK
After a quick stop in Mendocino proper to buy some fish for our dinner (tacos!) we made it to our home for the night Van Damme State Park which is just south of Mendocino on Hwy 1. This was my second time to the park and as always it was easy to access and the rangers were very helpful. This particular time the park was out of firewood so while one of my friends and I built the tent the other two went on an adventure to find firewood following the directions of the park ranger.
Our spot was okay but I wish I had picked one that was a bit of a different layout as our fire pit was across the parking spot (we had a trailer spot but no trailer) from where our tent was to go. This was my fault in spot picking so lesson learned to research that slightly better next time!
A Few Quick Don’t Be Us Camping Reminders
While we had all our tent and sleeping gear there were a few ways in which our trip was lacking some important items. Lesson learned to make a check list and have everyone look over it!
- No Rubber Mallet to hammer the tent stakes in, I used a large rock… it worked
- No Hatchet to cut off smaller pieces of firewood to make tinder. The guy my friend’s bought wood from thankfully cut some smaller pieces for us to use (after telling them to use lighter fluid to start the fire… umm yeah no thanks)
- No Pans for cooking. We did have plenty of foil so I fashioned some sweet cooking apparatuses for cooking the fish and eggs for breakfast (see above!)
- No Camp Stove = No coffee. So my friends went to town to buy some.
Van Damme State park has miles and miles of hiking trails making it the perfect spot for a day hike. On this particular trip we opted to just to drive and walk around the Pigmy Forest but on my last visit my family and I completed the 8 mile Fern Canyon Scenic trail that starts at the campground and goes to the Pigmy Forest and back. The Pigmy Forest walk is on elevated boardwalk with a lot of interpretive signs explain the uniqueness of the forest.
8001 Hwy 1, Little River, CA 95456
Overall our mini Mendocino weekend was a great success. It has been a long time since I had been camping (living in NYC and all made it hard) but it was great time and I hope to do more camping soon!