Mendocino Loop relaxes, straightens priorities


At Anderson Valley Brewing Company the Boonville bear rules over the well-stocked brewery store and taproom.

The road out of Anderson Valley to the Pacific Ocean takes you through the scenic Navarro River Redwoods State Park.

The drive from Anderson Valley to Fort Bragg includes this dramatic view of the mouth of the Navarro River at the Pacific Ocean.

The former Mendocino Brewing Company Hopland Brewery, pictured above, is now operated as  Hopland Ale House. Note the old hop kiln structure at the rear of the building.


Mendocino County

The Mendocino Loop

The Mendocino Loop begins and ends at Cloverdale, which is the bottom-most marker on the map. Brown lines show the highway route. The beer flags mark brewery locations and purple pins mark the other points of interest along the Loop.

Please Drive Responsibly

While visiting area breweries and wineries, please don’t drink and drive. Use a designated driver and purchase some good bottles of beer and wine to take to the hotel or back home with you for the driver to enjoy later.

The Mendocino Loop is a wonderful foray into a unique northern California experience. Beautiful scenery, great craft beer and wine, fun places, friendly people. It is best experienced as a multi-day trip, but you can easily catch a worthwhile piece or two with just a day trip.

Starting the Loop

Since most wine country tourists would be driving up from the south, we recommend starting the Mendocino Loop in the morning at Cloverdale along the Route 101 at the top of Sonoma County. From there, head north on Highway 128 into Mendocino County. As you travel through scenic hill country, you will pass a couple of wineries with tasting rooms. Before long you arrive at the outskirts of Boonville, about 27 miles into your trip.

Boonville and the Anderson Valley

Boonville is a quirky little town with an entertaining attitude. The people here are pretty laid back but good at conversation. Be sure to ask the locals about the area and its unique dialect and words.

Your first stop should be Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which is located on the southern outskirts of town. It offers a first-class brewery tour and a very nice tasting room and store. After that stop, drive on a short distance to downtown Boonville. Park along the street and catch a couple of the local artisan stores and maybe a coffee shop or winery tasting room.

As you drive on up Hwy 128 through Anderson Valley, you will definitely want to visit a winery or two. If you are not familiar with the Anderson Valley, it is an exceptional viticultural area known for its white wines and pinot noir. And due to its cooler climate, it is also a sparking wine stronghold. During the growing season, wineries are alive with flowers of all sorts. At places like Navarro Vineyards the landscaping is outstanding and well worth a look even if you aren’t interested in the wine (which is very good, however). Favorite Anderson Valley wineries.
A really cool place for lunch is Libby’s in Philo. It features hearty plates of zesty Mexican cuisine along with several local beers. Alternatively, stop in Lemon’s Market, also in Philo, and pick up a fresh deli sandwich to take out for a lunch at one of the vineyard picnic areas.

Once you leave Anderson Valley you proceed on Hwy 128 toward the coast. Be prepared for some superb coastal redwood scenery as you drive through Navarro River Redwoods State Park. You can find a number of pull-offs for taking short walks and photos of the thick forest views. As you leave the state park, you drive down the Navarro River valley to the Pacific. Seeing the rocky mouth of the river from high on the hillside is a real Kodak moment.

Mendocino and Fort Bragg

At the coast you turn north on Highway 1 and proceed to the picturesque oceanside village of Mendocino. Give yourself about an hour and 15 minutes total driving time from Boonville to Mendocino, not counting any stops. Mendocino might be the best place in the county for an overnight stay. It is chock-full of charming Victorian bed and breakfast inns. Take your pick. A bunch of them have marvelous ocean views from the cliffs. Mendocino is also full of galleries, cool shops, spas, restaurants and bars. It is a very walkable town too.

From Mendocino, take the 10 mile drive north to Fort Bragg. This is another attractive tourist town and the site of our next featured craft brewery, North Coast Brewing Company. North Coast has a very good restaurant and brewery tap room directly across the street from the actual brewery. Plan on a visit there for either lunch or dinner. If you have time, take a brewery tour and visit the brewery store for some provisions to go. The brewery actually has two merchandise stores, one at the taproom and one in a building next door to the brewery.

Fort Bragg provides many options for outdoor activities. You can rent a kayak, take a fishing charter or a go on a popular whale watching cruise. It is also loaded with quaint B&Bs, superb restaurants, shops, galleries and great Pacific seafood. Between Fort Bragg and Mendocino, it is very easy to spend a couple of very enjoyable days.

Back to the East

Hitting the road again, the Mendocino Loop takes you out of Fort Bragg west across the mountains on Highway 20. Along the way you pass through the gorgeous, 50,000 acre Jackson State Forest. As the road winds through this leisurely 35-mile segment, another beautiful scene is revealed around every bend. Finally catching your breath, you arrive in the little outpost of Willits at the junction with US Route 101.

Willits is home to the Mendocino County Museum where you can catch up on the history of the county and also learn more about the area’s rich heritage, from pioneer times to today.  Next, head south on Hwy 101 to Ukiah, about a 30-minute drive.

Ukiah and Hopland

Ukiah is the county seat and the county’s largest town. The city is home to the nation’s first certified organic brewpub, Ukiah Brewing Company. Give it a try. While in town, check out the city-run Grace Hudson Museum, where you will find paintings and an incredible array of Pomo Indian artifacts, particularly basketry. Also look around at the downtown architecture and maybe peek in a gallery or two.

More importantly, the town is home to craft beer pioneer Mendocino Brewing Company’s production brewery (Now Closed). The brewery does offer tours, but you must schedule in advance. Mendocino Brewing Ale House serves as the brewery’s tasting room. There you can sample all the fresh Mendocino beers. The area around Ukiah and Hopland is another good wine exploration area, supplied with several fine tasting rooms.  Favorite Ukiah/Hopland Wineries

Leaving Ukiah and heading 14 miles south on US 101 will bring you to Hopland. Park along the street and walk by the site of Mendocino Brewing Company’s former Hopland brewpub (now called the Hopland Ale House) for a nostalgic trip through California’s craft brewing history. This was the location of California’s very first brewpub since before Prohibition. Another don’t miss stop in Hopland is the one-of-a-kind, CaliKind Clothing Company. There you will find the most far out tie-dyed clothing you’d ever want to see. The tie-dying art is but one good example of the 1960’s counter-culture heritage that has taken root and still thrives today across Mendocino County. Along Hopland’s main street and nearby are several popular winery tasting rooms. Favorite Ukiah/Hopland Wineries

Closing the Loop

Unfortunately what goes around comes around, and as you continue from Hopland south 15 miles, you close the loop back at Cloverdale. The Mendocino Loop surely has something for everyone on a Wine Country Beer vacation. While Napa and Sonoma may be more popular destinations, they are really given some stiff competition by the Mendocino Loop.