Hello! We’re Laura and Buck (@BuckTheMutt_SF) and we’re so excited that Paws Up Travel is hosting us for a guest blog post about our recent glamping (glamourous camping) trip for their Checking In series!
The northern California coast is known for its redwoods, bluffs, and sleepy beach towns. And smack dab in the middle, only a few hours north of San Francisco, lies Mendocino— a town that feels like it was plucked straight out of New England. Luckily for us, it’s also very dog friendly! And just a few minutes south of town is a relatively new glamping destination: Mendocino Grove. If you’re from the Bay Area, you’ve likely seen the clean, white tents and Bishop pines all over your friends’ Instagram feeds and for good reason: it’s an incredible experience to share with your family, friends, and furry children.
Buck chillin' in front of their tent
How do you get there?
If you’re coming from the Bay Area, head up the 101 north past Healdsburg. You’ll exit at Cloverdale and head up Highway 128, which eventually merges into Highway 1 at the coast. If you or your pup tend to get car sick, be warned: highway 128 is windy! And if you choose to take Highway 1 all the way up instead of 101, you’ll be faced with even more windy roads, but you’ll also be rewarded with some incredible coastal views and scenery! You’ll pass through adorable towns like Bodega Bay and Gualala, too. As you get close to Mendocino Grove, be sure to slow down some— it can be easy to miss. You’ll see two little house-shaped mailbox-like signs the mark the driveway. If you go over the Big River bridge, you’ve gone too far north.
How was the check-in?
Once you’ve turned into the driveway, stay to the left and head up the hill. At the top you’ll see the office tent straight ahead! The check in experience is easy— it starts at 3pm, but only goes until 5pm on weekdays and 8pm on weekends. But not to worry! If you arrive late, they will leave instructions for you on the bullet board outside the office.
If you arrive on time, you’ll be greeted in the office where you’ll sign a couple of forms, including a pet agreement. Read it carefully! Dogs aren’t allowed on beds or furniture, and you’re not allowed to tie them to railings, fences, tables, or trees. Meaning you have to hold them on leash most of the time. But the good news is that next year they will have a dog run where you can let your pup off leash! They’ll also give you a map that shows where your campsite is relative to the office and bathrooms. If you ordered firewood ahead of time, it should already be at your campsite. If you didn’t, you can order it at check in and they’ll deliver it to your campsite later. You can also order things like s’mores kits, ice chests, and kits with dinnerware and cooking utensils, but they have limited quantities of these things, so it’s best to order ahead of time.
How was the campsite?
Think of the campground as a wheel with spokes. In the middle of the wheel is the Meadow. The spokes are where all the campsites are— each spoke/area has its own name. This is Buck and my second stay at Mendocino Grove, and this time we were in the Westport area.
Our campsite was a little more private this time, too. It was in a grove of trees, and we had to walk down a short trail to get to it, which made it feel that much more secluded and adventurous. We loved it! Plus, our parking spot was right behind the tent. For some of the campsites, the parking is a little bit farther away. Last time, we were in the Elk area, and our tent was at the far end, while the parking was closer in toward the Meadow. But they conveniently provide carts so it’s still easy to get all your belongings from your car to your tent.
All the tents have real beds with comfortable mattresses, sheets, a cozy comforter, and *drumroll please* electric heating on top of the mattresses. It does get VERY cold on the coast, especially in the spring and fall months, so the heating pads are truly the piece-de-resistance of the whole experience. Plus, they’ve now included bedside lamps with USB plugs built in so you can keep your devices charged up. Alright, alright— so this isn’t exactly roughing it, but it IS glamping after all.
The tents also come with a battery powered lantern, extra wool blankets, a chest to store things, a luggage rack, a set of plush towels, and a coat rack to hang your jackets, bags, etc. Plus, you can get a special dog blanket by request, so be sure to ask for you when you arrive! We highly recommend bringing a dog bed and additional blankets because it does get so cold at night.
The front porch of our tent had a partial view of the ocean, which was great, but also faced the back of another campsite, which was a bit awkward. But you’ll find that most of the campsites have some visibility into neighboring campsites.
What is the rest of the property like?
As mentioned earlier, the Meadow is at the center of the property— it’s a communal open space where you’ll find hammocks, a bocce ball court, a volleyball court, a fire pit, and a seating area with tables, chairs, and heating lamps. In the mornings, they provide free coffee, tea, and some simple breakfast options: oatmeal, cereal bars, yogurt, and fruit. And the best part of all… a dog poop bag station!
The main bathrooms are located in the Meadow, too, and are probably the 2nd best part of the whole experience. They’re brand new, with real plumbing and there are even indoor and outdoor private showers. It all feels like it belongs in a high-end resort, that’s how nice it is. On top of all that there’s a sink area for washing dishes (they provide eco-friendly soap and scrubbers) and a filtered water station for filling water bottles.
And just to prove even further that Mendocino Grove is as dog-friendly as they come, there’s a “Pooch Wash” area behind the office so you can hose your furiend down after a day at the Big River Beach nearby.
Last but definitely not least, there’s a lovely trail that goes around the perimeter of the property and has several look out points with incredible views. On weekends, there’s a nature guide who does a guided hike along the trail at 9am. If you do the guided hike, it takes about 45 minutes. If you choose to do the trail on your own, it probably takes around half an hour. But you may want to stop longer at the lookout over the ocean—whale sightings are common!
What is there to do in the area?
Big River Beach is one of the best things to do nearby. It’s about a 5 minute drive north from camp, just over the bridge (take the first right and go down the hill). The beach is dog-friendly, but technically on-leash only. Though, the two times that we’ve gone, there were quite a few dogs off-leash and everyone seems very chill about it! So Buck had a great time romping in the water and chasing sticks. Sometimes seals will come into the mouth of the river, too! You can also walk under the bridge to the ocean side, and just up on the top of the cliffs is the town of Mendocino.
Speaking of the town of Mendocino, there are several dog-friendly cafes and restaurants, including Trillium Cafe, where we had dinner our last night up there. They have a small patio with heating lamps. But be aware that it is quite cramped, so if your pup isn’t friendly with other dogs, you might consider cooking dinner back at camp instead.
The Mendocino Headlands Trail is also not to be missed. It’s relatively flat and easy, and can be as long or as short as you want it to be. We opted for the longer version which started down by the church (close to the highway) and wound all the way along the bluffs to the north side of town. We then walked south through town to get back to the car. Around 5.5 miles total. Many of the shops in town seemed fine with Buck going inside, too, so definitely take the chance to do a little shopping.
On the topic of hikes, there’s also a trail that goes along the Big River. You start at the east end of the same parking lot you park in for the beach. It’s also relatively flat and very scenic. If you’re lucky, you’ll see river otters. The big downside of this trail, though, is the insane amount of mosquitos. We went about 2.75 miles before we had to turn back because the mosquitos got so bad. We couldn’t stop without at least 50 mosquitos landing on both of us, even though we were doused in deet mosquito repellent.
About 6 miles north is the Jughandle Ecological Staircase trail. It starts with a flat hike along the bluffs, then just before it drops under Highway 1 there’s a turn off to go down to the beach below via a trail and some stairs. It’s rather secluded but a really nice little beach to let your dog off for a bit.
Once you’re ready to get back on the trail, you head back up the stairs and continue under the Highway and down a steep set of wooden stairs into the ravine. The trail snakes along some wooden walkways over a creek before winding back up into some forest. This is another hike that goes for quite a ways, so you can make it as short or as long as you want. There’s definitely a decent about of incline and decline along the way, so it’s a good workout! And it’s called the ecological staircase because it goes up along a series of several marine terraces, each with its own geology, soils, and plant communities.
A bit farther north lies the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which are, of course, dog-friendly! There are roughly 2.5 miles of trails throughout the gardens, which take you from Magnolias and Dahlias, through heather gardens, along coastal bluffs, through forests, and more. They have dog-poop bags, and even greeted Buck with treats at the admission counter. Admission is only $15.
And a few more miles north of the Botanical Gardens is the small town of Noyo, on the southern end of Fort Bragg. Heading north on Highway 1, you’ll turn off at North Harbor Drive and drive down to the river harbor. There are a series of restaurants along the harbor, but we recommend Django’s— they love dogs and have a fantastic patio that butts right up to the river. We sat at a table right next to the windows, enjoyed some house-made kettle chips, fried clam strips, and beer, and saw two cute harbor seals playing in the water below. If you continue farther along N. Harbor Dr. and pass under the Highway, you’ll come to the Noyo off-leash dog beach! It’s very protected and relatively calm, so safe for pups.
If you do decide to go up to Noyo, on your way back down to camp, you can stop off at the Cabrillo Light House. It’s—you guessed it—dog-friendly. You park about half mile up the road and walk down to the lighthouse. We went in the late afternoon, and the fog had already started rolling in, so recommend going earlier in the day. But it’s a beautiful old lighthouse with lots of history.
Amazing! I can’t recommend Mendocino Grove enough, and there is so much to do with your dog in the area, it would be a challenge to be bored. And if you get tired from being so active, you can always relax around a warm camp fire. You’ll still need to bring some of your own camping gear and supplies, especially if you don’t want to rent them, but if you forget something, Mendocino is right down the road with a hardware store and more.
Buck and I thank you for reading! We hope you visit Mendocino soon!