Famous for its rugged and dramatic coastline (if you journey up here, you must drive Highway 1 at least part of the way, if conditions allow), Mendocino County was originally known for its redwood forestry, which led to the establishment of many of the small towns scattered along the Pacific. Most notable is charming Mendocino, perched on bluffs overlooking the ocean and so quaint that it served as the exterior set for the long-running TV series “Murder, She Wrote” starring Angela Lansbury (which was supposed to be set on the coast of Maine). Here you’ll find engaging galleries and appealing restaurants and cafés. Mendocino is also known for its wines, most notably those of the Anderson Valley.
An Array of Vineyards and Wineries
I like visiting the Anderson Valley because it reminds me of what the Napa Valley was like 30 years ago — simple, accessible and low-key. With all the wineries lined up on Highway 128, visits are easy. And as many are small operations, you often have the chance to meet the owners.
Starting at the north end of the valley and proceeding south I recommend: Lula Cellars (2800 Guntly Road, Philo; Tel.  895-3737) surprised me with its dry Rose of Pinot Noir; Husch Vineyards (4400 Highway 128, Philo) goes back to 1971 and produces a wonderful Late Harvest Gewürztraminer.
For sparkling wine, Roederer Estate (4501 Highway 128, Philo; Tel.  895-2288) is the only place worth stopping at; Phillips Hill (5101 Highway 128, Philo; Tel.  895-2209) has its tasting room in an old apple-drying building; Toulouse Vineyards’ (8001 Highway 128, Philo; Tel.  895-2828) owner, Vern Boltz, is a pleasure to talk with.
Lichen Estate’s (11001 County Road 151, Boonville; Tel.  895-7949) Moonglow Pinot Noir has a tart plum and cherry on the palate, with a nice dash of spice; and Foursight Wines (14475 Highway 128, Boonville; Tel.  895-2889) is a charming operation where you can try exemplary Pinot Noirs.
The Point Arena Lighthouse
The original Point Arena Lighthouse (45500 Lighthouse Road, Point Arena; Tel.  882-2809) was constructed in 1870 on a point surrounded by the Pacific, but the earthquake of 1906, which destroyed much of San Francisco, claimed the structure. Its replacement began operations in 1908. At 115 feet tall, it contained a beautiful Fresnel lens system with an array of 666 hand-ground prisms. These days, a small LED array the size of a football serves the same purpose. It is a hike to the top but worth it for the view of the coastline. The series of displays in the old Fog Signal Building explains not only the history of this lighthouse but the rich history of the area.