Mendocino and the secret road to the three tallest trees in the world
Mendocino scores as the cutest town on the north coast. All the buildings are vintage and the local community strives to keep it that way, both for tourism and for the occasional film crew. The town's “Murder She Wrote” character comes at a price and the locals often refer to it as “Spendocino.” While it’s a nice place to visit, there are more authentic experiences to be had nearby. Comptche-Ukiah Road, for example. This route between Mendocino and Ukiah is an itinerary that guests on Leod Escapes tours always rave about. It’s got it all--115 miles riding San Francisco to Mendocino on Highway 1, forest twisties, hidden valleys, and the three tallest trees in the world.
Less than a mile south of Mendocino on Highway 1 take the turnoff for Comptche-Ukiah Road. This is an excellent twisty forest run that will route you up in the mountains and down into hidden valleys. Road upgrading has been happening quite a bit in this region so you’ll alternate between dreamy pavement and coarser stuff.
Stick to the road during the 15-mile ride to Comptche. If you’ve been staying in Mendocino, and wondered why many of the younger locals seem unusually relaxed, it’s not because of the area’s resort town atmosphere. It’s because at any given moment at least 10% of the town is completely stoned out of their gourd. Mendocino and Humboldt County’s largest industry by far is marijuana. The feds and local law enforcement make occasional busts for TV cameras to justify their war on drugs budget but for the most part it’s an open secret that everyone is growing. While the area is one of the safest places in California, it does mean that under no circumstances you should stray onto someone’s private property as the farmers can be dangerously defensive about their crops. Other than that, the locals are quite agreeable folk as you will discover by visiting Patterson’s Pub in Mendocino for dinner later in the day.
Comptche barely even qualifies as a village but, when once pass it, you’ll come to an intersection. Turn left to stay on Comptche–Ukiah Rd. The road becomes narrower and rougher and long may it remain that way as it keeps the tourist buses out. Another 15 miles down the road you’ll come to Montgomery Woods State Reserve. The small parking lot and primitive facilities obscure what a treasure this place actually is. A quarter mile hike over a small ridge and you descend into the presence of the three tallest trees in the world. Yup, no kidding, and you won’t need to guess which three. Which one is the tallest? No one is saying, and frankly I’m glad. It avoids the tourist trophy pictures and lets people slow down and enjoy these 2000-year-old wonders. There are plenty of other redwoods but this place tops out as one of the most serene places in the world.
Whatever direction you choose to head from here you’re in for an exciting ride. Be aware that the road east to Ukiah gets bumpier and narrower in spots. Leod Escapes tours occasionally heads to Boonville from here for lunch or we’ll head east to Ukiah then north on 101 until we reach another one of the hidden twisty roads that’ll take us West back to Highway 1, and dinner at Patterson’s Pub.
There is no shortage of great places to eat in Mendocino but tourism has made dining values as hard to find as an open table on a weekend.
Patterson's Pub is the place that local’s gather in this mecca of overpriced, overhyped eateries. While the food might not compare to the cafe-du-jour, it’s still very good and hardly what you’d call “Pub Grub.” This is Northern California, where locals are as likely to order organic arugula salad with their burger as an order of fries. Patterson’s is the “luxury value” dining option Leod Escapes looks for and frankly it’s the bargain in this town. It’s loud, crowded and the perfect place to catch up with what’s really going on in Mendocino County.
If you simply must bask in the town’s charms, the multiple small B&Bs offer you a better value than the two hotels. While Leod Escapes only uses Mendocino as a lunch stop and afternoon break, if I’m staying in town myself, I stay at the Sea Gull Inn B&B. Jim and Ayla Douglas run this splendid place, and are welcoming to riders. Jim can often be seen riding Highway 1 on his BMW, rough life. Book direct online.