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Mendocino Hidden Gems

Four great reasons to skip the beach and explore inland in Northern California.

  • picture in-ground pool at Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah California
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Vichy Springs Resort
    Photo caption
    An in-ground pool is 104 degrees at Vichy Springs Resort.
  • picture Skunk Train winds through redwoods near Willits California
    Photo credit
    Photo: Courtesy of Visit Mendocino (Skunk Train)
    Photo caption
    The Skunk Train winds through the redwoods.
  • picture Jewelled Hall at the City of 10,000 Buddhas in Ukiah California
    Photo credit
    Photo: Eric Lindberg
    Photo caption
    The golden Jeweled Hall gleams at the City of 10,000 Buddhas.
  • picture visitors traverse a fallen tree in Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve near Ukiah California
    Photo credit
    Photo: Robert Landau
    Photo caption
    Visitors traverse a fallen tree in Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve.

Dramatic ocean vistas lure visitors to the region, but shaded redwood groves and peaceful retreats await on Mendocino's roads less traveled. Here are four reasons to leave the coastline behind and explore the county's interior.

East of Highway 101, an expansive swath of Ukiah Valley meadowland is home to one of the largest Buddhist monastic communities in the West. Gold-accented murals and a Jewelled Hall―lined with 10,000 hand-etched Buddhas―enliven this former state hospital site, where peafowl wander serenely and visitors are welcome to attend daily services and sample restorative fare at Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant.

Jack London's favorite hot spot has been in operation since 1854, but local Pomo American Indians are said to have prized the healing properties of the springs' naturally carbonated alkaline mineral water for thousands of years. Book a cozy cottage and take "the cure" in outdoor concrete baths, cross a winding creek on a replica of Monet's Bridge at Giverny, and explore the vast trail network at this relaxing overnight destination.

Departing from Willits, this justly famous attraction transports riders deep into the verdant Noyo River Canyon and back in time, as train cars clickety-clack through a fairy tale forest harboring thousand-year-old redwoods and once-thriving logging communities. Spring and summer bring a blush of rhododendron to the forest, as well as an expanded schedule including sunset barbecue rides and overnight camping excursions along the Noyo.

From 1996 to 2000, the reserve's 367.5-foot Mendocino Tree was officially the world's tallest. Despite the loss of that title to Humboldt County, locals still whisper that the redwoods here are second to none. An inconspicuous entrance along Orr Hot Springs Road belies the spectacle awaiting hikers along the 2.5-mile Montgomery Loop Trail: five virgin groves of coastal redwoods, unfathomable in girth and height, illuminated on sunny days by shafts of beatific light. The spongy forest floor―carpeted with moss, dampened pine needles, and lime-green clover―absorbs all sound, allowing visitors to commune with nature in tranquil silence.

This article was first published in March 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.