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Given that it was the first county in the U.S. to ban GMOs (genetically modified organisms), has more organic grape acreage than anyplace else in the world and some of the world’s tallest trees—to name a just a few of its natural wonders—it’s no surprise that Mendocino County in northern California is one of the most dog-friendly spots on Earth.
In most places, the only hotels that allow dogs are at one extreme or the other in terms of amenities. Not so in Mendocino County, where you can chose among cozy B&Bs, luxury resorts and everything in between, including a wide variety of vacation rentals that welcome dogs with open arms—many offer dog blankets, towels for sandy paws, bowls, organic and locally made treats, and more in their special canine welcome kits.
Long car trips with a pent-up pooch can be trying, but Mendocino County is only 100 miles north of San Francisco, a straight shot up Highway 101. It took 35 minutes door-to-door from my house in the East Bay to Hopland, the epicenter of Mendocino’s increasingly popular, but still uncrowded, wine country. Wine tasting mit pooch is an unexpected pleasure. The rule here is to ask first, but since most of the wineries in the county are small and family-owned, tasting is still often gratis and pets are generally considered part of the family.
A few miles farther north is Ukiah, county seat and home of numerous fun shopping opportunities, including the four-paws-up Mendocino Barkery, which features organic treats and food as well as sporty pet accessories and necessities. Pick up a picnic at Sushi Time, the new extension to the popular and authentic Japanese restaurant, Oco Time, and head to Lake Mendocino for a nice long walk. On Thursday nights, locals in the know bring their dogs to Tierra, an art gallery and tasting room that pours select local wines in their garden.
Get up early the next day and head west toward the Pacific Ocean. If you select Route 128, you’ll also pass quite a few wineries. Once at the coast, go north to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and stroll its 47 lush acres; the gardens front directly on the ocean and are meccas for both whale- and bird-watchers. Dogs (on leash) and picnickers are welcome.
Most of the coastal properties are dog-friendly. I scored a room at the Stanford Inn by the Sea, another pet paradise. The inn is right on the edge of Mendocino Village, and since owners Joan and Jeff Stanford are animal lovers, the rambling property is home to dogs, cats, horses and llamas, among other creatures. Their in-house vegetarian restaurant, Ravens, features an indoor section where guests are welcome to dine with pets, directly outside of the main dining room. “We have always traveled with our dogs,” says Jeff Stanford, “Over the years, we have hosted a variety of nonhuman visitors, including dogs and cats, of course, but also iguanas, parrots, Vietnamese pot-belly pigs and a tortoise.” Stanford Inn is warm and inviting, with the comfortable atmosphere of a rich friend’s well-appointed country home, right down to details like a freshly built fire in each room and friendly resident cats and dogs lounging in front of the large main hearth in the lobby.
There are also plenty of options for outdoor activities as well. Catch-a-Canoe and Bicycles Too, right up from the inn on Big River, welcomes dogs on most of their larger boats and provides dog lifejackets. The Big River Conservation Project, an unprecedented public/private partnership, has linked more than 7,334 acres of estuary and surrounding forestland, creating a haven for birds, 60,000 acres of connected wildlife habitat and over 100 miles of trails. On-leash dogs are permitted (maximum leash length is six feet), except in specifically marked areas.
Most of the Mendocino’s state parks have the six-foot-leash policy but if off-leash is what you need, hit Noyo Harbor Beach in Fort Bragg. There, thanks to cooperation between the City of Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Dog Owners Group (MCDOG), your best friend can romp and roll in the sand unencumbered.
Photograph by Eric Foltz