Find Whale Watching, White Sand Beaches and Historic Landmarks at Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino Headlands State Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Located adjacent to the village of Mendocino, the park surrounds the village on three sides. With its gentle trails, rugged coastline, secluded beaches, and rich history, the park offers visitors an unforgettable experience.

The trails follow the ocean all the way around the headlands, providing visitors with breathtaking ocean views. The park is also a prime location for whale-watching during the season, which lasts from late December through April. The section of headlands along Heeser Drive provides the best opportunity to see migrating whales in the winter.

Big River State Beach

At the southeast corner of Mendocino, visitors can find one of the few white sand beaches in the area. Big River State Beach is situated at the mouth of Big River, and its constant reshaping due to the strong tides and large waves here creates a unique and dynamic landscape. This area was home to the Northern Pomo tribe for millennia before the arrival of European traders and settlers. Other inland tribes visited the coast annually to trade, hunt, and socialize with the coastal tribe.

The Headlands also feature a blowhole and the original 1850 lumber mill site, adding to the park’s rich history. Visitors can park at the west end of Main Street or go north to Heeser Road to circle around the Headlands, eventually ending up at Lansing Street. Trails are readily accessible from Main Street and several parking areas along the way.

Historic Ford House. Photo by Visit Mendocino County.

The Historic Ford House, located on Main Street in Mendocino, is the visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park. Visitors can explore exhibits on local cultural and natural history, as well as get information regarding the town of Mendocino. It’s a great place to begin your visit to the Mendocino Coast.

Access to the park is easy, with parking available at the west end of Main Street and several parking areas on Heeser Drive as it winds around the headlands. Public restrooms are available at the north end of the park and just east of the Ford House on Main Street.

For visitors looking for more outdoor activities, Big River State Beach is just a short walk from the village. Visitors can bear left (east) from the parking lot behind the Presbyterian Church, walk down steep but solid stairs to a lovely white sand beach, rock cliffs, and the mouth of Big River. This beach can reshape itself dramatically from one day to the next due to tidal action and large waves. Access to the beach is also available by driving south from Main Street on Highway One, and almost immediately turning left onto the road marked “Big River Beach”. This is also the entrance to the Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park.

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