Whenever I am near the small town of Mendocino, I make a point of visiting. It is one of my favorite communities on California’s beautiful and rugged North Coast. Its unique, almost quaint look, has made it a favorite among Hollywood movie directors looking for the ideal coastal location for their films. It has starred in several movies including East of Eden where it became California’s Monterey and The Summer of 42 where it was transformed into a New England town.
Its best-known role, however, was as the small Maine town of Cabot Cove where Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) lived and was forever solving crimes in the TV series Murder She Wrote. Nine episodes of the 12-year, 264 series were actually filmed on location and almost all of the episodes included shots of the town and surrounding areas.
I drove south on Highway 1 to Mendocino from where I was staying in Fort Bragg for a few days on my North Coast trip in August. The region is filled with parks and lots of memories. One was particularly memorable. Peggy and I were camped in our van on a small river. It rained cats and dogs all night, or make that whales and elephant seals. I woke up and looked out our van window in the morning. A seagull was swimming by! Waves were lapping at our tires. We vacated the premises— quickly.
Dark and stormy nights have been particularly harsh on ships sailing up and down California, Oregon and Washington’s rocky coast, especially in the days before satellites and GPS. To counter the danger, a series of lighthouses and foghorns had been placed along the coast. In memory of the time our van Quivera almost became a shipwreck, I stopped off at Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park just north of Mendocino and walked the half-mile out to the lighthouse. It is still doing its duty but automation has long since put the lighthouse keeper out to pasture. His house has now become a museum and his assistant’s house has become a guest cottage that visitors can rent. I paid homage to the days of yore and drove on to Mendocino.
The community started out as a logging town with a dog hole port in the 1850s, as so many North Coast towns did. Dog hole refers to the size of the port. If you’ve ever watched a dog turn around to fit into a bed it has scratched out in the dirt, you get the idea. Like the dog in his hole, the ship had just enough space to turn around. Given the additional challenge of steep cliffs, logs were loaded onto ships via a slide that reached down to the deck.
Mendocino was first named Meiggsville after Henry Meiggs, a San Francisco entrepreneur who had come west to make his fortune in the California Gold Rush. Anything with dollar signs attached had attracted his attention. Redwood lumber needed to build the rapidly growing San Francisco fit the description— as did an opportunity to defraud the city. Before the sheriff could catch up with him, however, Meiggs had skipped out to South America where he made a fortune building railroads and became the “virtual dictator of Peru” according to Wikipedia.
Meiggsville was renamed Mendocino after the cape it is located on and did quite well for the next hundred years selling lumber until the timber industry crashed and it became a backwater town with little money and fewer people. Artists discovered it in the 50s, as they often do when a place is both beautiful and inexpensive. Tourists weren’t far behind. Inexpensive no longer describes Mendocino, but the town has retained its beauty and still has a thriving art community.
I did what I always do in Mendocino: walked up and down the streets, hiked along the coast, bought my quota of books at the Gallery Bookstore, and scarfed down a delicious meal.
NEXT BLOG: It snowed here on Sunday providing an opportunity for Peggy and me to go on a winter-wonderland walk. Photos from the walk will provide our holiday card to the great folks who follow this blog from around the world.
21 thoughts on “Mendocino, California… A North Coast Treasure”
What a great town! Love all those old houses (I think I’m old at heart, eh?), and remember “Murder” very well!! I had made the assumption that Cabot Cove was on a Hollywood set. Thanks, Curt!
I am sure that much of Cabot Cove was done on a set, GP, but Mendocino gave it an air of reality. And you are welcome. It is indeed a great town. -Curt
Wonderful photos of a charming place and these photos actually showed up in my reader! Woo HOO!
Woohoo from here as well, Cindy. 🙂 Looks like your time in Europe is going grandly. –Curt
I really like the photo of the tiny house, the wooden garage and the water tower. Nice surprising to see in this context, Chinese temple as well.
Enjoyed reading your post!
Thanks Peta. Glad you enjoyed the post. Mendocino has always been a favorite of mine. And you can’t beat the setting. –Curt
Nice buildings but looks like an awful lot of maintenance!
Suspect you are right, although the small house would probably take ten minutes to vacuum. –Curt
You have moved Mendocino on my MUST RETURN TO SOON radar. Realizing I saw very little this beautiful place offers.
Especially interesting was the story of Mr Meiggs…who retreated to Peru.
Photos so well done.
As always an excellent essay and I thank you for creating and sharing.
Happy holidays to you Curt.
Always a pleasure, JoHanna. Thanks. And Happy holidays to you as well. –Curt
Raining whales and elephant seals! Haha that made me laugh out loud. Scary though having the waves at the doorstep!
Almost as scary as unplugging our RV with water up to my knees, Sue. I was thinking ZAP the whole time. 🙂 –Curt
Yikes! Having almost been electrocuted as a child standing in a creek and grabbing an electric fence I am VERY cautious about electricity and water as you might imagine. Glad it all turned out all right!
Ouch. My dad was an electrician and taught us to be very careful, Sue. He had come in contact with a 50,000 volt high wire once and was lucky to live through it. –Curt
Oh my goodness your Dad was so fortunate to live through it!
A delightful travelogue … the only thing I knew about ‘Mendocino’ was that the Sir Douglas Quintet sang a song about it!
Thanks, David. And the song was new to me. My friend Linda, at Shoreacres above, posted a link to the music. –Curt
Ah, I wondered if anyone else would remember that Sir Douglas Quintet song! Talk about a blast from really, truly past. I don’t think I knew a thing about Mendocino — it certainly looks like a place I’d love to visit. I do recognize the name Point Cabrillo, and the photos of the lighthouse are my favorites.
I just checked the map, and found that I’ve been in Leggett and Garberville. As a matter of fact, I experienced my first California earthquake in Garberville. But I must have cruised past Medocino on the 101, since I was interested in getting up to the Lost Coast.
Thanks for the song, Linda. I sure hadn’t remembered it. Next time you pass through the area, cut over to Highway 1 just past the Golden Gate and follow it north to where it comes back into 101 at Leggett. There is a whole world to explore worth at least a week, if not a lifetime, including the southern entrance to the Lost Coast. –Curt
I agree that Mendocino is always worth a visit, as is Fort Bragg. You took some beautiful shots of the town and I’m glad you had a chance to see the place again. It’s an excellent choice for film and television settings, and just as inspiring without glamorous camera angles, when you are actually there.
A delightful town, for sure, Crystal. Every corner offers something new. And the beautiful pacific is right there as well. I never tire of stopping off. –Curt