Vacation Inspiration: Mendocino Glamping with Kids & Skunk Train Through the Redwood - 510 Families
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Vacation Inspiration: Mendocino Glamping with Kids & Skunk Train Through the Redwood

Mendocino, a coastal community located along Highway 1, is about a three-hour drive from Oakland and a fantastic spot for a scenic getaway to unplug from it all. We’re hoping to make a Mendocino trip a yearly tradition for our family. Given the long drive, we found that the ideal Mendocino trip for us is a three-night getaway.

Our favorite parts of this trip include riding the Skunk Train through the redwoods, “glamping” at Mendocino Grove, and participating in a variety of beach/water activities.

Mendocino Grove: Glamping

I love the outdoors, but I’m not great at camping. I don’t like being cold, pitching a tent, and trying to figure out where I’m going to go to the bathroom. Glamping at Mendocino Grove is the best of both worlds. We’re outdoors, but also have a tent with a bed, access to a clean bathhouse with hot showers, spa facilities, complimentary coffee and breakfast in the morning, and are a two-minute drive to the town of Mendocino. Other amenities include morning yoga sessions and a new sauna with massage services. It’s the perfect way to ease into the camping scene without giving up too many comforts— and my daughter loved it.

Want to check out other camping sites closer to the Bay Area? Try our Bay Area Camping Guide with Little Kids

Mendocino Grove offers two types of tents: (1) classic tents (12′ x 14′) and (2) family tents (16′ x 20′). We rented a classic tent for two adults and one kid. Even though we were given an extra sleeping cot, our daughter ended up sleeping in the queen bed with us.

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girl in front of glamping tent
Checking out our glamping tent right after check-in at Mendocino Grove | Photo: Michele Yuen

The Mendocino Grove campground is situated off of Mendocino Bay near Highway 1 and encompasses 37 acres. At the campground, 60+ safari-style canvas tents are grouped together in six or so neighborhoods around a large common area. Each tent is perched off the ground on a wooden platform and is styled with a bed, wool blankets, heated mattress pad, lanterns, cell phone charging stations, and a few other furnishings. A pair of leather chairs flank each tent and each tent has a fire pit for cozy nights and lots of s’mores making. The past few years, we’ve booked four tents with close friends to make it a fun group trip.

family around campfire Mendocino grove
Enjoying the fire before dinner | Photo: Michele Yuen

The campsite has two bathroom areas and bathhouses that offer hot showers (indoor and outdoor) and are stocked with EO Marin bath products. I’d recommend showering during the day when it’s still warm—especially with young kids. My daughter and I ended up showering in one of the outdoor showers during the day and there was minimum fussiness.

bathrooms glamping
One of the bathrooms and sink areas at Mendocino Grove. Nice, right? | Photo: Michele Yuen

We also loved the spacious common area where we could grab coffee/tea and breakfast in the mornings (during our last stay they served yogurt parfaits), hot water throughout the day, play bocce ball or horseshoes, or lounge in one of the several hammocks.

girls playing bocce ball
Running down the bocce ball court | Photo: Michele Yuen

Plan your stay at Mendocino Grove

  • Glamping Season. Mendocino Grove is open from May through October. Weekends book quickly so I’d plan to book as far in advance as you can for those peak times. We booked our early July weekend trip in March. There aren’t too many options for weekend slots this 2021 season, but it could make for a great summer weekday trip (or you can remind yourself about next summer). 
  • Pricing. A standard tent starts at $199/night and a family tent starts at $319/night before taxes and fees. They also charge a grounds fee of $20 per day.
  • Group Tents. I’d recommend calling in if you are trying to book tents for a group to ensure that they are next to each other.
  • Parking. Each tent comes with a designated parking space near your campsite.
  • Campsite Rules: I’d recommend browsing through the rules before booking which also outlines Mendocino Grove’s cancellation policy.
  • Pets. Mendocino Grove is pet-friendly (but no puppies; dogs need to be over one year old). There is a $25/night pet fee and you’ll have to let them know you are bringing a dog during your reservation. They provide a dog bed and blanket. We were also grateful for their mini dog park and dog washing station stocked with dog shampoo and towels. All the dogs (our group had four!) got filthy during the trip.

Location: Mendocino Grove is located at 9601 California 1, Mendocino.
Phone: 707.880.7710.
Website for info >>

Skunk Train: A Scenic Train Ride through the Redwoods

What kid—or adult for that matter— doesn’t love trains? Our trip riding the Skunk Train on the Pudding Creek Express route along a lush estuary and towering redwoods was nothing short of magical. We loved that we could even bring our pup on board.

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Stopping to see the redwood trees along the Skunk Train’s Pudding Creek Express route | Photo: Michele Yuen

The historic Skunk Train offers two train routes and railbikes:

  1. The Pudding Creek Express— seven miles, 75-minute trip departing from Fort Bragg
  2. The Wolf Tree Turn— 16-miles, two-hour trip departing from Willits.
  3. The electric railbikes are $250 for one or two riders and follow the Pudding Creek route for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Children as young as three can ride as passengers.

We’ve only been on the Pudding Creek Express route which is the perfect amount of train time for my four-year-old. I’d love to try the Wolf Tree Turn route sometime, but two hours may be a bit too long of a ride for her age. The Skunk Train also has electric railbikes, but we found them to be a tad pricey and not particularly kid-friendly for our child’s age and abilities.

After checking in and giving the conductor our tickets, we boarded the Skunk Train at its depot in downtown Fort Bragg for our 2 pm departure.

girl boarding train
Boarding the Skunk Train from the Fort Bragg depot | Photo: Michele Yuen

For seating, it’s first-come, first-serve. We could choose between two covered train cars and one outdoor one. We opted to sit near an open window in one of the indoor cars towards the back. The outdoor car is great for taking in the scenery but is standing room only. Once the train started up, we could walk between all the train cars, but it was nice to have some indoor seats to return to.

Pro tip: We didn’t find out about this trick until our train ride back to the Fort Bragg depot, but if you want two seats to face each other, you can push the backing of one of the seats to the opposite side. This is great for families to ride facing each other. So neat!

seating on skunk train
Seating in one of the indoor train cars on the Skunk Train | Photo: Michele Yuen

After thirty minutes of train-chugging fun, we stopped at Glen Blair Junction, a magical spot surrounded by redwood trees where we could take photos and walk around. We were allowed to explore for about 15-20 minutes before the train headed back to Fort Bragg.

kid in front of train
Picture perfect spots at the Glen Blair Junction stop | Photo: Michele Yuen

Pro tip: If you’d like to spend more time walking around Glen Blair Junction, you can stay there and catch the next train about two hours later. We were on the last train for that day, so this wasn’t an option for us. Next time we may consider packing lunch, walking the trails, and eating lunch at Glen Blair Junction.

We can’t wait to come back and I’m keeping an eye out for some festive special events like the Pumpkin Express and the Magical Christmas Train.

Looking for more train rides through redwoods? Try Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz. 

Plan your visit to the Skunk Train

  • Pricing: $41.95 for adults (ages 13 and up); $25.95 for children (ages 2-12); $10.95 for infants (under the age of 2) and $10.95 for dogs. Check out this Groupon for a discount on a ticket for one child.
  • Reservations are not required but encouraged. Tickets are purchased online.
  • Times: Departure times vary depending on which route you take. Generally, the Pudding Creek Express routes run at 11:30 am and 2 pm on weekdays and 9 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 4:30 pm on weekends.
  • Masks are required for all individuals whether vaccinated or unvaccinated but can be removed while eating/drinking.
  • There are bathrooms onboard the train.
  • One of the two-covered train cars has a concession stand that sells snacks, drinks, and alcoholic drinks.
  • Plan to check-in fifteen minutes prior to your departure time.
  • The Skunk Train is handicap accessible with some limitations. I’d recommend contacting the Skunk Train to get more details if you have specific requirements.
  • Locations: The Skunk Train Fort Bragg Depot is located at 100 West Laurel Street, Fort Bragg. The Willits Depot is located at 299 East Commercial Street, Willits. Free parking.
  • Phone: 707.964.6371.
  • Website for info >>

Water Activities: Beaches and Canoeing

Mendocino has some great beaches and water activities like canoeing and kayaking. Big River Beach is a favorite of ours because it is so spacious and only a two-minute drive from Mendocino Grove. This beach is full of white sand and a few shallow sandbars for kids to explore. The water is chilly, but that didn’t stop my daughter from splashing in.

Looking to visit other Bay Area beaches? Try our Guide to Best Bay Area Beaches

girl and dad walking on beach
Sandy beaches at Big River Beach in Mendocino | Photo: Michele Yuen

Location: Big River Beach at Mendocino Headlands State Park is located at N. Big River Road, Mendocino. Website for info >>

Canoeing on the Big River Estuary is another great option for a half-day activity. We didn’t go canoeing on our Mendocino trip this year but have gone on past trips. Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too is a two-minute drive from Mendocino Grove and rents out canoes, kayaks, and bikes. Although we’ve done walk-in rentals in the past, reservations for rentals are now required and can be done either online or via phone. We liked that you can even take your dog with you—but ours kept biting the oars so we probably won’t be bringing her again (sorry, Indy).

dogs on canoe in river
Canoeing down the Big River Estuary in Mendocino | Photo: Michele Yuen

Location: Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too is located at 1 S Big River Road, Mendocino. Website for info >>

Want to try kayaking in the East Bay instead? Try some of these kayaking rentals near Oakland

Good Eats for Your Mendocino Getaway with the Family

The drive to Mendocino can feel long so it helps to break up the trip with a stop at Healdsburg for some good eats. We otherwise typically eat a majority of our meals at the campsite, but we also enjoy spending a few hours in the town of Mendocino and trying some of the local restaurants.

On the drive to Mendocino: We love stopping by Healdsburg on the drive to Mendocino given it’s a natural halfway point to Mendocino. There are a lot of nicer restaurants in Healdsburg, but we usually do a quick stop at The Wurst Restaurant for some casual hot dogs and ice cream. We also like to stop by Journeyman Meat Company for some choice meats and salami.

Eating out in Mendocino: During our last trip, we had lunch at Trillium Cafe in the town of Mendocino. We loved the outdoor garden patio space and enjoyed the seasonal and fresh food. I’d highly recommend booking a reservation in advance for dining at Trillium or any other restaurant in Mendocino. A good, more casual, no reservation option is GoodLife Cafe & Bakery for coffee, breakfast, or lunch. They have a variety of delicious baked goods (with gluten-free options), but often have a line during the weekends.

Bottom line for a Mendocino Getaway

We love that we can mix-and-match a variety of activities during our Mendocino trips. We are already thinking of our trip for next year and possibly bringing some extra kids along so my daughter has more playmates next time around.

I think Mendocino is a great summer getaway for the family, but it does require some advance planning. When planning a trip to Mendocino Grove, we like to book our tents at least a few months in advance— especially if we are going with a larger group and planning our trip over a weekend. We typically book other activities (such as canoeing and the skunk train) closer to our trip date. Our ideal trip consists of a three-night stay at Mendocino Grove and one or two half-day activities. We also enjoy leaving room for downtime at the campsite to explore, make campfire meals, and unplug.

Have you gone on a Mendocino getaway with your family or have other recommendations? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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