A Guide To One Of California’s Last, Best Undiscovered Gems

06.20.17 1 month ago 7 Comments

Ben Esch

When I told people I was going to Mendocino for a vacation, I usually heard a variation on one of these responses:

“Huh…well good for you, then.”

“Okay.”

“I think my uncle went there. Maybe. He’s not really one of those chatty kinds of uncles, you know?

What I did not hear was the one thing you hope to hear before any trip:

“I’ve been there. It’s great. You’re going to love it.”

This made me nervous. Because Americans aren’t typically coy about our travels. In fact, besides the tastiness of pizza and the timeless sexual allure of Bruce Greenwood, bragging like assholes about our vacations is one of the few things humanity can agree on. This is especially true when that vacation destination is a bit obscure, a bit off the beaten-track, which as braggy travel anecdotes go, is the sturdiest pog on the playground.

This all left me with a question to ponder during my drive from Los Angeles (it was a long drive, so I asked myself this question quite frequently): Why the hell isn’t anyone bragging about Mendocino?

But then, finally, I arrived in that city. And soon, I was asking myself an entirely different question: Where in the hell is everyone else?

Because though the city of Mendocino (and nearby Fort Bragg) is just as charming as Cambria, with a coastline just as majestic as Monterey’s, the place has all the slick commercial appeal and tourist density of Modesto on a Tuesday afternoon. Granted, part of that quietness could be explained by me being there on an off day during the off season, but I think it goes deeper than that: this is one California city that does not particularly want to be discovered. It’s as if — in some subconscious act of self-preservation against tourist hordes — the city actually longs to remain staunchly, defiantly “unslick.”

The result is a place with more whimsical sock stores than fine art galleries, and cell service weaker than an old man’s midnight pee. But these (slightly) rough edges are not bad. They not only define the city of Mendocino, but the tourist experience there, as well.

Ben Esch

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