This small town some three hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County is hard to place.
Located along California’s rugged North Coast, the crashing waves of the kind surfers dream about and nearby coastal redwoods are distinctively Pacific. At the same time, the county’s eponymous town is straight out of somewhere in New England or the Canadian Maritimes.
That would explain why Mendocino (population 894) doubled as the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine, in TV’s “Murder, She Wrote.” Starring actress Angela Lansbury as novelist-turned-detective Jessica Fletcher, the series ran on CBS from 1984 to 1996.
The remarkably well-preserved streetscape is dominated by the spire of a Presbyterian church. The early postbellum edifice, designed in the style of carpenter Gothic, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A few blocks away — past countless historic homes of varying architectural styles — is an attractive madder red former Baptist church that today houses a natural foods store.
Somewhat surprisingly, this columnist never saw anything promoting Mendocino’s part in what was not that long ago a very popular TV show. Even Blair House, the quaint Victorian bed-and-breakfast inn that served as the exterior of Fletcher’s home, lacks the expected commemorative marker. Maybe it’s because you have to be of a certain age to remember “Murder, She Wrote,” although the series, like so many others, never really went off the air, thanks to reruns.
Setting aside its screen credits, this is a great place for a weekend getaway.
Besides the Kelley House Museum and numerous shops and galleries, there is plenty to do and see within the immediate vicinity. This includes the bucket list drive along Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway; hiking the windswept coastal trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park; the family-friendly Skunk Train through the vast redwoods; and nearby Anderson Valley with its under-the-radar Californian wines from the likes of locally owned Lula Cellars and Fathers + Daughters.
If you go
Stay a couple of miles south of Mendocino at Little River Inn. The old-school inn, owned by the same family for five generations, sits on 225 acres and has rooms with stunning views of the North Coast. Alternatively, a little further up the coast by Fort Bragg is the Noyo Harbor Inn at a historic fishing harbor of the same name.
Fly into Oakland, Sacramento, or San Francisco, depending on airfares and rental car rates. Sacramento is the best option for avoiding the Bay Area’s notorious traffic, although the drive from San Francisco to Mendocino along Highway 1 is an epic road trip.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.