Mendocino likes a party. Just one look at its year-long slate of festivals and fairs tells you people here like to enjoy the good life, and then have seconds. From Dungeness crabs to mushrooms and documentaries, locals look to their abundance of things to eat, drink and do and then — duly inspired — turn it into a party. Whatever the time of year, you’ll notice that many festivals here involve two prominent activities: eating and drinking. Little wonder, considering Mendocino sits in an ideal micro-climate, meaning it has a bounty of locally grown organic produce, poultry and meat, and outstanding regional wines from stars such as Husch and Parducci. My first experience with the festive face of Mendocino came five years ago when I attended the Wine & Mushroom Festival, held every November. Visiting different venues like the Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino Hotel and the MacCallum House, I was treated to masterful epicurean explorations brimming with local chantrelles, white morels and hedgehogs, all eagerly washed down with plentiful sips of local varietals from the Anderson Valley appellation. I was absolutely hooked. As if the spectacular scenery, abundant eco-adventures and easy-going locals weren’t enough, I was simply awestruck by the quality of the harvest supplied by local growers, pickers and vintners. But in “Mendo,” it’s a moveable feast, meaning things don’t end with the Wine & Mushroom Festival. From January to December, the calendar here spills over with events that will leave you hungry for more. Following are a few to make sure and mark down in your calendar:
Mendocino Wine & Crab Days (January 23 – February 1)
Mendocino Wine & Crab days is a lively winter fest held every year during the height of Dungeness crab season. Filled with crab feeds, Cioppino dinners, crab cake cook-offs, winemaker dinners, and dozens of other related events.
Mendocino Whale Festival (March 7-8)
With an estimated 20,000 gray whales migrating southward during this time of year, this is a perfect weekend for whale watching walks and cruises, wine and chowder tastings, arts and crafts fairs, plein-air painting exhibitions, marine wildlife exhibits, and children’s activities.
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (May 15-17)
Even though Mendocino County grows more varieties of grapes than anywhere else in America, this festival allows the Anderson Valley to flex its viticultural muscle as one of the country’s premiere Pinot Noir growing regions — a serene valley laced with oaks and rambling country roads.
The Mendocino Film Festival (May 29-31)
Boasting plenty of its own film cred (Mendocino has been featured in a wide variety of films and TV shows such as “Murder She Wrote” and “East of Eden”), the town is a natural to host this annual film festival showcasing independent films from around the world.
Mendocino Arts & Crafts Fair (July 18-19)
In what has become a summer tradition in scenic Mendocino Village, the Mendocino Arts Center hosts the 50th Annual Summer Arts & Crafts Fair in an outdoor garden setting. Sixty juried arts and crafts booths will display an eclectic mixture of artwork including glass works, fiber wearables, hand-crafted jewelry, functional and sculptural ceramics, paintings, photography and much more.
Mendocino Wine & Mushroom Festival (November; dates TBD, generally first half of the month)
When the rains come to Mendocino in late fall, that means one thing: mushroom time. Home to more than 3,000 mushroom varieties, including rarities like candy caps and matsutakes, it’s a magical time of year in Mendocino. The festival features winemaker dinners and tastings, guided mushroom walks, mushroom cooking classes and cultivation workshops.