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A Golden State of Mind: Northern vs. Southern California

California has 900 miles of coastline, and there’s definitely a different vibe between the beaches found in the Northern and Southern part of the state. I spent a weekend in each, pre-pandemic, and both have their own charm.

Northern California

Mendocino: The “Cool” Coast Calls
This quintessential small beach town about 160 miles north of San Francisco reminds me of an East Coast fishing village but with hippies. That could be because (and this will age me) it was the setting for the early ’90s TV show Murder She Wrote, which was supposed to take place in Cabot Cove, Maine, but the exterior shots of the town and ocean were in fact this wonderful little California coastal village.

Mendocino Headlands


Though there are a plethora of local bed & breakfasts, as well as resorts and quaint inns, choosing the Little River Inn ( as home base was a perfect pick! This more than 80-year-old inn sits on a cliff across the legendary Pacific Coast Highway from the thundering surf. It was cold and rainy during my visit, so the wood-burning fireplace and soaking tub were a welcome amenity. The views from the rooms are spectacular with large decks and rocking chairs to sit and listen to the sound of the sea. The food at the inn’s restaurant was fresh and amazing, too—don’t miss the Fresh Steamed Clam Chowder and any of the specials, such as Braised Short Ribs, along with a glass (or bottle) of award-winning wine from nearby Anderson Valley.

Glass Beach


The coastline here is wild and craggy and beautiful. Though there aren’t too many actual beaches to stroll on, a visit to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, just north of Mendocino, is worth the visit. The sea glass created from garbage being dumped at the north end of town years ago has become quite the beloved attraction; sadly, too many tourists have taken a piece of the beach with them, so the amount of glass is getting smaller.


The town of Mendocino is filled with galleries, restaurants, and shops carrying work from local artisans. Take time to walk the Mendocino Headlands Trail, which winds around Mendocino Bay and offers views of the ocean that will give you chills (if the wind doesn’t do it for you)! Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in the spring, the music festivals in the summer, and the wineries any time of year! This lovely part of California will definitely cause one to slow down and savor the scenery, food, wine, and groovy ambiance that I don’t think has changed in 100 years.

Southern California

Santa Monica: Let the Sun Shine In
The Georgian Hotel (, built in 1933, embodies eclectic classic Hollywood ambiance. Sitting across the street from the famed Santa Monica Pier, the hotel is a fun, busy LA landmark with a distinctive air of exclusivity that abounds in Southern California. While sitting on the deck at the Veranda Restaurant in front of the hotel, you can enjoy some fantastic people-watching while indulging in the typical So Cal cuisine of tapas, craft cocktails, and their famous Stuffed French Toast!

The Georgian Hotel


I could write pages on shopping in Santa Monica, but suffice to say it’s upscale, kitschy, and elegant—all at the same time. A favorite for any stay in Santa Monica is to take a (long) walk from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, past the surfers, buff dudes on Muscle Beach, and street vendors hawking everything you just discovered you can’t live without (this included someone selling an iguana). While Northern California has the hippy vibe, the aroma along the boardwalk takes one to a “higher” level!

Veranda Restaurant


The beaches here are wide, sandy, and warm—perfect for relaxing, sunbathing, and again, people-watching. Although my visit was the same time of year as the weekend in Northern California, it seemed we were in different seasons. The weather couldn’t have been more different—warm and sunny Los Angeles, cool and rainy North Coast.

Venice Beach


Quiet, cool, laid-back Northern California; or fast, loud, and sunny Southern California where you feel like you’re in a movie wherever you go? Your choice. You can’t go wrong with either. Enjoy, dude (that’s so California!).



Little River Inn photos courtesy of Little River Inn. Santa Monica Pier photo ©aiisha - Muscle Beach photo ©Gabriele Maltinti - Venice Beach photo ©Luciano -  The Georgian Hotel and Veranda Restaurant  photos courtesy of The Georgian Hotel. Other photos courtesy of Visit Mendocino County.