20 Best Things to Do in Ukiah, CA

Ukiah, CA
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California is well-known for its varied regions, whether it’s the bustling metropolis of SoCal, the beautiful farms of the valley, or the arid desert of the Mojave.

But not many people pay attention to the state’s northernmost regions, composed of coastal forests, isolated valleys, and rugged landscape.

Tucked away in this lesser-known region is the unassuming city of Ukiah, which means “Deep Valley” in the language of the Pomo.

Having been once hailed as the best small town in the state (and sixth overall in the whole country), this city promises great adventures and an inviting community.

You’ll find lots of outdoor and natural destinations, historic sites, green spaces, and everything in between.

So to get a fresh perspective of California, make this place your top destination for an upcoming getaway!

Here are the 20 best things to do in Ukiah, CA:

Discover Towering Trees at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

Massive tall trees at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
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The majestic Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve is arguably one of the largest attractions in Ukiah, spanning 1,323 acres in total area.

It’s part of the Coast Range, an extensive mountain range that shields California from the Pacific Ocean.

At Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve, you’ll find rivers, valleys, and ridges that come together to create a magnificent landscape.

But one of the most significant features of the attraction is the Coast Redwood groves, which grow near meadows and riparian habitats.

Towering trees at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
David Eppstein, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These forests are composed of towering trees, one of which—the Mendocino Tree—was once hailed the tallest in the world.

It’s now the eleventh tallest, but its majesty is still undeniable.

You can try to find it while exploring the trails of the reserve, but it has been left unmarked to deter tourists from damaging the tree.

Sunlight peeking through Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve's tall trees
Aubrey Laughlin / Shutterstock.com

Ride an ATV at South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area

Cow Mountain is a peak in the Mayacamas Mountains, located on the eastern side of Ukiah.

The area is divided into two parts: North and South Cow Mountain.

While the former is restricted to nonmotorized exploration, South Cow is dedicated to off-highway vehicles, hence the South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area.

This section spans 23,000 acres of public land mainly used for ATVs, trucks, motocross bikes, and other OHVs.

You’ll find rugged dirt roads winding their way across slopes, ridges, and valleys typical of the park.

These make for extreme rides that will test your coordination and navigation skills.

But the sights and overall experience are all well worth the bumpy trip, as you’d be treated to panoramic views, serene forests, and beautiful meadows.

Find Fresh Produce at Ukiah Farmers Market

The valley on which Ukiah lies is blessed with fertile soil from the mountains and waters from the creeks.

So it’s no surprise that there’s a thriving agricultural industry in the city.

One of the best ways to partake in this bounty is visiting the Ukiah Farmers Market, located at Alex R. Thomas Plaza.

This destination is the first Certified Farmer's Market in Mendocino County, and it’s considered the largest in the region.

Here, you’ll find hot weather produce from the local farms of Ukiah and cold weather fruits and vegetables from coastal growers.

The sheer variety of products may intimidate you, but just take your time and find what you need.

While perusing the displays, you’d be serenaded with live music concerts by talented local artists, elevating the whole experience.

Trek the Trails of Low Gap Park

If Montgomery Woods or Cow Mountain proves too wild for your taste, the beautiful Low Gap Park is the next best thing.

This attraction is located on the west hills of Ukiah and is still technically part of the city proper.

So accessing it should be no problem, and you’d still be within sight of civilization.

Within the 80-acre area, you’d find many beautiful features that make it stand out against your run-of-the-mill community park.

For starters, the whole place is in an elevated location, offering great views of Ukiah and Cow Mountain in the distance.

Then there’s Orr Creek, glimmering under the sun as it flows down to lower-elevation areas.

And while these features might suggest a wild and underdeveloped place, the park does have many modern amenities.

These include a disc golf course, a picnic grove, two playgrounds, and well-maintained restrooms.

There’s even an archery range if you want to try your skills with a bow and arrow.

See Magnificent Artworks at Grace Hudson Museum

Wooden pathway at Grace Hudson Museum
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The Grace Hudson Museum complex is a four-acre attraction located at the heart of Ukiah.

It’s composed of the museum and the Sun House, a Craftsman-style California bungalow where the acclaimed painter Grace Hudson lived.

She was an accomplished artist known for her portraits of Pomo Indians and their culture.

Sun house at Grace Hudson Museum
DreamArt123 / Shutterstock.com

To honor her legacy, the Sun House was preserved and eventually found its way to the National Register of Historic Places.

You can join tours into the home and see the perfectly preserved furniture, dining implements, and other furnishings.

In one room, you’d find Hudson’s studio, which still contains her tools, paintings, and other items.

There’s also an adjacent museum, which houses some of Hudson’s paintings and artifacts from indigenous peoples.

Main entrance to the Grace Hudson Museum
Myotus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Catch a Show at Regal Ukiah

If you want to take a break from all the outdoor adventures, make a stopover at Regal Ukiah.

This is the premier movie theater in town, attracting residents and visitors to catch the latest blockbusters.

It’s a favorite community gathering place, and you’re welcome to join in the fun!

The theater complex has multiple screens, plush seating, and engineered acoustics for an elevated watching experience.

Don’t miss the concession stand before entering one of the cinemas!

They offer fresh popcorn, refreshing drinks, and other movie staples that you can munch on while enjoying the latest flick.

Play or Relax at Todd Grove Park

Another favorite local green space in Ukiah is Todd Grove Park, located on the western borders of the city proper.

Within the 16-acre area, you’ll find many attractions for all ages and preferences.

One of the most prominent is Ukiah Municipal Pool, a seasonal attraction with two large pools for casual swimming and competitions.

Then there’s the volleyball court and fitness trails for those who want to work up a sweat while in the city.

If you’re bringing kids to your trip, you can let them play and socialize with other children on the park's playground.

Or you can simply let them run around the wide fields and behind the patches of trees all around.

If you want to play a few rounds of golf, Todd Grove Park sits adjacent to the Ukiah Valley Golf Course.

Sample Fine Drinks at RIVINO Winery

The Mediterranean climate of Ukiah makes it a prime location for growing grapevines.

So over the years, many wineries started emerging in the city's rural areas, creating a thriving wine scene distinct from the Valley.

One of the most sought-after destinations in Ukiah for premium bottles is RIVINO Winery.

Set on the banks of the Russian River, this family-owned attraction covers 250 acres of lush fields.

They grow seven grape varietals on the large farm, which are then turned into various types of wine.

Choose from their selection of chardonnay, pinot blanc, rose, sparkling wines, and many more!

While there, be sure to catch the occasional live music by talented local bands and performers—the perfect complement to a night of drinking with friends.

Don’t forget to bring home a bottle or two to open during special occasions and holidays.

See the Stars at Observatory Park

One unique experience you can try while in Ukiah is observing the heavens using a telescope.

This is possible at Observatory Park, which houses the Ukiah Latitude Observatory.

It was once part of the International Latitude Observatories, a system of six telescopes that measured the wobble of the Earth on its polar axis.

The project is long since done, so the city acquired the property in 1991 and opened it to the public in 2014.

Today, many people come to the park to experience the tranquil ambiance, beautiful landscaping, and verdant grounds.

At night, astronomy enthusiasts flock together to watch the moon, stars, and galaxies as they twinkle in the night sky.

There’s also a Planet Walk feature where a to-scale model of the Solar System is placed on the park.

Join a Tour of the Russian River

Russian River at Ukiah, California
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One of the major waterways irrigating the valleys of Ukiah is the Russian River.

This winding body of water starts at the Laughlin Range, traveling for 110 miles before emptying into the Pacific.

One of the first major cities it passes is Ukiah, so the waters here are still clean and free from urban pollutants.

That’s why many residents treat it as the premier location for water-related activities.

Tour operators often use the segments near the city as starting point of group paddle adventures and kayaking tours.

Fishing is also a favorite activity, with many local charters offering trips into the river.

Some freshwater species you can catch include large and smallmouth bass, Chinook salmon, and catfish.

Go Restaurant Hopping Downtown

The area near Alex R. Thomas Plaza is considered Ukiah’s downtown, full of commercial and hospitality establishments that drive the local economy.

So you can expect many restaurants here, offering the best of what the city has to offer.

Visit these local favorites and get a taste of North Californian cuisine!

Schat's Bakery & Cafe is a Ukiah institution offering baked delights, soups, and a selection of beverages for a cozy dining experience.

On the other hand, Patrona offers a more hip atmosphere, with a menu of Californian staples that changes depending on what’s on the market.

Stan's Maple Cafe has a family-friendly atmosphere and is usually visited for their brunch menu, consisting of American comfort food and refreshing drinks.

Go Camping at North Cow Mountain Recreation Area

Compared to its southern counterpart, the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area is more serene and pristine.

Since off-road vehicles are not allowed, this section enjoys a more tranquil ambiance uninterrupted by loud engines.

The recreation area spans 26,000 acres of public land, with hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails crisscrossing the landscape.

One of the favorite activities is camping, with two major sites available to the public: Mayacamas and Goat Rock campgrounds.

If you want a wilder experience by going backcountry camping, be sure not to set up camp next to springs or guzzlers, as this is prohibited to protect the water sources.

Another activity you can try is hunting, with deer and fowl as some of the species to shoot and catch.

Visit the Community Garden at Vinewood Park

One of Ukiah's most accessible green spaces is Vinewood Park, located near the Redwood Highway.

Families often visit the 4.7-acre attraction due to its proximity to suburbs and the downtown area.

While here, you’ll find expansive grass fields, patches of woodland, and trails that loop the perimeter of the park.

There’s also a basketball court where you can shoot a few hoops and move your muscles.

For those with kids, the park has a beautiful and well-maintained playground where the young ones can play all day.

You’re also welcome to visit the Vinewood Gardens, a community garden where local growers plant and take care of vegetables and fruits.

Go Fishing at Lake Mendocino

Ducks swimming in Mendocino lake at Ukiah, CA
The original uploader was Kglavin at English Wikipedia., CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Northeast of Ukiah’s city proper is the gorgeous Lake Mendocino, formed after the Coyote Valley Dam was constructed.

It’s fed by the East Fork Russian River, and it covers 1,922 acres in surface area.

As the biggest body of water in the vicinity, the lake serves as the premier destination for water-related activities not just in Ukiah but also in the nearby towns.

You can go ahead and try waterskiing, swimming, kayaking, and fishing for the many freshwater species in the lake.

There are also plenty of campsites on the banks, open for both traditional tents and RVs.

So if you want to stay for a few days to explore the lake and nearby forests, you can set up camp here.

At night, the lack of light pollution allows for uninterrupted viewing of the twinkling night sky.

Go Swimming in the Dams of Mill Creek Park

The isolated Mill Creek Park is a great little escape for families and friends.

Set on the foothills of Cow Mountain, this relatively unknown destination has three dammed ponds as the most prominent features.

These bodies of water are fed by Mill Creek, and their clear waters add to the great views of the forests and mountains.

Many people come to the park to try their hand at fishing, with species like trout hiding underneath the surface.

Swimming is also a fun experience, and picnics are allowed in the picnic groves.

For those who want to try non-water-related activities, the park has horseshoe pits and gorgeous trails.

These bring you to some scenic lookouts where you can view Ukiah and the rest of the valley without any interruptions.

Tour the Redwood Tree Service Station

Exterior of the Redwood Tree Service Station
EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

The 1930s saw an increase in old wood service stations, making Ukiah's Redwood Tree Service Station the world's largest.

The service station used a 1500-year-old tree from a local coastal redwood forest to build its structure.

After cutting down and carrying it to the town in 1936, the City built it into a service station that the residents affectionately refer to as "the Stump."

It is a popular tourist destination and features a self-guided museum, even though it no longer distributes gasoline.

Under its cover, visitors can view vintage pumps, early oil cans, various signage, an old cash register, historical pictures, and newspaper clippings.

The artists of Corner Gallery Ukiah have worked together for many years to provide a space where art patrons and creators may meet and interact in a casual setting.

Artists from the area and beyond, working in various mediums, are often showcased at the gallery.

Pictures, sculptures, and even photographs are among the many mediums represented.

Local artisan Laura Fogg's stunning quilts are a significant draw.

Aside from the First Friday events at the gallery, classes and workshops are also available.

Catch a Performance by Mendocino Ballet

Only Mendocino Ballet in the county provides a rigorous professional dance education based on the discipline of Classical Ballet.

Students can pick from various dance forms, including Classical Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Pre-Ballet (for ages 3-5), Modern, and Contemporary.

You will get the most incredible technical instruction and performance opportunities available in the region, even if a professional dance career is not in your future.

The mission of Mendocino Ballet is to spread awareness of the transformative potential of the performing arts to strengthen local communities via investing in future generations.

It keeps its class numbers small to ensure that each student gets the attention they deserve.

Besides providing an environment free from stress and competition, our studios have viewing rooms for parents who wish to observe their children in action.

Watch a Local Production at Ukiah Players Theatre

The Ukiah Playhouse is home to the Ukiah Players Theatre, a community theater group overseen by professionals.

The group has been around since 1977 and has staged well over a hundred plays and musicals.

Ukiah Players Theatre has created various unique initiatives, such as the New American Comedy Festival and other community-based theatre activities supported by grants.

The Ukiah Playhouse promotes intellectual and spiritual growth via its training program for actors, stage managers, writers, and technicians.

Its mission is to provide world-class theater to rural communities by staging established works and new works written by local community members.

Enjoy the Festivities at Ukiah Country Pumpkinfest

Many Ukiah families have celebrated the harvest with PumpkinFest for decades.

Recreation Supervisor Jake Burgess is looking through old newspaper articles and scrapbooks a week before PumpkinFest, revealing the weigh-long off's history dating back to the late 1980s.

A festival highlight is a contest to see who can weigh in with the heaviest pumpkin.

Other events such as Scout-O-Rama courtesy of the Boy Scouts, sporting events, baking contests, dog races, and pet competitions ensure something for everyone.

Do not miss PumpkinFest if you find yourself in Ukiah in October; in addition to the pumpkins, there are food booths, carnival rides, and live entertainment.

Final Thoughts

Ukiah is one of the best-kept secrets of Northern California—a haven for adventurers, nature lovers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts.

With its many natural attractions, manmade destinations, and local establishments, the city offers endless activities for curious and daring travelers.

Reference this list when planning your itinerary so you won’t miss the top spots!