The Overlooked Northern California Railroad Town That Will Absolutely Charm You
It’s been called the “Heart of Mendocino County” and the “Gateway to the Redwoods,” but few people think of Willits as a destination town. It has plenty to offer, however. Small town charm, beautiful scenery, and time honored traditions make this small town one of the best places in Northern California to work, play and live.
Willits is known to most as the eastern terminus of the California Western Railroad, which is more popularly called the "Skunk Train."
Willits is at the center of Mendocino County and at the beginning of the county's extensive redwood forests as approached by Highway 101 from the south.
Willits has strong ties to its railroad history. It's the location of the Roots of Motive Power museum, which was founded in 1982 to preserve and restore steam- and diesel-powered equipment used in the California north coast logging industry from the 1850s to the present.
While its ties to Northern California are a defining characteristic of this small town, it actually has several other really cool facts and things to do.
It was the home of the famous horse Seabiscuit, for one. Seabiscuit's story was made into a movie a few years back and has been an iconic tale of American heroism long before that.
During the Great Depression, the horse lifted the spirits of Americans across the county. The horse rose from being broken down and good for nothing to one of the most celebrated race horses ever.
Today, you can visit the stables where he once lived and learn more about his tale and the men who made this success story possible. Fans of the movie and book as well as people unfamiliar with the story will have a great time touring the facility.
Horses are arguably just as important as trains in this town. It's the site of the oldest continually operating rodeo in California, as well.
The event is called Willits Frontier Days and draws crowds every summer to Willits to partake in this slice of Americana. This year, the event will happen June 23 through July 4.
This photo is from the Willits Frontier Days Rodeo's 2016 Ranch Rodeo event, another event in Willits that takes place every October.
In addition to traditional rodeo events, it's also something of a community celebration. Other events include a horse show, a horseshoe competition, concerts, a national anthem contest, and a parade.
There is also a popular "Willits Frontier Days Sweetheart" contest, where young women compete in a poise and personality contest, demonstrate their mounted horsemanship skills, and answer questions about rodeo and the equestrian lifestyle. The winner is crowned the Willits Frontier Days Sweetheart.
Here'a 2013's winner smiling big for all to see at the Willits Frontier Days Rodeo's Ranch Rodeo event, a separate event that takes place every October.
There is really something for everyone at Frontier Days and it should be something every Northern Californian sees once.
Like this event, the "Willits Frontier Days Truck Pulls."
Even if you don't make it out for this event, there are so many other ways to soak in the unique culture of Willits and the surrounding area.
It's a great destination for the whole family and you'll be glad to get to know the community of Willits a little better on your next visit to the area!
Have you ever visited Willits? If so, what did you think of the place? For more Northern California gems, check out these
15 Slow Paced Small Towns In Northern California Where Life is Simple.