Where I Live

Willits, California, 22 miles north of Ukiah and far enough north of the San Francisco Bay area to discourage commuters, is not exactly the “Gateway to the Redwoods” as this ex-Reno, Nevada arch sign proclaims.

Willits arch on US 101

In its heyday, Willits probably was the gateway to large-scale redwood logging; but there aren’t many redwoods in or around Willits anymore. Nor are there any major logging operations.

On the reverse side of this arch, the message proclaims that Willits is the “Heart of Mendocino County,” which is not quite true either. It may be the halfway point along US 101 between the Mendocino and Humboldt County lines, but it hardly qualifies as the heart of a county. The County offices are in Ukiah.

Nevertheless, I like Willits and moved here from Minnesota in 1998 in search of a small community where I could afford to live that was not too unlike the small community where our family once lived in Colorado in the 1960’s. Willits is in the Coastal Northern California mountains just 32 miles from Fort Bragg on the Pacific Ocean and has a lot to offer for a community of 5,000+. The air is clean, the people are friendly, the weather is great, and the cost of living is not outrageous yet. It also has an interesting history.

Willits is a favorite of bikers traversing Highway 101 in such events as the Redwood Run in June or July, when thousands of bikers stop over in Willits on their way to and from other parts of California and the US. It is also one of the few communities in California that still has an annual rodeo and parade on the Fourth of July.  This has been going on uninterrupted for 85 years.

The first person I met when I moved here was a graphic artist I later worked with at the local newspaper. He told me that as he drove through Willits a few years earlier,  he had a flat tire and never left. Whether that’s true or not, I’ll never know. It was a good story. Suffice it to say, the people in Willits are very interesting.

As an example, I have never seen so many women with tattoos all over their bodies as in Willits; and I do mean “all over” their bodies!  I lived in Minnesota for 31 years and never saw a woman with tattoos. My wife did not have tattoos. Other women I knew in Minnesota had no visible tattoos. Many Willits women have many tattoos. Can anyone explain that to me?

As time goes on, I will add to this page. For now, suffice it to say I like living in Willits. The picture below was taken of the apartment complex where I live following one of our very infrequent overnight snowstorms in early 1999.

1999 snow at my apartment complex

Willits is situated at the western edge of the Little Lake Valley in what was once known as  the Little Lake Township. In the History of Mendocino County, published in 1888, this area was described as follows:

“Hill and dale, mountain and vale; that is about all that can be said of the topograph of this township in a general way. Special mention should be made of Little Lake, Sherwood, Long and Cahto valleys. The first named lies in the southern end of the township, and is a perfect gem.

The Little Lake Valley

“It is almost circular in form, and is perhaps four miles in diameter. To the northward lies the next two named, one to the right and the other to the left, as you pass up to the last-named which lies at the head of Long valley.

The Little Lake Valley is dotted with ranches

The climate of this section of Mendocino county is unexcelled in the State. It is sheltered from the heavy fogs and strong winds of the coast section, and yet lies close enough to the sea-board to reap the full benefit of the cool fresh breezes which are wafted far into the interior, bearing coolness and refreshing on their wings.

This old barn typifies the topography of the Little Lake Valley

“It is true that there are some days in midsummer when the mercury will indicate a high degree of heat, but the entire section is so elevated that the heat is not felt to be at all oppressive. But on the other hand the elevation which it has causes it to be quite cold during the winter season, but those terms do not last long, for the sea breezes, which were so cool and refreshing during the summer season now laden with warmth, absorbed from that great reservoir of heat, the ocean, come up over the mountains and through the valleys making everything glad from very warmth. The extremes of heat and cold are not so very great, and they are not felt to be grievous, owing to circumstances, all of which are favorable for the advantageousness of the section.”

A friend of mine recently said that of all the places he had lived over his 60+ years, Willits offers the best of all worlds in terms of climate, scenery and living conditions of any place he had ever been. I must concur. Its great for my senior years for sure.  Just hope it doesn’t get too popular in my lifetime.

The photo in the custom header of this site was taken from the driveway of a friend in Little Lake Valley last Spring.


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