Despite its small size, the town's scenic location on a headland surrounded by the Pacific Ocean has made it extremely popular as an artist colony and with vacationers. It is less than a four-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and thus is a popular weekend getaway spot for Bay Area residents.
Since 1987 it has been the site of the Mendocino Music Festival, a classically-based but musically diverse series of concerts that is held annually in a huge circus type performance tent on the town's Main Street in the Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Mendocino Presbyterian Church on Main Street, dedicated on July 5, 1868, is one of the oldest continuously-used Protestant churches in California, and is designated as California Historical Landmark #714. In addition, the Temple of Kwan Tai on Albion Street, California Historical Landmark #927, may be as old as 1854 and is one of the oldest Chinese houses of worship in California.
The city's name comes from Antonio de Mendoza.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 7.4 square miles (19.2 km²), of which, 2.3 square miles (5.9 km²) of it is land and 5.2 square miles (13.4 km²) of it (69.45%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 824 people, 424 households, and 220 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 363.8 people per square mile (140.2/km²). There were 549 housing units at an average density of 242.4/sq mi (93.4/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 95.51% White, 0.36% Native American, 1.09% Asian, 0.73% from other races, and 2.31% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.79% of the population.
There were 424 households out of which 18.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% were married couples living together, 6.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.9% were non-families. 38.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.94 and the average family size was 2.51.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 15.5% under the age of 18, 3.5% from 18 to 24, 20.6% from 25 to 44, 38.0% from 45 to 64, and 22.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 51 years. For every 100 females there were 78.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.3 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $44,107, and the median income for a family was $59,167. Males had a median income of $41,667 versus $29,875 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $29,348. About 6.3% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.3% of those under age 18 and 17.8% of those age 65 or over.
However, the TV series Murder, She Wrote has had the largest impact on the community. Murder, She Wrote was set in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine. All but nine episodes of the 264-episode program were filmed in Mendocino, while exterior shots throughout Mendocino were used in the remaining episodes. The program was broadcast for 12 seasons, from September 1984 until May 1996, and won many awards. Many local residents looked forward to the yearly filming, as over a hundred and fifty were chosen to play background parts. A lucky few were cast for speaking roles. The main character Jessica Fletcher's home in the series was an actual home in Mendocino and is now a bed and breakfast under the name "Blair House."
While scenes for Murder, She Wrote were being filmed in Mendocino, residents say that it was not uncommon to see Angela Lansbury, who played Jessica Fletcher, stop to speak with a toddler, or for Tom Bosley to sign his autograph on a Glad Bag box presented by a shopper stepping out of the local grocery store. Murder, She Wrote also brought in more money to the town due to increased tourism: by some estimates, around $2,000,000. The local high school band appeared in one of the episodes and received enough money from the appearance to go on a band trip.
Mendocino is also the home of the Mendocino Film Festival which was first held in May 2006. Because the area is a haven for artists, the festival honors them with a special "artist category" (in addition to the documentary, feature and short film categories).