Escape to Mendocino County
● By David Norby
Mendocino Coast photo courtesy of Kaine Gish.
Just south of Mendocino and Fort Bragg, and about three hours north from Sacramento, is an oceanside destination that’s just big enough to have plenty to do, yet small enough to feel secluded. The tiny, aptly named hamlet of Little River lies at an elevation of 66 feet and is snuggled into a cliffside between the ocean and a river.
Little River Inn is a perfectly charming resort with a room type for all—from accommodations in the main hotel with breathtaking scenery of seaside cliffs, to cottage homes sprinkled along the coast with additional amenities. I recommend the Mallory House, a secluded home about a mile away from the main property with ocean views and a hot tub.
The rooms are spacious and roomy—think living room, fireplace, small dining area, bathroom and a bedroom, which happens to overlook the beautiful cliffs. Opening the French double doors and sitting on the deck’s two rocking chairs—champagne in hand—is the perfect vantage point to watch the sun dip down.
After a restful night, wake up with a massage at the Spa at Little River Inn—where the masseuses make the already-serene environment feel even more welcoming and tranquil. Plus, it sets the tone for a low-key day exploring your surroundings.
In the little town of Mendocino, about a 10-minute drive north, tourists are treated like townsfolk, kitsch is a given, and you won’t find a single chain store (but you will find plenty of delicious local coffee shops!). Start the morning off with a Bloody Mary at Flow Restaurant and Lounge, which according to locals has “the best Bloodys in town!” and walk off your buzz by meandering in and out of the mom-and-pop-owned shops.
Another 16 minutes north takes you to Fort Bragg, where the exquisite Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens captivates nature-lovers big and small. Depending on the season, you’ll be greeted with blooming roses, small forests of rhododendron, bursting dahlias, full succulent gardens, and, if you walk to the cliffside, colorful patches of seaside flowers. There’s even a vegetable garden where you can pick your own strawberries!
No visit to Fort Bragg is complete without a trip to the famed Glass Beach. Swing by as the sun hangs low in the sky, and search for interesting sea life in the tide pools. Much has been written about this unique beach; suffice it to say, it’s worth the visit.
EAT AND DRINK
A stop at the Little River Market and Deli—which boasts an impressive selection of fine wines, meats and cheeses—provides plenty of mouthwatering provisions.
Ole’s Whale Watch Bar, sited at the Little River Inn, is steeped in history and well worth the walk from your room. In 1939, Cora Coombs and her husband Ole Hervilla opened the hotel, and the ocean view from the bar is the same one that original patrons enjoyed. For dinner, head into the main dining room for the clam chowder—which is a fresh twist on the original—sole almondine, fall-off-the-bone osso bucco, and warm olallieberry cobbler for dessert. When breakfast beckons, Ole’s Swedish hotcakes are worth rising and shining for.
Anderson Valley, south of Mendocino, is a growing, respected wine region, with many varietals that thrive in colder climates. The wineries are stripped of pretentiousness (and high costs) that permeates Napa, yet the wine is some of the best in California. For a cuddle-inducing garden setting, check out Handley Cellars; for the best Gewürztraminer, a visit to Navarro Vineyards and Winery is a must; while Husch Vineyards provides a rustic romance; and world-famous Roederer Estate will get you bubbly over their sparkling wine.
Do you prefer hops over grapes? Check out Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC), where dogs are just as welcome as people, and the beer doesn’t disappoint. There are always too many beers to choose from, so order a flight to get the most bang for your buck.