We All Need More Mendocino
The long and winding road to Mendocino County isn’t all that long. Roaming some of California’s most pastoral back roads, past rustic farmlands and small towns, Mendocino only seems far away. That’s half the allure. The other half is its untamed and undisturbed beauty. The landscapes, the views, the breathtaking coastline…Mendocino is more of what we need! More of everything that makes for a tranquil and splendid retreat.
The getaway begins along scenic byways that provide spectacular distractions. The favorite road less-traveled (especially from Sacramento or Napa) would be the length of Highway 128. Meander up the Napa Valley, past endless vineyards and fields. From Cloverdale to the redwood giants of Navarro, the road twists and turns. Take it slow and enjoy every moment. After all, you’re heading to the place where “back in the day” people went to escape and drop-out. Those same adventurers fashioned the eclectic, art-centric, and natural lifestyle so many of us seek. Mendocino County long-ago embraced their organic roots, and so will you.
Pace yourself. There’s so much to see, eat, and drink! Highway 128 winds through bucolic Anderson Valley. A small but mighty American Viticulture Area (AVA), it reads like a who’s who of wineries: Goldeneye, Husch, Navarro, Roederer, and Scharffenberger; all pretty heady stuff and just a few of the outstanding wineries in the valley.
Passing through the counter-cultural town of Boonville, stop at the Mosswood Market for the first of many culinary pleasures. Over and over you will hear the refrain, “handmade, homemade, freshly made, and locally made.” Mendocino County has been living locavore for decades and aren’t you glad? A fresh Meyer lemon, artichoke Panini, small salad, and a home-baked cookie are lovely beside a glass of local Pinot Noir.
Next stop along the route is Goldeneye Winery, where, according to Wine Spectator, "Pinot Noir is king!" Just a few miles away in Philo, Goldeneye provides a perfect setting to wine and dine – well, picnic in this case. A yummy wine flight beside vineyard views and you feel yourself melting into the Mendocino pace. The annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is hosted at Goldeneye in May. Just one of the county’s many eco-friendly wineries, Mendocino County is known as “America’s greenest wine region!”
Once you reach Highway 1 you will be swept away by rugged headlands, vast expanses of Mendocino Coast, crashing waves, blue skies, and a sense of freedom. Inhale deeply. Some of California’s most remarkable state parks – 22 to be exact – provide extraordinary opportunities to relax and unwind. Ocean and river beaches, redwoods, waterfalls, sand dunes, grasslands, and a historic lighthouse are all part of Mendocino’s magic.
There is no end to the captivating places to slumber and feast without restarting your car. Each offers its own brand of green living, style and grace…past and present. Farming’s past has blessed the Glendeven Inn & Wine Bar[n] in Little River. Original buildings, circa 1867, house plush suites many with ocean views. The stylish Wine Bar[n], yes, in the old barn, features local wines and art. Evening wine-tastings and hors d'oeuvres are a sign of good things to come. Breakfast baskets delivered to your suite include farm-fresh eggs laid by Glendeven’s brood of chickens. Homemade scones and fresh-squeezed orange juice…life on the farm is good! Enjoy a quiet moment overlooking the gardens, the surf, and a pack of docile llamas.
Through Glendeven’s gate, literally, you cross over to the contemporary, 10-room AAA 4-diamond Stevenswood Spa Resort. Surrounded by towering trees, this chic inn and eco-friendly spa endorses the farm-to-table lifestyle. Local chef, Patrick Meany, is at the helm of the Zagat-rated Stevenswood restaurant. Every item is a freshly-made and crafted gastronomic work of art. Imagine…homemade sea salt accompanies local olive oil and house-baked breads. These people are serious about their locavore existence! Oh, and very pet-friendly, too! Four legs or less…inquire within.
Just north, Brewery Gulch Inn personifies the concept of recycling. Built from old-growth redwoods, the trees were eco-salvaged from the Big River. These imposing timbers are the heart and soul of the 10-room inn. An evening reception of local wines, beers, and a variety of inn-made specialties is a gourmand’s delight.
With pounding surf below, the Albion River Inn overlooks the Albion River and Pacific Ocean. Words fail to describe the dramatic cliff-top vistas. However, room with a view defines all 22 cottages and suites. The oceanfront restaurant building dates back to 1919, but the cuisine is all about the here and now. Executive Chef Stephen Smith is known for his award-winning ‘coastal cuisine.’ Like so many other culinary masters, his creations are inspired by Mendocino’s bounty, from land and sea. An intimate corner bar flaunts a single-malt scotch selection compared to none – more than 150. Tastings – a flight of four ½-ounce shots – is a “virtual tour” of Scotland’s finest distilleries.
Viewed from across the headlands or up-close and personal, the tiny Village of Mendocino is postcard perfect. Its Victorian splendor is frozen in time, but fantastically evolved. Tucked away on Ukiah Street, a yellow cottage and gardens conceals the acclaimed Café Beaujolais. For many years, the café has been a food-lovers destination. Seasonal menus showcase the freshest ingredients from near and far; Beaujolais’ “brickery breads” deserve their world-famous status; and award-winning Dungeness crab cakes are a café specialty.
In Fort Bragg, feed your garden spirit with a visit to the 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, the only public garden that sits directly on the Pacific Ocean. The many gardens – perennial, Mediterranean, heather, dahlia, vegetable, rhododendrons – flourish in the ocean air. More than 400 dahlias put on a stunning display July through August. As if the gardens weren’t enough, more than 150 bird species and bluff-top whale watching are reasons to stop by.
In our hurried world, the slow-moving Skunk Train is a delightful way to decelerate and let go. This historic 1911 transit system, known as the crookedest track in the West, ambles past primordial redwoods and fern canyons along the Noyo River. The trip from Fort Bragg to North Spur is truly a journey back in time. Summer trains include a barbecue and entertainment at the North Spur station. Oregonians, Rick and Terri Korner, were loving their first Skunk Train experience. “It’s delightful…we’re so glad it’s still here,” said Terri. And it’s a wonderful way for parents and children to reconnect – joyful moments captured between David and three-year-old son Brian were testament to that.
There’s so much more to remember. The ebb and flow of the Pacific tides, the gentle cooing of a mourning dove, and a small circle of forget-me-nots…who could forget Mendocino?
Mendocino County Crab & Wine Days – January
Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals - March
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival - May
Mendocino Film Festival – June
Annual Mendocino Coast Home & Garden Tour - June
Annual Summer Arts & Craft Fair, Mendocino - July
Mendocino Coast Music Festival - July
Pure Mendocino Celebration, Premier Organic Food & Wine Festival - August
Winesong!, Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, Fort Bragg – September
Mendocino Wine & Mushroom Festival - November