Standout travel destination is an embarrassment of riches with unique combination of features
Mendocino, Calif.- The coast of California in the land of dreams has no shortage of spectacular destinations. Our latest adventure finds us returning to Mendocino County. Small communities with a huge reputation for travel adventure.
Spend a few days tucked along this scenic stretch of Northern California’s magnificent coast and you’ll promptly encounter one of the richest densities of natural beauty in all of California. Mendocino is a county of about 90,000 residents spread over 3,500 square miles, making it larger than the entire states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Let’s explore a slice of Mendocino!
A journey and a destination
Mendocino deftly serves up both a memorable journey and a destination. For those not flying into one of the region’s small airports, visitors can expect a sometimes long and winding road either via Coast Highway 1, the ultra winding Highway 20 from the east or Highway 128 from the south. While each route offers unique twists and turns, Highway 128 is pure travel delight.
This bucolic and laid back route weaves visitors through the colorful hills and vineyards of Anderson Valley before winding its way through mile after mile of robust groves of towering Redwoods along the Navarro River. Leaving the Redwoods, the Navarro River widens shortly before the mighty Pacific Ocean greets its arrival with thunderous applause. The spectacular and varied scenery along this entire route is well worth the additional twists and turns. The density of geographical wonder and transitions on this relatively brief stretch of California is a gift for the senses.
Craft Beer & Pinot Noir
A prerequisite of any adventure through this region always includes a visit to the Anderson Valley Brewing taproom where locals and guests gather for conversation over a tasty pint on tap. The property and taproom are spread over a large rural parcel of land offering a welcome and relaxing change of pace to the common industrial motif found throughout many craft breweries. The five ounce pours of Oatmeal Stout were the perfect size for a quick stop and hello to our friends at Anderson Valley Brewing. Individual cans for on-the-go are the perfect way to try something new and they also make terrific gifts for your craft beer friends!
Mendocino has been labeled California’s Organic Wine Mecca and is popular for varietals that thrive in cooler climates. With dozens of wineries to explore and visit, we stopped off at Lula Cellars in Philo to chat with proprietor Ken Avery about his love of Pinot noir and sample their tasty wines! While our top pick was the 2021 Guntly Red, for its smooth blend of Pinot noir and Cabernet, we also introduced a new varietal to our palate, a tasty and smooth white called Gewürztraminer! Daily tasting are available at this relaxing and quaint property. Check it out at https://www.lulacellars.com/
Navarro River Redwoods State Park
Pressing on toward the coast, travelers on Highway 128 will encounter an 11-mile long redwood “tunnel” that towers over both sides of the road and envelops visitors beneath its canopy in a dark shroud that can restrict light even on the sunniest of days. Navarro River Redwoods State Park is a magical and otherworldly place ideal for reflection and recreation. A drive through is a surreal experience. You just have to see it, to see it! Learn more at https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=435
Catch-a-Canoe on the Big River
Entering late November, cautious optimism was the mood prior to embarking on a canoe trip up the Big River this time of year. Thankfully, mother nature shined upon us with warm sunshine and calm waters.
Catch-a-Canoe, part of The Stanford Inn & Resort begins its journey a short distance from the crashing surf where the the Pacific and Big River endlessly dance together. This remarkable location is noted as being the longest undeveloped estuary in the entire state of California. Its brackish waters extend for miles inland along this nearly 42-mile river of unspoiled beauty. Be sure to dress in layers and check the tides and wind before heading out. Watching anglers practicing their fly casting and hearty swimmers navigating the cold river is a fun sight this time of year.
Bursting with wildlife and beauty, the Big River is a special place. Within 100 yards of leaving the confines of land, we were regularly greeted by river otters checking us out before silently submerging beneath the cool waters. Ducks and birds of unidentified species splashed and foraged in the river and along the banks. Grassy island marshes offer ideal resting and sleeping grounds for harbor seals who nonchalantly gaze out toward human paddlers and swimmers. This area is also home to the elusive Hermit Thrush which is often heard, yet not seen!
Canoeing the Big River far exceeded our expectations. Pure fun from start to finish.
TIP: Go for one of the outrigger canoes! They are much more stable and steering is done completely by foot! The stability and ease of use make it a terrific choice if you’re new to canoeing! Learn more at Catch- a-Canoe.
Lodging & Dining
Once your day of exploring and soaking in all the natural beauty that is Mendocino, it’s time to switch gears. Sharing a delicious, locally sourced meal with a glass of local wine is a terrific way to unwind and reflect upon the day’s experiences.
For a little romance and ambiance, we headed over to the historic MacCallum House. Built in 1882, this beautiful Victorian home offers cozy accommodations as well as a seasonal, farm to table dining experience. Menus and ingredients change with each season and the chef’s creative input ensures a uniquely scrumptious experience! A roaring fireplace, dinner by candlelight and stellar service provides guests with an elevated dining experience.
In the spirit of the season, I opted for the roasted acorn squash with kale, wild mushrooms & quinoa sauté, roasted garlic walnut cream, pomegranate gastrique, sage paired with a smooth Pinot noir from Fathers & Daughters Cellars. Cooked to perfection, the meal was a fusion of autumn and local flavors! Be sure to save room for the seasonal dessert menu! The apple beignets with salted caramel and cinnamon ice cream paired with a Tawny port are a decadent finish to an absolutely perfect day in Mendocino!
My better half chose the grilled filet mignon with Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed spinach, cabernet glazed shallots, horseradish crème fraîche, fried onions. Filet mignon that “melts-in-your-mouth” was followed by a luxurious dessert of chocolate pecan torte with bourbon maple crème anglaise.
MacCallum House’s renowned dining experience includes ocean views and exceptional service. A palate-pleasing experience with a warm ambiance and attentive service that is pure Mendocino! Check out those menus and explore accommodations at MacCallum House.
Brewery Gulch Inn: quintessential Mendocino!
Fireplace lit and windows opened, we silently peered a short distance westward through the top of coniferous trees that adorned the property to take sight where land meets sea at Smuggler’s Cove. The setting sun blazed the evening sky alight in a multi-faceted display of orange, pink, and purple. Those first five minutes of our stay at the idyllic Brewery Gulch Inn set the tone for the entirety of our visit at this quintessential Mendocino property. Feel the Zen!
Ten warmly decorated rooms spread out over 3 floors at this welcoming coastal inn feel more like a visit to the family home for the holidays than typical lodging.
Once you’re checked in and have had a few moments to refresh and unwind in your room, it’s time to head downstairs where more fun awaits. Cozy up next to the large fireplace for conversation over a glass of local wine or brew yourself some herbal tea or coffee. Take up a challenge with one of the myriad of board games available. Browse newspapers or magazines and settle in on the cozy leather couch. Or you might consider strolling out to the scenic back deck to do absolutely nothing, but smile!
Each evening, Brewery Gulch Inn hosts Happy Hour that includes a selection of delicious Mendocino wines and craft beers. The familial vibe of the space offers easy opportunities for friendly chat with other travelers.
Dining here is a uniquely fun and scrumptious experience! The Inn’s executive chef prepares each room with a beautifully prepared Bento box (made from eco-salvaged redwoods). Although it’s billed as appetizers, the large wooden Bento box provides hearty servings of immaculately prepared and flavorful delights! The experience will have you rethinking the meaning of Bento box!
Brewery Gulch Inn is an upscale destination worthy of its top 10 recognition as one of California’s Top Resort Hotels by Travel & Leisure. Our experience concurs. A quintessential Mendocino destination to unwind, relax, and reconnect.
Explore more at Brewery Gulch Inn
Light Up the Night
If the nighttime sky is expected to be clear during your visit, plan some time to gaze up at the night sky. It’s dark and the lack of light pollution in this part of California provides an incredible experience of stars and planets that simply isn’t available near population centers.
Anticipation is always high when planning visits to Mendocino. The immense natural beauty and incredible hospitality in a more laid back atmosphere hearkens back to simpler times. An experience that is always welcome for the holiday season and anytime of the year!