Mendocino: A Wild and Sophisticated Weekend

The picturesque seaside village may look like a movie set (indeed, the TV series “Murder She Wrote” and such films as “Same Time Next Year” were filmed here), but its allure runs deep and wide. There’s fine and funky dining, beach combing, hiking, abalone diving, a population of artists and crafts people, and a calendar full of food and wine festivals. And the drive from San Francisco takes you through the Anderson Valley and its countless opportunities for tasting superb North Coast varietals.

Highlights
100 W Laurel St, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, USA
The Skunk Train (formally the California Western Railroad) dates to the 1880s and cruises between Fort Bragg and Willits, over trestles, through tunnels, and past some amazingly old Redwoods. It is indeed a “tourist attraction” but also a glorious way to travel through beautiful Northern California forests. During Mendocino’s major culinary events--the Beer, Wine & Mushroom Festival in November and the Crab, Wine & Beer Days in January--ride a special express to hunt for for mushrooms with a mycologist or enjoy a Crab Louie with local wines.
POB 487, 44850 Comptche Ukiah Rd, Mendocino, CA 95460, USA
The terraced organic garden that steps down the hillside in front of the Stanford Inn (above Mendocino Bay) provides some of the vegetables and herbs for the innovative cuisine in the hotel’s Ravens’ Restaurant. A stroll through the farm, with a visit to the donkeys and horses and llamas, helps work up an appetite for the vegetable-based whole-food meals that raise the bar on all-vegan fine dining. Innkeeper Jeff Stanford puts his ethics on the plate: Vegan for both health and philosophical reasons, Stanford collaborates with certified nutrition consultant Sid Hillman and the Ravens’ chefs to create dazzling meals, including one of the most innovative and tempting brunch menus I’ve ever encountered. The Inn, a large boutique hotel with panoramic ocean views, an organic farm, luxury amenities, and a bookstore and wine shop, gains additional points for being dog-friendly--even in a special dining area.
Boonville, CA 95415, USA
Boonville, a tiny town in the middle of California’s Anderson Valley, is proudly anti-establishment and idiosyncratic. The area has its own language, and a radical newspaper that isn’t afraid to print controversial stories. The last time I passed through I stopped at this little shop, which stocks a beautifully curated collection of wooden spoons (shown here), tablecloths, glassware, and other rustic curios.
Russian Gulch State Park, California 95460, USA
The Russian Gulch State Park may have the perfect forest hike: A seven mile loop to a 35-foot waterfall through new growth redwood forests. Start at the beach parking lot and take the Fern Grove trail to the waterfall. Then, loop back on the North trail, which climbs to the forest crest. The trail is well trodden making for easy hiking. The elevations are gentle with switchbacks. Bring small bills in USD for the self-service registration fee.
961 Ukiah St, Mendocino, CA 95460, USA
Anytime we get anywhere near Mendocino, we have to stop at the Brickery, the stand-alone bakery behind the renowned Cafe Beaujolais restaurant. This is where the breads are baked for the restaurant, but the bakers also sell retail right out the window. Our go-to bread = Austrian Sunflower. Wow. We take loaves home and freeze them, to hold us over until the next trip. (Thawed and toasted, the way to go.) Another tip: When the Brickery’s closed, walk down the passage along the west side of the restaurant and ring at the kitchen window--they will sell you loaves from their stash as available!
31502 California 1
In 1986, self-described Connecticut Yankee Will Jackson bought an 850-acre cattle ranch with beachfront property and a tiny inn, a few miles north of Fort Bragg. In September 2015, after six years of securing permits and four years of construction, he and his heirs opened The Inn at Newport Ranch, still a working ranch (cattle, quarry, timber) but now surrounded by over 2,000 acres of coastal headlands and rolling hills. The Inn comprises four rooms and four suites (plus the owner’s four-bedroom vacation home), each uniquely configured and appointed. The use of woods, stone, concrete, steel, glass, and plaster, and the attention to detail (it will take more than a weekend stay to discover all the architectural and design treasures) are as spectacular as the panoramic views of the north coast bluffs, beaches, and Pacific Ocean sunsets. We stayed in the Grove Suite, so named because many of the building’s two-dozen 25-foot-tall redwoods (bark still on) come up through the floor as soaring columns in the living/dining areas. The main inn has a water-tower rooftop hot tub, and each suite has its own. Innkeepers Creighton and Cindi Smith have impeccable and down-home hospitality chops. There’s a breakfast spread every morning, wine and appetizers in the evening, and dinner upon request. With a modest footprint, the Inn is Mendocino County’s new great leap forward in accommodations.
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