Are you planning your summer vacation and thinking of heading to California or you’re a Californian looking for something a bit out of the beaten path that does not involve pitching a tent and hiking? Think Mendocino; I spent four delightful days last month in Mendocino County, three nights at Little River Inn and one at the Brewery Gulch Inn, and both locations enchanted me for different reasons. From whales watching, art galleries, fine dining and spectacular ocean sceneries, my Mendocino getaway surpassed all my expectations.
Little River Inn is an excellent destination for the whole family, couples and easily could accommodate a small corporate event. If you’re seeking a tête-à-tête, and a romantic getaway or to unplug from your busy executive life, book at the Brewery Gulch Inn.
Little River Inn is pet-friendly, has a beautiful golf course, tennis courts and a first-class spa and is very hospitable. I spent two nights in one of the Abalone Suite best suited for a work-and-play stay and came home to Santa Cruz with a sincere desire to return in September. Little River Inn is the place to stay for a taste of the true Mendocino character. The Inn was built in 1853 by Silas Coombs and has remained in the family ever since. I spoke with Cally Dym, a fifth-generation innkeeper, and grand-daughter of the original owner. Cally talked with affection about Ole Coombs, her grandfather who turned that original building into the Inn eighty years ago. She told me about the time her grandfather kicked out legendary actor James Dean from Ole’s Whale bar. Dean along with some of the cast of the film “East of Eden” shot in 1955, spent a few nights at the Inn, and rumor has it, Ole kicked him out of the bar for spitting on the floor and putting his feet up on the bar. Nevertheless, they named a room after James Dean, a lovely little suite adorned with a photo of the actor on the wall.
The old Coombs home is located on 225 wooded acres. The Inn is surrounded by 65 oceanview rooms, a dining room, and bar, nine-hole golf course with pro shop and day spa. A true testimony to the welcoming atmosphere the Inn posses, both the restaurant and the bar are equally frequented by the locals and the guests alike and are tended with the most attentive bar and wait staff. During my solo stay, I felt surrounded by good company and had the opportunity to chat with guests and residents.
It’s one of those places where you can take your honey or be at ease with the whole family, without fear of disrupting the other guests. It is elegant enough to please the discerning travelers but pleasantly relaxed to make a family with small children feel right at home. The food in the dining room is hearty, fresh and unpretentious and may just be what you will crave after a day of hiking, whale watching or kayaking. And you must try the warm olallieberry cobbler from Callie’s grandmother’s recipe. It is to die for.
I asked Cally if any of big resort chains have come knocking at her the door to acquire the Inn and its splendid site and she said, “Not yet. Even though we’re situated in a state with a thriving tourist industry, Mendocino is not on the radar of the big trade publications due to its comparative remoteness, and limited access.” It’s true, there’s only one road (state highway 128W) to get to Mendocino, and the closest airport offering regularly scheduled service is Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Sonoma County. That being said, Highway 128 is not without its charm and makes the journey enjoyable. It intersects with Highway 101, heading west over forested mountains, through the picturesque Anderson Valley with its numerous vineyards such as Lula Cellars, and along the Navarro River through a redwoods forest all the way to the coast.
Little River Inn may be the perfect location for a small corporate retreat with a team who is looking to better connect without the big city distractions. The Abalone room offers a large ocean-view AV conference room and can accommodate up to 100 for theater seating, has a WiFi and a wired network, point of sale wiring, and can host a dual display. And once the event is over, the participants can head over to the town of Mendocino and explore the scenery, or stay on the site and enjoy the amenities, food, and drinks.
Under the ownership of Guy Pacurar, innkeeper of Brewery Gulch Inn, and the hospitable disposition of Steven Smith, General Manager of Brewery Gulch Inn, Gulch finds itself in the elite group as one of the few inns recognized by Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as a top hotel in the world. And I understand why it made the rank. From its art collection adorning its walls, to the fine dining composed of locally-grown ingredients to the refined but unpretentious decor and the exclusive setting that an inn with only ten rooms and an off-site private cottage offer, my stay at The Gulch was imbued with calm, serenity and beauty. And probably one of the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time, composed of fresh fruits, farm eggs, hot rolls, and a Cumin Yogourt drink, unlike any others. Smith took the time to sit down with me and spoke with great passion about the art collection in the guest rooms and walls of the Inn, the daily food menu which changes based on what is locally available and the care bestowed upon each guest to make their stay memorable. I only spent one night at the Inn, and while other guests were sophisticated travelers looking for that something extra that a chain hotel cannot give, I noticed an extended family with a small child. The family stayed in one of the largest suites and seemed to take the opportunity to spend quality time together, playing board games and sharing stories, instead of staring at a digital display as is nowadays so often the case.
It is worth mentioning that The Gulch used for its construction 5,000 board feet of a local farm eco-salvaged, virgin-growth guiltless redwood and stands on the site of the historic Homer Barton’s farm. Barton is best known for establishing in 1854 the first real farm in Mendocino County to which he later added a successful dairy and brewery. Pacurar’s Brewery Gulch Inn is set on a path to make history of its own.
While staying in Mendocino, head over to Anderson Valley to discover some of the best wines California offers. I stopped by Lula Cellars, and at the recommendation of the winemaker Matt Parish, I savored what arguably can be described as the best Pinot Noir’s in California while enjoying spectacular settings. The difference between Napa’s wines and Anderson Valley is attributed to the climate. Parish, originally from New Zealand, now calls Anderson Valley home at Lula Cellars, said to the Scope Weekly, “Napa is primarily about Bordeaux varietals vs. Anderson about Burgundy varietals – all to do with climate.” Cheers to that!
Hop aboard the Skunk Train to explore the local scenery. The 131-year-old train takes its passengers through the redwood forest, pristine coastline, and award-winning vineyards for a day of sightseeing.
I will end this review with one last anecdote. When I returned home, still under the spell of my stay at The Little River Inn and Brewery Gulch and the magnificent Mendocino County, I heard the call of the Muse and painted three oil paintings inspired by what I saw. It’s that beautiful.
Photos courtesy of Little River Inn, the Brewery Gulch Inn, Lula Cellars, Skunk Train.