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Mendocino: A New England Getaway, California Style
Mendocino, less than half a day's drive from most San Francisco Bay Area locations, is reminiscent of Maine or Massachusetts, but with some special differences that make this north coast village uniquely Californian.
"Romance without pretense," two miles south of Mendocino.
A trip to Mendocino can be an excursion in its own right or it can be combined with stops at other nearby destinations. The wine and apple region of the Anderson Valley, including the town of Boonville and its famous hotel, are less than an hour away. Hopland, just north of the Junction of Highways 128 and 101, offers wine-tasting as well as dining, shopping, and a sense of the old West. Fort Bragg and the Skunk Train are just a few miles up the road. Further north, almost to Eureka, is the quaint Victorian village of Ferndale.
I suggest spending at least two nights in Mendocino. I prefer to stay right in the Village, park my car at my inn, and get around on foot for the duration of my relaxing stay.
The busiest tourist times in Mendocino are weekends, the summer months and the week between Christmas and New Year. For these times in particular, it is advisable to reserve ahead for both a room and for dinner, particularly if you have your heart set on dining at such popular spots as 955 Ukiah, Cafe Beaujolais or the Moosse Cafe.
In summer, come prepared for the typical California coastal fog: it may be warm and sunny thirty miles to the east in the Anderson Valley, but chances are it will be cool and fogged-in here. There is a good chance that fine day weather will be punctuated by some period of rain. In winter, there is a good chance that it will rain during your stay.
Bring cash or checks. Curiously, some inns, restaurants and shops do not accept credit cards. The one ATM machine in town is a popular stopping place for tourists who find themselves running low on cash.
Mendocino experience cell phone blackout so don't expect to use your phone. Many rooms have no telephones or televisions so your trip to Mendocino can be a REAL getaway!
Mendocino is about 200 miles north of San Francisco. The most direct route is to drive north on Highway 101 to Cloverdale. At Cloverdale, take Highway 128 west to the Pacific Coast Highway. Allow three to four hours for the trip from San Francisco. A more scenic, but about two-hour-longer, route is along the coast on Highway One starting in Mill Valley. If you have the time, like windy roads, and are traveling on a weekday when traffic to the Marin beaches is light, this is a delightful trip.
If you have a plane, there is a nearby airport in Little River with a 5200-foot landing strip.
Where To Stay
It is in Mendocino that many people enjoy their first stay in a Bed & Breakfast Inn. In and around Mendocino Village there are more than two dozen B & Bs, each with its own charm and personality. Accommodations can be expensive; expect to pay over $150 per night. On weekends, a two-night minimum stay is usually required. On holiday weekends, a three-night stay may be required.
My favorite B & B in the Village is the Joshua Grindle Inn, a ten-room, 1879 Victorian inn. Accommodations are light and airy, featuring Early American and Shaker antiques. Six of the rooms have fireplaces and all have comfortable sitting areas and private baths. Joshua Grindle was the town banker. You may want to stay in his room in the main house, with its view of the ocean, or in a more private room in one of the Grindle's outer buildings, the Cypress Cottages or a room in the Watertower. Expect a special breakfast and you won't be disappointed.
Another equally-charming Village inn is the J. D. House, an historic, six-room 1867 Saltbox. This inn has some of the best ocean views. It features early American antiques, wood burning stoves, stenciled walls and one of Mendocino's finest English gardens -- the pride and joy of English innkeeper, Marion Wells.
A mile and a half outside of the Village is the Mendocino Farmhouse, a cozy five-room inn in a secluded, redwood forest. The smaller room in the main house with the wood-burning stove is a favorite of couples who come to Mendocino for a romantic getaway.
For those desiring a stay in a small hotel in the Village, I recommend either the Mendocino Hotel and Garden Suites or the MacCallum House Inn. The Mendocino Hotel has 51 rooms and two restaurants. The MacCallum House has 20 rooms and a restaurant. It was one of the first B & Bs in Mendocino.
For those seeking larger, more resort-like, accommodations, I suggest staying in Little River, just to the south of Mendocino, at either Heritage House or Little River Inn.
Heritage House became famous after it was the setting for the movie "Same Time Next Year." Its history goes further back to the 19th century when its farmhouse was used as a safe house for smugglers of Chinese laborers. During Prohibition, rum runners hid here; and in the 1930s it was the hiding place of choice for bandit Baby Face Nelson. Spectacular ocean views can be enjoyed from the cliff-hanging rooms.
Little River Inn dates back to the 1850s. In addition to the charming Victorian main house with its excellent restaurant, there are guest cottages and tennis and golf facilities.
And Dennen's Victorian Farmhouse is south of the village and very service oriented. Breakfast is delivered to your room, the owners are quite helpful and many guests enjoy that away-from-the-village feel.
The Village is small with most of the shops and galleries clustered along Main, Albion, and Ukiah and their intersecting streets. I love to browse and buy in Mendocino because there are so many high-quality, unique shops...something of an enigma for a town that attracts so many tourists. These are some of my favorites:
Sally Mac, Out of This World, Vintage Toy Store, Rainsong and Fancy That are just a few of the shops in the Village.
Lark In The Morning's Musique Shoppe displays a fascinating array of musical instruments from around the world, many of them one of a kind. In addition to the instruments there are books, videos, recordings and music accessories. Even more of Lark's merchandise can be ordered from its catalog. The Lark's special World Wide Web catalog on the Internet includes descriptions and downloadable sounds of many instruments and an online order form.
The Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books cater to adults and children, respectively. Their wide variety of books on every imaginable topic, makes this two-part bookstore a pleasant place to browse.
One shop specializes in gold jewelry. At Old Gold there are both antique and contemporary pieces.
The books, games, puzzles, science kits, space music, telescopes, and binoculars at Out of This World appeal to skygazers and those with scientific interests.
At Sticks everything is made from wooden sticks...that is, everything from a tiny basket to wooden sofas and chairs. Many items at Sticks are the works of Mendocino County craftspeople.
The Wine Shop offers tourists a chance to take home that special bottle of Mendocino (and other) wines.
Continue your shopping while taking a break to taste wine at the Fetzer Vineyards Tasting Room and Shop. A full line of Fetzer wines is for sale here, as are wine accessories and Fetzer tee shirts, hats and other insignia clothing.
Mendocino has for years been a community that attracts artists. The Mendocino Art Center offers a wide range of classes and workshops in textile and fiber arts, ceramics, and fine arts. It exhibits and sells the works of its students. The Mendocino Art Center Showcase shows the works of the Center's established artists.
For me, no visit to Mendocino is complete without a trip to the Highlight Gallery where I yearn for one of the hand-crafted wooden desks and other pieces of wood furniture that they feature. Highlight's jewelry, paintings, glass and other local fine art are special.
The Artists Co-op of Mendocino is run by and shows the works of its members. One or more of the member artists will be there whenever you visit, providing a first-hand opportunity to discuss the works of that artist and, perhaps, to view an artist at work.
The William Zimmer Gallery has room after room of fine art, hand-crafted furniture, and unique jewelry.
One can dine well without ever leaving Mendocino Village. If you have your heart set on dining at a particular restaurant, ask your inn or hotel to make a reservation for you when you call to book your room.
The Moosse Cafe, formerly the Chocolate Moosse, was destroyed by fire in the summer of 1994. It reopened in the summer of 1995, its historical detail completely restored. Soups and salads are the popular lunchtime dishes. The dinner menu features, pastas, several vegetarian dishes, roast chicken, seafood and the tasty Calda Verde, (a bowl of steaming broth with chicken, shrimp, or vegetables).
One restaurant not to miss is 955 Ukiah. This friendly restaurant is set back from the street in what once was an artist's studio. Chef Jamie Griffiths, who runs the restaurant with his wife Peggy, has created a menu that suits all appetites and tastes. It includes pastas, salads, light meals, wonderful seafood, lamb and duck creations.
If you want to dress up for dinner, head over to the formal dining room at the MacCallum House. Food is also served in the MacCallum House's popular, less formal, Grey Whale Bar. Chef Alan Kantor produces wonderful, localy produced foods.
Another elegant choice is the dining room and bar at the Mendocino Hotel.
Cafe Beaujolais serves dinner and has an adjacent bakery, but be sure and check for their opening times. This is not an early morning bakery.
For breakfast with a view (you may see whales during the winter months), head to the Bay View Cafe, a second-floor restaurant on Main Street that serves tasty omelets. The Mendocino Cafe is a favorite with the locals who enjoy the multi-cultural cuisine, especially the hearty burritos. There is more than frozen yogurt at the Cultured Affair: each day there are freshly-prepared soups and pasta dishes and a tempting salad bar. The Mendocino Bakery & Cafe features tasty pastries and healthful sandwiches and soups.
Mendocino's idea of a sports bar is Patterson's Pub, a friendly bar with three TVs and Pub style food from around the world. In additional to traditional pub fare like ribs, burgers and chili, Patterson's features daily French, English and Italian specials. More that 110 different beers are served, as well as wines and other spirits.
If you are heading out for a hike or picnic, Tote Fete is an excellent choice for take-out sandwiches and salads. Head around back to Tote Fete's bakery for pastries and breads.
Beyond enjoying Mendocino's natural beauty of the ocean, with walks along the trails of the Headlands State Park and breathtaking views from the inns, shops, and restaurants in the Village, visitors can also partake of community activities and events.
The Kelley House Museum (45007 Albion Street) dates back to 1861 and was the home of William Henry Kelley, a Canadian who came to Mendocino in 1852. Working at a variety of jobs, he made enough money to buy out most of the land on which Mendocino Village now stands. His home was restored about 20 years ago and turned into a museum dedicated to the history of the Mendocino coast between Gualala and Westport. The Museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday.
The Ford House (bay side of Main Street), built in 1854, was one of the first homes in Mendocino. It is headquarters for the Headlands State Park and houses a museum showcasing the early logging history of the area. During whale-watching season (November to April), whale films are shown and park rangers lead walks through the headlands to view the whales. The Ford House is open daily.
The Mendocino Presbyterian Church (44831 Main Street) is the oldest Presbyterian Church in continuous operation in California. It dates back to 1868. Guided tours of the church are given Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon.The Second Saturday Gallery Walk is a special monthly open house, between 5 and 8 p.m., at most of the local galleries. It is on this evening that many galleries exhibit new shows and hold receptions for the artists. Many galleries serve refreshments. There is no charge.
July brings the Mendocino Music Festival on the Mendocino Headlands. This popular event features local and professional music...orchestra concerts, chamber music, opera, jazz, and more. For schedules and tickets: (707) 937-2044.
On the 4th of July there is a parade down Main Street and an Ice Cream Social at the Kelley House.
Winesong! takes place a few miles to the north of Mendocino at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg. This September event on the Saturday after Labor Day is a must-do for wine lovers and collectors. Winesong! is a day-long wine and food tasting, followed by a live and silent auction. Although the emphasis in the auction is on wine, other tempting items such as travel packages are included. Winesong! is a fund-raiser for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. For information: (707) 964-5185.
The Wine & Mushroom Fest (November 11, 2004) is always popular.
December is a festive time in Mendocino. Christmas Festival events include a Candlelight Tour of Bed & Breakfast Inns and a Celebrity Cooks and Kitchens Tour.
Winter brings Crab and Wine Days (December 26, 2006--February 28, 2007).
For more information about Mendocino events, accommodations, and restaurants, visit the Mendocino County Alliance at: www.gomendo.com
To learn about the winter Mendocino's Crab & Wine Days, click here.
Where To Stay (in Mendocino, unless otherwise indicated)
J. D. House
571 Ukiah Street
Joshua Grindle Inn
44800 Little Lake Road
Little River Inn
7751 North Highway 1
Little River CA 95456
MacCallum House Inn
45020 Albion Street
434 Comptche-Ukiah Road
(800) 475-1536 or (707) 937-0241 Fax: (707) 937-1086
Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites
45080 Main Street
(800) 548-0513 or (707) 937-0511
45170 Little Lake Street
Mendocino CA 95460
Bay View Cafe
Main Street near Lansing
A Cultured Affair
Albion Street west of Kasten
MacCallum House Restaurant and The Grey Whale Bar & Cafe
Mendocino Bakery & Cafe
10455 Lansing Street
10451 Lansing Street
45080 Main Street
The Moosse Cafe
Kasten Street at Albion
955 Ukiah Restaurant
955 Ukiah Street
10485 Lansing Street
10450 Lansing Street at Albion
The Wine Shop
45050 Main Street
Fetzer Vineyards Tasting Room and Shop
45090 Main Street
Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books
corner Main and Kasten Streets
Lark In The Morning
The Old Carriage House, 10460 Kasten Street
Albion Street at Lansing
(800) 992-5335 or (707) 937-5005
Out of This World
corner of Main Street and Kasten
45085 Albion Street
Artists Co-op of Mendocino
45270 Main Street (upstairs)
Main Street at Highway 1
45052 Main Street
Mendocino Art Center
45200 Little Lake Street
Lansing Street at Ukiah
William Zimmer Gallery
10481 Lansing Street