Mysterious and magical, the village shares its charms on its own terms
By Katharine Fong
It’s tempting when thinking of weekend getaways to skip Mendocino – a little too far, a little too cold, not as sexy or celebrity-chef-laden as Napa and Sonoma.
But that would be a mistake.
Not that Mendocino makes it easy. One late summer morning the village, perched on headlands above the Pacific, was enveloped in fog so thick that driving slowed to a crawl and road signs were impossible to make out.
The place was forlorn and quiet, its New England-style saltbox cottages less quaint than dreary.
Still, as we strolled, there were the usual things that captivate: the quirky collection of shops and galleries along Main Street; the one-off artworks, from a carved wood bench to a whimsical mosaic armchair; the riotous blooms in private gardens but in full public view.
The leisurely pace became quite agreeable. An espresso at Thanksgiving Coffee Cafe, a stop at the Mendocino Art Center, a run at Harvest Market with the locals to stock up on evening victuals, and life in Mendo didn’t seem bad at all.
And then, in early evening, enlightenment – literally. The gray cloud cover finally lifted at the horizon where ocean met sky, and brilliant shafts of sunlight shot through, casting a lovely warm glow on town, shoreline and hillsides. Couples and friends milled onto the windswept bluffs above the water, which had turned magical: Weedy grasses became a tawny, undulating blanket; the odd fishing boat rocked gently in the cove; patches of cerulean blue were visible above. The scene was thrilling and painterly.
Mendocino weather packs its share of clear, sunny days, of course, and late fall and winter are a perfect time to sample the town’s many charms. But the magic of the place is perhaps best appreciated when least expected.
Mendocino is rightly known for being green ahead of just about anywhere else. In 2004, the county became the first in the U.S. to prohibit the growth of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Sustainable agriculture, particularly in vineyards, is widespread, and the raw food movement is centered here.
A few green places to stay and visit:The Stanford Inn is a must, both for its comfortably outfitted rooms (wood paneling, wood-burning fireplaces, decks overlooking the grounds and Big River and Mendocino Bay), solarium pool and spa, and the high-end vegetarian and vegan Ravens’ Restaurant. The eco-resort’s organic gardens provide much of Ravens’ bounty.
Innkeeper Jeff Stanford has been reading Krishnamurti since he was a teen, and through the writer/teacher’s works came to realize that if it’s “less disruptive to plants and animals, then it’s better for you.” Stanford became a vegetarian in 1985, five years after he and his wife, Joan, purchased the 10-acre property and converted to organic gardening. The couple rebuilt both land and structures less as a “hotel” and more as a haven for relaxation and well-being. (They also run the Mendocino Center for Well Being on the inn’s grounds.) The Mendocino Hotel, whose main building dates to 1878, asserts its eco-sensitivity by using original, restored antiques and fixtures, including a 200-year-old Dutch fireplace and vintage curtains turned into throw pillows. The hotel uses water from seven wells that draw from aquifers under the property. Keeping up with the times, it has nine electric charging stations for guests with those Fisker Karmas, and all accommodations have startlingly contemporary bathrooms with low-flow fixtures.
Want a little lodging price relief but still sleep green? Try spending a night at the Super 8 in Ukiah, 60 miles away from Mendo. Yes, it’s a chain, but owner Raakesh Patel is appealing to customers’ eco-wants with an electric vehicle charging station, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, environmentally friendly pest control and more.
Ukiah and its neighboring town of Hopland, in fact, have made their mark in the eco-world in a number of ways, including the Fetzer, Parducci and Paul Dolan vineyards and wineries, which are leaders in sustainable winemaking. (Lolonis Winery and Frey Vineyard, also organic, are eight and 14 miles north of Ukiah, respectively.) The Ukiah Brewing Company, with both organic beer and food, is a convivial spot in the middle of town.
The quirky Solar Living Institute in Hopland offers workshops in renewable energy and sustainable living, a Real Goods store and installations such as a “modern-day Stonehenge solar calendar.”
Outdoor enthusiasts, of course, will be in their element in Mendocino; try Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too! at the Stanford Inn for good equipment and starting points. Food at pubs and casual restaurants is generally organic, locally sourced and very good; those hankering for fine dining can turn to 955 Ukiah and Cafe Beaujolais, among others.
The natural beauty of Fort Bragg makes the 10 mile-trip north well worth it: Check out MacKerricher State Park’s amazing tide pools and Ten Mile Beach Trail, nice for hikers and bikers.
Good time to go: Dec. 3-4, for Fort Bragg’s Holiday Lights Parades; Dec. 8-12, for the Mendocino Coast Candlelight Inn Tour. Mendocino’s Crab & Wine festival takes place throughout January. Whale-watching season runs December through April.
For more information
Mendocino Art Center
The Stanford Inn
Super 8 Ukiah
Thanksgiving Coffee Cafe