Magical Mendocino County
By Ann Nelson



One of my favorite escapes is the entire California coast, especially Mendocino County. Located about two hours north of San Francisco, the county stretches from the ocean to the little towns of Hopland and Healdsburg, about a one-hour drive to the east. As my husband and I were driving down the coastline it was easy to see why this is one of the most photographed places in the world.

Considering how breathtaking Mendocino County is, it’s refreshing to discover just how undeveloped it is. Right next to the ocean, there are miles and miles of open meadows with grazing cows feeding on the tall grasses. Towering redwood forests appear out of nowhere and completely shade the country roads that dot the seaside towns. Mendocino County is much less crowded than Napa and Sonoma Valley, and known for its sheer beauty, unique B & B’s, fabulous organic food and wine.

In the early 1800’s, the Northern California coast was still a hidden treasure. It wasn’t until the wreck of the tall ship Frolic in 1850 when the Mendocino Coast began to be explored. When word of the shipwreck reached San Francisco, treasure hunters made the treacherous journey up the coast to recover what they could of the ship’s valuables. During their trips, they were amazed to discover forests of giant redwood trees. It was not long after this discovery that the first sawmills were built along the coast. Today, this industry is no longer thriving.

Our first stop was Hopland. The town’s name was originally derived from the fact that Hopland was the largest producer of hops for beer in the U.S. Hopland is now home to The Solar Living Institute. Situated on twelve acres, the Institute, consists of numerous outdoor displays centered around energy conservation, recycling and solar power.

I am not a “techie,” but I did find the institute to be exciting and inspiring, especially the “hands-on” exhibits. Every part of the property was created from reclaimed or recycled material. The bathroom walls are made with recycled toilet lids. The Real Goods Store, located on the property, is constructed from rice straw bales. The store carries everything from corn fiber socks to Steam Engine Hydro Turbines.

After spending our afternoon at The Solar Institute, we retired to Lawson Station, a lovely, cozy suite hotel. Our room had a wonderful fireplace, a small kitchen, and a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub that I felt I could stay in forever. We didn’t want to leave Hopland without visiting the tasting room at Sip Winery. The owner, Bernadette, delighted us with her stories about choosing the very best organic wines, and the history of Mendocino. Sip’s wine selections are made from the very best small artisan winemakers and vineyards.

The next day we took time driving along the narrow winding roads among the sprawling open meadows and tall stands of redwoods along route 128 that led to the coast. With over fifty wineries along the way, the county is truly America’s Greenest Wine Region. The country’s first carbon-neutral winery is located here, and at least one winery is now run 100% by solar power.

When we arrived in the Village of Mendocino, we walked through town and discovered that almost every building and home is registered with the historical society. I felt like I should be wearing a long dress with a tight corset. Our first two nights were spent at The Sweetwater Spa and Inn in an old converted three-story water tower with an incredible view top deck.

John Fliessbach, one of the owners, is an experienced body worker and yoga teacher. All the rooms and suites are unique, and many include private hot tubs and full kitchens. The location is within walking distance to restaurants, shops, and glorious ocean view paths.

The next day we decided to treat ourselves to renowned organic food, yoga, and massages “in the woods” at The Stanford Inn. The inn features spacious suites with fireplaces and breathtaking views overlooking Mendocino Bay. Organic gardens, lush lawns, and redwood trees surrounded us. Wonderful, healthy meals are served at the nationally-acclaimed Raven’s Restaurant. 

We spent one of the most precious days in recent memory quietly surrendering to nature, while floating in our outrigger canoe in the Big River right next to the property. Spending the day on that quiet river and watching the sea lions play hide and seek was a spiritual and joyful experience. The Big River is California’s longest undeveloped estuary.

The rest of the afternoon was spent riding bikes on a path that literally follows the river for fifty miles. Catch a Canoe and Bicycles Too, located at The Sanford Inn, furnishes the canoes and bicycles for guests at no cost.

Before leaving Mendocino, my husband wanted to play golf.  The golf course at The Little River Inn is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, and features natural waterways, and wildlife corridors. After golf, we splurged on a hot rock massage treatment at the Little River spa. Indulge, it was well worth it!

We capped off a perfect day with dinner at The MacCallum House in The Village of Mendocino. We were sitting in the lounge before dinner in this meticulously-restored 1882 Victorian Inn, and the bartender served us drinks that were popular in the 1880’s. What a special night this was… truly going back in time. Our dinner, served in the old living room, was simply incredible.

We left early the next morning and then headed north to explore Fort Bragg. Late in the afternoon, we checked into The Howard Creek Ranch Inn, just north of Fort Bragg and found it to be one of the most enchanting places we had ever been. An old swinging bridge, a huge barn converted into guest suites, and a little “artists studio” with an outdoor kitchen, high up in the hills with incredible ocean views are all part of this property.

We were lucky enough to stay in a suite that was part of the converted barn from the 1800’s. My husband and I filled the outdoor Jacuzzi with bubble bath, poured ourselves a glass of wine just before sunset, and gazed at the ocean. It felt as though we had arrived in paradise.

The owners, Sally and Charles Grigg, bought sixty acres on a shoestring in the early 1970’s, and have literally made the place into sacred land. Charles milled and crafted the virgin redwood right from the ranch to restore the barn, and the house. Sally told me that when they first purchased the property, you couldn’t see the main house because it was hidden with brush and overgrowth. Today the house is beautifully restored.

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty home-cooked breakfast, our day at the ranch was filled with hiking, beach walks, spending time alone and just breathing in all the wild and open outdoors has to offer. Many moments were spent in quiet peacefulness.

On our last day, we wanted to stop at Pacific Star Winery, just south of Fort Bragg, high on a hill above the rocky, ragged ocean. Sally, the owner, was warm, welcoming and knowledgeable. The signature blends “Dad’s Daily Red” is Sally’s tribute to her eighty-five-year-old dad. Her slogan for the wine is “Don’t be fooled by the $12.00 price: it ages beautifully.” I’d love to name a wine after my dad. What a tribute!!

Solar Living Center – (707) 744-2017, or
Lawson Station – (707) 744-1977, or Rates start at $199.00
Sweetwater Spa & Inn – (800) 300-4140, or Rates start at $135.00
Stanford Inn by the Sea – (800) 331-8884, or Rates start at $195.00
Little River Inn – (888) – INN-LOVE,
Howard Creek Ranch – (707) 964-6725, or Rates start at $90.00
MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant – (707) 937-0289, or
SIP Winery – (707) 744-8375, or
Pacific Star Winery – (707) 964-1155, or

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer, presently living in San Diego, California.


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