A North Coast Retreat

 


Along the north coast of California, just west of the little town of Mendocino, lies both the brink and birthplace of continents, a place geologists call the “Triple Junction”, where three tectonic plates in the earth converge and contend.

To those who dreamt the first dreams here it may well have been the spot where Abalone Woman, also called Changing Woman, fled the grasp of Eagle to sit, facing westward, to  the source of her deep, transformative power.

Eagle came down the coast, they say
He came to where she was, facing west she sat, they say
Eagle whipped her with fire, they say
He went back. Back to the ridge he went, they say
Then he looked back, looked west, they say
Eagle saw her sitting there still.

In 1860, when a stagecoach service first connected San Francisco and the Mendocino Coast, the trip was, so they say, a bumpy, dusty, cramped, and unpleasant trip.

By 1878, when a weekly steamship service linked the cities by sea, passengers still had no wharf upon which to disembark. Instead, women were hoisted via cable over the side of the ship in a suspended chair, while men climbed down the rigging to the shore.

Today the lovely winding drive through Anderson Valley to the town of Mendocino boasts verdant vineyard views like this one near the town of Philo, the Greek word for love.

Boonville Hotel’s Table 128 is a roadhouse restaurant that serves up family-style prix fixe dinners Friday through Sunday, with Paella served in their courtyard on Sunday afternoons during the warmer months.

The town of Mendocino was founded in 1850 as the site of a sawmill. At the time, old-growth redwood forests still covered more than 2,000,000 acres of California. With 96% of those forests now gone forever it was both poignant and profitable for a local doctor and arbophile named Arky Ciancutti, when, twenty years ago, he was able to salvaged several hand-sawed redwood logs, or “pumpkins” as they were called, from the bottom of Big River where they had lain for well over a century.

Arky used the precious redwood with its deeply-grained and variegated hues of cinammon and nutmeg, to build the Brewery Gulch Inn which now sits perched on a bluff overlooking “Smuggler’s Cove”, just north of where Big River meets the sea.

The inn sits between the rocky coast and a misty field where one can stroll in the evening and listen to the wind.

At the Inn’s nightly dinner buffet  owner Guy Pacurar offers a variety of fine local wine, including extraordinary reserve Pinot Noir from his own Fathers+Daughters Cellars. This classic pinot, crafted with fruit from Anderson Valley’s storied Ferrington Vineyard, offers up spicy-floral aromas, bright notes of red fruit and tobacco, and a long, lively finish.

 

Breakfast options at the Inn include omelettes of local organic eggs served with seasonal berries, heirloom tomatoes, house-made pastries, and a wonderful mango Lassi enlivened with lime juice, calamansi and cardamom.

Just five minutes down the road he commodious Stanford Inn offers visitors a world-class vegan restaurant called The Ravens.

The Inn’s certified organic gardens which supply restaurant have been tended continuously for well over a century.

Just a twenty minute drive up the coast, past the sleepy town of Fort Bragg, the Inn at Newport Ranch sits on a grassy bluff overlooking the sea.

With its miles of hiking trails offering stunning seascapes, the Inn’s gracious staff are keen to maintain an atmosphere of solace and serenity. This makes the Inn an equally ideal location for contemplation, conference, or conjugal celebration.

The ridge and bluff where the Inn now sits was once the site of Newport, a tiny logging town with its own “port” , ie. a system of chutes and pulleys.

But as Fort Bragg’s harbor just to the south grew in size, the little port town here haded in importantce and eventually disappeared back into the mists of history.

And history feels far mistier on this ridge than in most places. For ten thousand years before Europeans ever arrived it was a seasonal indigenous gathering site for salt, mussels, and abalone.

The folks who first frequented the ridge called their mussel-gathering site Lilem, and their ancient middens, still full of broken sea shells from former feasts, are found buried along the rocky cliffsides.

Today guests of the Inn enjoy well sourced local meats and fresh seafood sourced from Noyo Harbor’s Princess Seafood & Deli.

 

Visitors headed back to San Francisco from the coast might well consider the purchase of a whole fish here. For just an extra $10, the staff will cut, pack, and ice the pescatarian prize for safe passage to your kitchen.

Meals feature the site-grown kale, squash, potatoes, peas, chard, arugula, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, herbs and edible flowers culled from these brimming garden boxes by the Inn’s gardener Felicia Brown.

For a stellar area wine to buy on the drive up, or to take back home you might consider a stop at Anderson Valley’s Handley Cellars.

Their reserve Pinot Noir, sourced entirely from estate-grown organic-certified fruit, features toasty aromas of cherry, plum, and violets, notes of both strawberry and cinnamon on the palate, and the silky tannins and scintillating acidity so characteristic of the unique microclimate of the Anderson Valley.