It lies somewhere out there along the north coast of California, just west of the little town of Mendocino, the birthplace of the continents. Geologists call the spot the “Triple Junction”, to designate where three tectonic plates in the earth’s crust converge and contend.
To those who dreamt the first dreams along this shoreline it could have been the site where Abalone Woman, also called Changing Woman, came when she fled from Eagle, to sit facing westward towards the source of a deep and transformative power.
“Eagle came down the coast, so they say
He came down where she sat, facing west,
He whipped her with fire on the coast, they say
Then flew back to the ridge, so they say.
Then Eagle looked back, he looked west, they say
And he witnessed her sitting there still.“
In 1860, when stagecoach service first began to connect bustling San Francisco and the lonely Mendocino Coast, the trip was, so they say, a bumpy, dusty, and unpleasant affair.
Even in 1878, when a fancy weekly steamship service linked the two cities by sea, passengers still had no wharf upon which to disembark.Women were hoisted via cable over the side of the ship in a chair while and men climbed down the rigging to the shore.
Today, the winding and picturesque drive through Anderson Valley to the town of Mendocino boasts verdant vineyard views like this near the town of Philo,the Greek word for love.
Along the way Boonville Hotel’s Table 128 is a roadhouse restaurant serving family-style prix fixe dinners on the weekends. Bounteous plates of Paella are prepared here in the 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. Today 96% of those forests are gone forever. This tragic fact made it all the more poignant when twenty years ago Arky Ciancutti, who’s property overlooked “Smuggler’s Cove” at the mouth of Big River, overheard bridgeworkers as he was drinking at a local bar.
When he heard them recount tales of how they were finding redwood remains in their drill bits as they plumbed the depths of the river he knew just what it meant. All through the following winter, using only a skiff and a winch, Arky was able to salvage several hand-sawed redwood logs, or “pumpkins” as they were called, from where they had lain for well over a century. He then 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 just north of where Big River meets the sea.
Nestled between the Inn and the rocky coast is this misty field where one can stroll in the evening and listen to the wind.
The Inn’s nightly dinner buffet involves home-style vegetarian options, often featuring the area’s extraordinary mushrooms, plus a variety of fine local wines including a classic Anderson Valley reserve Pinot Noir from Fathers+Daughters Cellars that offers spicy-floral aromas, bright notes of red fruit and tobacco, and a long, lively finish.
Breakfast options include omelettes of local organic eggs served with seasonal berries, heirloom tomatoes, house-made pastries, and a lovely mango Lassi enlivened by lime juice, calamansi and cardamom.
Just five minutes down the road lies the commodious Stanford Inn where visitors will find a world-class vegan restaurant called The Ravens. The certified organic gardens here supply the restaurant and have been tended continuously for well over a century.
A twenty minute drive up the coast, past the sleepy town of Fort Bragg, the Inn at Newport Ranch stares out from a grassy bluff at the vast Pacific.
The miles of hiking trails here offer stunning seascapes. The Inn’s gracious staff are also keen to maintain an atmosphere of solace and serenity makeing the site an ideal spot for contemplation, conference, or conjugal celebration.
The bluff where the Inn now sits was once the site of Newport, a tiny logging town featurintg its own “port” , ie. a rough system of chutes and pulleys that hoisted cargo (including Grandma) down over the rocky bluffs and onto to the decks of waiting Doghole Schooners.
As Fort Bragg’s harbor to the south grew in size, the precipitous little port town faded in importance, eventually disappearing into the mists of history.
And history feels far mistier here than in most places. Ten thousand years before Europeans first set foot here it was already popular seasonal site for gathering salt, mussels and abalone.
First nation peoples called this particular mussel-gathering site Lilem, and ancient middens, still full of shells from their seaside feasts, are still found buried in the rocky outcroppings.
Today, fresh seafood served at the Inn is sourced from Noyo Harbor’s Princess Seafood & Deli. Visitors driving back down south to San Francisco can buy themselves a whole fish to have cleaned, packed, and iced for safe passage to their kitchen.
Meals at the Inn feature lovely site-grown kale, squash, potatoes, peas, chard, arugula, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, and a variety of herbs and edible flowers. The panoply of produce is culled from a few brimming garden boxes tended by the Inn’s talented gardener Felicia Brown.
For a stellar wine to buy on the drive up, or to take back home, consider Anderson Valley’s Handley Cellars. Their reserve Pinot Noir, sourced entirely from estate-grown organic-certified grapes, features the combination of silky tannins and bright acidity that is characteristic of Anderson Valley fruit.