48 Hours in Mendo
With Little River Inn as your base camp
By Kathy Chin Leong
A white Victorian clapboard inn sits atop a grassy knoll facing the jagged Mendocino coast. It’s an overcast day in the early morning, and yet the gardeners are outside gingerly watering the flower baskets and hedges and gardens gracing the property. This crafted Thomas Kincade setting is as bucolic as it gets.
Coffee aromas waft through the air as you stroll up to the award winning Little River Restaurant to begin your day. And while you may believe this slice of peaceful pie is surreal, you are not, I repeat, NOT, in a dream state. This place is real, accessible, and unforgettable.
With five generations of family ownership, the historic Little River Inn serves as a serene parents’ getaway where you can come to relax, eat great food, and book golf tee time or a spa massage all on the same property and in one weekend. If you bring the kids, the place welcomes calm and well behaved little ones as well as older children who would find hiking and kayaking an exciting adventure.
Note that this place is pet-friendly as well with special pet packages that allow you to take your pooch on a canoe and allow you a $100 food dining credit. While it will take four hours to drive from San Jose and you will need to snake through windy roads, once you get to see the coastline in the distance, everyone will realize that the trek will be worth it.
The 75-year-old inn features guestrooms in separate buildings and independent cottages as well as several in the main building where the restaurant and bar is located. These come in various categories from regular to deluxe with king beds, fireplace, whirlpool tubs and views of the water. If you book an upstairs room be ready to walk up the stairs and haul your luggage in the process.
In our second level suite, the simple, unfussy decor was replete with country contemporary interiors with blue, peach, and cream hues against a light green sage paint on walls and high ceilings. Two wood chairs and a round table on one side of the large suite faced the fireplace. Hung on one wall was a small flatscreen TV. The king-sized bed with pillow top mattress was perfect for deep slumber. Our white balcony with chairs beckoned me to come outside to see the trees and water views but on this April day, it was a bit chilly so I was happy to stay inside! A small refrigerator was a good place to store juices and our leftovers. The rooms and premises are extremely comfortable with an on-site 9-hole golf course sporting views of the water. You are close to hiking trails, beaches, and the town of Mendocino.
On your first day, after you check in, drive north to explore. On your way, stop by the charming (aka tiny) Glass Jewelry & Museum where a collector has housed his many treasures. If you are into eye candy, the Glass Fire Art Glass Gallery showcases hand blown glass jelly fish lights and all sorts of hand blown glass masterpieces big and small.
Go up to Fort Bragg, a fishing town with beaches and restaurants. It is the home of the famous Skunk Train, an open air train with indoor cars as well. It is a safe and comfortable ride for people of all ages.Book ahead of time to get your choice of rides. After your ride, visit Glass Beach and walk around the perimeter premises for breathtaking views that will make you so glad to be in California. Next, take time to poke around downtown Fort Bragg gift shops and clothing boutiques. The ice cream store sells candy cap mushroom ice cream that tastes like maple syrup-no lie! You will witness sea stacks in the emerald waters and whales if you arrive in the winter months. By evening, head to dine in Mendocino where it’s many restaurant menus incorporate local bounty and brews.
Today is hiking day, and you will have fun exploring the many state and regional parks throughout the county. On one side are coastal parks including the one at the lighthouse where there is a red school house. On the inland side of the highway are fern grottos, mushroom fields, and Pygmy forests. Treat your tummy to a hearty breakfast at the inn restaurant or go across the street to the Little River Market & Deli which sells a wide assortment of wines at affordable prices. Hot entrees, soups and sandwiches are also available. You may want to purchase a picnic lunch so you can take it on the trail with you.
Then, you are off to hit the trails! My favorites include the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park and its paths, the Mendocino Coast Trail, Jug Handle State Reserve for the fern forest, and Pygmy Forest to see ancient trees.
A super easy walk is the one at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens which has the world’s largest collection of coastal plants and flowers. If you have guests with you who are worried about steep or slippery hikes, this stroll is for them. By the way, rhododendrons and 4,000 species of wild mushrooms go wild in Mendocino County! Another means of engaging with nature is taking a kayak or canoe along one of the waterways. Catch a-Canoe is one outfitter that features handmade canoes which are extremely stable and large enough to bring a family of four plus a dog. Comfortable and scenic, the river oath is relatively simple to maneuver on your own.
By dinner time, head back to shower and clean up for dinner. The Little River Inn restaurant is a favorite among locals, and it is loud. For quietude, you book a table in the smaller dining room. Here, seeing the sunset from your window table is a romantic bonus when you arrive at just the right time. White table cloths, bud vases and fresh flowers, and classical music provides a restful ambiance. Menu items include classics such as pinenut crusted salmon, flat iron steak diane, and chicken n’ gravy.
Upon dusk and darkness, life rolls up in Mendocino. Shops are closed and fewer people walk the streets. A few bars and restaurants remain open. For you and the family, that means you can play board games at the hotel or watch a movie using the room DVD player. The inn carries a huge assortment of movies you can borrow for free. Waking up the next day to say good bye to Mendocino is hard to do. But it’s only a three-hour drive from San Francisco, and all you have to do is make room on your calendar to return to try out another hike, another restaurant, and anothe adventure . It’s that easy.
When You Go:
Little River Inn – www.littleriverinn.com
Point Cabrillo Light Station – www.parks.ca.gov
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens – www.gardenbythesea.org
Skunk Train – www.skunktrain.com
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve – www.parks.ca.gov
Catch-a-Canoe & Bicycles Too – www.catchacanoe.com
Glass Fire Art Glass Gallery – www.glassfiregallery.com
Glass Beach Jewelry and Museum – www.glassbeachjewelry.com