Destination of the Week

This California seaside village brings a New England feel to the West.

Jun 23, 2009

This northern California seaside village’s Cape Cod architecture gives Mendocino a New England hamlet feel. That’s made it an ideal movie and TV location for decades (most famously, in the role of Cabot Cove, the setting of Murder, She Wrote). The town’s Victorian charm blends with a northern California vibe apparent in Mendocino’s art galleries, its breathtaking nature preserves, and its wealth of organic food and wine purveyors.

WHERE TO STAY
You would expect a town this Victorian-looking to be full of bed & breakfasts like the Joshua Grindle Inn, where the rooms are outfitted with Shaker antiques, or the J.D. House, known for its wood-burning stoves and English garden. More luxurious lodging is available at the Stanford Inn, whose celebrated vegan restaurant Ravens serves produce grown on the premises. The Mar Vista Cottages (in Gualala) offer the sea view that the name suggests, and you can pick your own herbs and veggies from the garden and make an omelet from the basket of freshly laid green eggs (yes, a la Dr. Seuss, from Chilean chickens) placed each morning at your doorstep. Or visit the Little River Inn (in Little River), a resort whose amenities include tennis, golf, and a bar from which James Dean was ejected while filming East of Eden, and where Jane Wyman served drinks during her downtime while shooting Johnny Belinda.

WHERE TO EAT
Mendocino restaurants are known for fresh local produce, meats, and seafood. Naturally, a place called Café Beaujolais also has a comprehensive wine list, along with a French-inspired menu, fresh bread baked daily, and a romantic atmosphere. Its rival for the title of Mendocino’s most formal dining room is the restaurant at the MacCallum House Inn, where a menu heavy on red meat dishes like venison medallions with boar sausage evokes the inn’s 1882 origins. Other fine dining options include the rustic 955 Ukiah Street, which is open only Thursday through Sunday, and the Moosse Café, which, as the name suggests, is as renowned for its desserts as for its California seafood entrees.

WHERE TO SHOP
No chain stores in Mendocino; only art galleries and quaint mom-and-pop shops. There's Lark in the Morning, which sells one-of-a-kind musical instruments. Sticks sells everything from baskets to bed frames, all made out of twigs, driftwood, and recycled lumber. Out of This World specializes in science toys, telescopes, and binoculars, which you can test on the waterfall and ocean vistas visible through the store windows.

WHAT TO DO
Unlike Napa and Sonoma, Mendocino County’s wine country, famed for its pinot noir and chardonnay, remains largely undiscovered by tourists. The annual California Wine Tasting Championships, held the last Saturday in July at the Greenwood Ridge Vineyards in Philo, is one of several summer festivals for foodies. The Pure Mendocino weekend (August 28 and 29) spotlights the local organic food community.

This year’s Mendocino Music Festival (July 11 through 25) features an array of classical, jazz, opera, and bluegrass artists, from Joshua Redman to the Seldom Scene.

For majestic redwood views, ride the scenic Skunk Train (a 19th century logging railroad) in nearby Fort Bragg. Explore Big River in a canoe or sea caves in a kayak. For a truly exotic trek, you can rent pack llamas, who’ll tote your gourmet picnic (complete with table and chairs) as you hike the coastline or the redwood forests.