Mendocino County, with its focus on food, wine, and everything local, is a welcome rural retreat from the traffic-clogged San Francisco Bay Area. Rolling hillsides, winding roads, beautiful Redwood forests and Oak trees, lush vineyards, and a spectacular coastline are just some of the wonders found about three hours north of San Francisco along California’s coast.
Mendocino County was founded in 1850 at the time of California’s statehood. It was home to numerous Native American tribes as well as the logging industry. Agriculture developed at the same time, beginning with hops, then fruit trees and now vineyards. Today, find award-winning chefs, acclaimed wines, passion for regional products, friendly residents, and talented artisan producers.
Instead of heading for the town of Mendocino, my husband and I decided to explore Elk on the stunning Pacific coast and Boonville (home to its own dialect, Boontling) in the heart of the Anderson Valley.
Our first night was at the spectacularly situated Harbor House Inn in the tiny town of Elk. The hotel sits atop the rocky coastline, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It has its own beach, natural waterfall, multiple caves (accessible at low tide), lush gardens and raised beds, views that don’t quit, and a chicken coop, guaranteeing fresh eggs.
Recently renovated and restored, the 103-year-old main house boasts the redwood originally logged for the mansion; in fact, the single-family home was built to showcase the beauty of the wood. Today, the comfortable, richly appointed, intimate boutique hotel passionately focuses on sustaining the natural beauty of the area, growing and producing many of its own products in concert with neighboring farmers, and offering a serene environment for guests. The sitting and dining rooms offer magnificent views of the property and the ocean (binoculars are within easy reach to catch birds, whales, or whatever might be passing by). The interior is tastefully decorated with antiques and nautical pieces as well as native flora — even a million-year-old piece of petrified redwood, four feet in diameter.
There are six rooms in the main house and four cottages nestled in the trees. Our cottage had a private deck with ocean view, double-sided fireplace between the sitting room and bedroom, and a big sliding barn door to the bedroom. The cozy interior features shades of blue and leather upholstery on the sofa and chairs. At night, we fell asleep to the crashing waves (800-720-7474, theharborhouseinn.com).
Next up was the Boonville Hotel, sitting on several acres in the center of town in the Anderson Valley. A country roadhouse at its best, the hotel is known for the food and wine, ambiance, unique accommodations, and of course the people. The main building houses the restaurant with open kitchen and a small retail spot. The dining areas are spread throughout the house and offer rooms for small and large parties as well as outside patio seating.
The property sits adjacent to a creek and has lawn space to roam, sit, and relax. Beautiful trees and gardens line the grounds. Choose from 15 different rooms set among the surroundings including some on the top floor of the main building as well as stand-alone cottages and a creekside bungalow. Designed with an eclectic flair, no two rooms are alike and all offer privacy and comfort. Two additional rooms are set to open this summer in a two-story building (one fully ADA compliant).
We opted for the bungalow with its relaxed interior — gas fireplace, queen bed and sofa, screened porch with additional sleeping, and unusual two-level stone bathroom. (Check the floor plan before booking to be sure your choice is physically accessible for your needs) (707-895-2210, boonvillehotel.com).
PLAY & SHOP
Both Elk and Boonville provide the perfect backdrop for lots of fun — choose from multiple state parks and forests for hiking, horseback riding, and biking; tasting rooms; rivers for kayaking and swimming and beaches to wander. Greenwood State Beach (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=447) in Elk has access to the rugged Pacific Coast; there’s even a museum in town that depicts its logging history dating from the late 1800s (mendoparks.org/visitor-centers). Navarro Point Preserve & Coastal Trail (mendocinolandtrust.org/trails/central-coastal-trails/navarro-point-trail) offers dramatic views of the Pacific; head east from there and drive through the magnificent Navarro River Redwoods State Park (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=435). Both hotels help coordinate activities.
Here are some favorite family-owned and operated spots in the Anderson Valley:
Pennyroyal Farm: This is a great stop that combines tours of the farm, including the milking parlor, the creamery, and the winery as well as a visit to the sheep and goats with wine and cheese tasting, too. The team is totally committed to the sustainability and regeneration of their farm and its operations, including animal husbandry. The 2015 Pinot Noir, the deviled eggs, and the seasonal artisanal cheeses (including Bollie’s Mollies and the Boont Corners, all Boontling names) shouldn’t be missed (707-895-2410, pennyroyalfarm.com).
Bee Hunter Wine: Their grapes are sourced from nearby vineyards in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The industrial-inspired tasting room is pet friendly and includes spacious outside seating. Be sure to try the 2014 Eagle Point Ranch Grenache and the 2015 Yorkville Highlands Cabernet Blend (707-895-3995, beehunterwine.com).
Drew Family Winery: This cozy tasting room is in Philo, just west of Boonville. It is focused on cool-climate, small-lot estate wines; we especially liked the 2015 Fog-Eater (Boontling for “person on the coast”) Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2016 Perli Vineyard Syrah Mendocino Ridge (707-895-9599. drewwines.com).
Foursight Wines: Focused on the sustainability of their land and their farming techniques, only estate wines are produced here. Don’t miss these Pinot Noirs: 2016 Charles Vineyard, 2017 “Clone 05” Charles Vineyard, and the 2017 “Paraball.” They also have two guest houses on their property available to the public. (707-895-2889, foursightwines.com).
Seebass Family Winery: Celebrating their 30th harvest, the winery sits on 104 acres and produces about 1,200 cases across all varietals. Enjoy these Rhone blend favorites in the comfort of the open and airy tasting room: 2013 Romantik and the 2015 Mysteriös in addition to the 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2014 Grand Reserve Merlot (707-895-9378, seebassvineyards.com).
The Elk Store, on Route 1, Elk’s main street, is the quintessential spot for gourmet sandwiches and soups, wine, beer, groceries, and local products. Their house-smoked specialties are not to be missed: We opted for the pulled pork sandwich (from a smoked pork shoulder with house-made sauce and slaw and a locally baked bun) and the smoked peanut-ginger chicken wrap. Don’t forget the clam chowder (707-877-3544, theelkstore.com).
Dinner at the Boonville Hotel is like dining at home with family and friends, together for a great meal and good time — all at the hands of Chef Perry Hoffman and his team. Comfort is guaranteed whether sitting in one of their more intimate settings or with others. Focused locally, the changing menu takes full advantage of what’s come from the garden and the bounty of Mendocino.
The prix-fixe menu is served family style. We started with brandade on toast with asparagus and garden thyme, then savored golden tilefish with crisp scales, fiddlehead ferns, and spring dashi. A beautifully grilled rib eye for the table was tender and juicy and served with chimichurri sauce. We paired the meal with a 2017 Scribe Winery Rosé on tap and the 2016 Murgo Etna Rosso. Because we were just walking back to our bungalow, we enjoyed a rhubarb frangipane gallette and an affogato.
Breakfast the next morning was a loaded buffet of yogurt, granola, warm-from-the-oven scones, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, prosciutto, coffee and juice, and lots more (707-895-2210, boonvillehotel.com).
Eating at the Harbor House Inn is an artistic and gastronomic experience (not to mention the amazing view). Whether it be breakfast or dinner, you probably picked some of the ingredients with Chef Matthew Kammerer and the team during your time in their abundant gardens, or foraging for mushrooms or searching in the tidal pools. The rest are produced within a 50-mile radius. The meal is presented as a harmonious symphony — each course from the tasting menu more tantalizing than the previous one.
After starting on the patio with sparkling and a taste treat, we moved to the dining room and began the meal in earnest. Here are just some of the 12 courses in which we indulged: skewered spot prawns, warmed over smoke, served with Turkish bay, California kosho and horseradish; sea urchin served with Harbor House hen egg custard; abalone stew with seaweed from the cove; tender lamb with garden leaves and sunflower and porcini jus; and Gewürztraminer ice with garden sweet flowers. One of the most intriguing courses was the bread service — sourdough bread and cultured butter both infused with sea lettuce that enabled it to stand apart from anything else we tasted. A wine pairing option offers international pours.
Breakfast was equally as stunning: Shirred eggs from the coop in green garlic butter sauce with local beets and radish tops. Coffee, house-made citrus biscotti, citrus marmalade, plus additional treats added the finishing touches (800-720-7474, theharborhouseinn.com).
Visit Mendocino: visitmendocino.com
Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association: avwines.com
Mendocino County Wine & Wine Grapes: mendowine.com
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter (@pattygb), Instagram (pburness) and reached by e-mail at [email protected].