Mendocino County: Travel Back in Time for an Old-fashioned Winter Holiday in Northern California by 30Seconds Travel
Seaside villages bordered by fragrant forests make Mendocino an idyllic place to fulfill your dreams of a small-town winter. Gracious Victorians sparkle warmly, inviting shops line cobbled streets, and majestic whales can be spotted offshore on their annual migration. Mendocino is at its most quaint and un-crowded at this time of year – you’d never know you were only 100 miles north of San Francisco.
The small port town of Fort Bragg is renowned for their resemblance to Cape Cod and the sweet Dungeness crab they pull from the sea each winter. Start your adventure there as you board the Skunk Train for an historical ride through some of the most inaccessible, glorious landscape on earth. Chug through tunnels, deep into virgin old growth forests – maybe spotting a family of white tailed deer drinking from the river along the way. At this time of year they add to the fun by running the Magical Christmas Train, a 60-minute journey through a storybook wonderland. Each child gets a personal visit with Santa, cookies and hot chocolate in their own souvenir mug. Learn more at SkunkTrain.com.
A few miles south, past the historic district that is the town of Mendocino proper, the Little River Inn has designed a Festival of Lights package (in conjunction with the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens) to help revelers enjoy the fun. This gorgeous, sprawling property has been owned and operated by the same family for five generations, and their lavish decorations and brilliant tree set the mood. The only full-service resort on the Mendocino Coast, Little River Inn boasts a salon and spa, an Audubon-certified golf course, and an award-winning restaurant. Winter is a delicious season at the inn, with winemaker dinners featuring local beers and wines, crab feeds and mushroom menus. Chef Marc Dym has garnered raves for his made-to-order clam chowder, and his crab cakes win “Best on the Coast” year after year. Learn more at LittleRiverInn.com.
If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, the nearby Brewery Gulch Inn offers the perfect escape for couples. Their Festive Mendocino package allows you to stay at one of the most lauded inns in the world at a deeply discounted winter rate. The stunning architecture, mouthwatering cuisine, dramatic ocean views and personal pampering are some of the reasons why Condé Nast Traveler previously named the 10-room inn the #1 Best Hotel in Northern California and the #46 Best Hotel in the World. Guests rave about the gourmet buffet, served at 5:30 p.m. every night, when the inn’s private chef will tempt you with a menu confected from local bounty. Watch the Pacific crash against the rocks below, cuddled up in your room that is elegantly appointed with comfortable, design-forward furniture and soft throws for snuggling in front of the fire. Learn more at BreweryGulchinn.com.
Nature lovers and whale watchers know that there is another side of Mendocino in winter – expansive, rugged and unspoiled. The Inn at Newport Ranch, on a 2,000-acre private preserve just north of Fort Bragg, is one of the last places in Northern California where you can lose yourself in those breathtaking vistas and explore a mile of oceanfront, three miles of ridge tops, panoramic coastal views and 20 miles of world class hiking and riding trails through redwoods and along the coast. Will Jackson, a Connecticut Yankee with dreams of the Wild West, built his dream luxury lodge to have all of the beauty and creature comforts of a 5-star hotel. Learn more at TheInnAtNewportRanch.com.
The California Redwood rainforest is at its most beautiful in winter, with mosses and mushrooms flourishing at the bases of the trees and brilliant stars peeking through crowns that stretch to the sky. To get up close-and-personal with these phenomena, go to the banks of the rushing Navarro River in Mendocino’s famed Anderson Valley Wine Country and find Camp Navarro, a utopian spot to commune with the ancient forest and native wildlife in the fresh, crisp air. A former Boy Scout Camp turned nature retreat extraordinaire, Camp Navarro holds group events year round. The camp is only two hours’ drive from the Bay Area yet feels completely apart from civilization, making it a favorite destination for gatherings such as reunions, weddings, music festivals, and company team building. Learn more at CampNavarro.com.
Also located in Anderson Valley Wine Country is Lula Cellars, a small production premium winery with a cult-like following. The intense flavors of Lula’s wines are attributable to slow-ripening grapes that spend mornings under coastal fog and bask in warm sun all afternoon. The winery’s 2,800 yearly cases are made entirely from Mendocino grapes and only sold directly to consumers. This egalitarian esthetic is embodied in their welcoming and pet-friendly tasting room, where you can chat about winemaking and taste their latest creation – Guntly Red. Priced at $24 per bottle and perfect for pouring liberally at holiday gatherings, Guntly Red is a Pinot blend so drinkable that it goes with almost everything. Learn more at LulaCellars.com.