Photography by Yuri Krasov
Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park is one of those places where solitude comes in a shape of a coastal deer grazing in the dusk on a side of the road leading to the lighthouse. In the morning, gentle fog envelopes the cypresses around the lightkeeper’s house, and early birds flock to the feeder, installed by Jim Kimbrell – Innkeeper of the Lighthouse Inn, a senior historian and restoration manager at Point Cabrillo with its century-old light station. In midday, the vast deserted coast is sunlit, yet windy, wrapped in fluttering sea foam. Then at night, a razor of light from the original Fresnel lens, one of only twelve in the U.S., slices the shore in a circular motion, then again, and again, sliding through the darkness. Open to the public, the light station offers guided tours of the Assistant Lightkeeper’s Museum and the Lighthouse, with special lens tours. The Lighthouse Inn, which has no TV, no computer, and no telephone, stays open all year round, pampering its guests at the painstakingly restored turn-of-the-century Head Lightkeeper’s House; period furnishings; five-course gourmet breakfast, and afternoon wine and cheese reception in an elegantly-cozy dining room overlooking the ocean. Where the lightkeepers’ wives were once tending to their brood and complaining about their small kitchens, never ending laundry, and that relentless fog horn, visitors from near and far are now enjoying a truly privileged stay at the Inn, in the midst of a 300-acre Nature Reserve, immersed in timeless beauty of the rugged Mendocino Coast (707-937-6122, www.pointcabrillo.org).
Little River Inn is another Mendocino Coast classic, built in 1857, and later on much appreciated by the Hollywood celebrities of the Glamour Epoch. First discovered by Myrna Loy who was vacationing here in 1939, the Inn soon became a residence of choice for the stars, when films like “Frenchman’s Creek,” with Joan Fontaine and “Johnny Belinda” with Jane Wyman were being shot here. Ronald Reagan, Wyman’s husband, was staying at the Inn along with the cast. Later on, James Dean, Julie Harris and the rest of the “East of Eden” cast were staying here as well. Today, the property is still a charming white-walled Victorian, surrounded by wild cypresses, bougainvilleas and calla lilies with unobstructed ocean views. Some added modern conveniences include Jacuzzi, golf and tennis courses, a gift shop, Ole’s Whale Watch Bar, named after the original inn owner, and a fine dining restaurant with nightly specials. (7901 N. Highway One, Little River; 707-937-5942; www.littleriverinn.com).
The tiny village of Little River is used to catering to big tastes, and Stevenswood Restaurant is definitely a place to be for those who seek inspired and imaginative cuisine based on fresh local ingredients. Located at the AAA four-diamond spa resort by the vast and wild Van Damme State Park, the restaurant has a spacious yet cozy dining room with a dramatic fireplace, large tables, comfortable armchairs, tasteful interior and artwork on the walls. A floor-to-ceiling glass door opens into a lush garden, preceded by an Australian tea tree with myriads of velvety burgundy-colored flowers on its branches. This serene ambiance and the friendliest welcoming service set the right mood for the farm to table cuisine. The menu changes often, but seasonal freshness, excellent preparation and presentation, and good size portions – not too small, but not overwhelming are guaranteed at any time. (8211 North Highway One, Mendocino;l 707-937-2810; www.stevenswood.com).
To better explore the surrounding wilderness, take a 40-mile scenic ride on the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg to Willits and back, through the dense redwood forest, framed with stinging nettles and forget-me-nots. You’ll learn that the train got its name from the 1920s gas powered engine, the smell of which preceded the arrival of the first car. The train runs through the 30 bridges over Noyo River and an antique tunnel, built by the Chinese laborers who came here from the Sierra in 1887-1893. An apple farm, built in 1904 at a cost of one dollar per acre of land at the time, will appear along the tracks, still planted with the ancient apple trees. (866-457-5865; www.skunktrain.com).
Mendocino’s annual music festival markets itself as “Music on the Edge of the World.” It’s not only music, but pretty much everything else here that is on the edge of dry land, exposed to invigorating ocean breezes. Main Street, peppered with art galleries and funky little shops is paralleled by an open shoreline of the Headlands State Park. Seagulls are feeding on restaurant leftovers here, and arguing sea lions don’t give a sneeze about passing humans, cormorants and pelicans. Blooming succulents on the dunes and wind-twisted wild cypresses are a part of the town as much as artisan bakeries and designer coffee houses. Next to those lucky people who live here, sipping heritage Zinfandels and Alsatian varietals from local vineyards, untamed wildlife is omnipresent – so Californian, and so unmistakably Northern. The most populated state in the nation still grants a weary traveler enough solitary places to move closer to Mother Nature, and dissolve in her welcoming embrace.
Among the places not to be missed on your visit to Mendocino, named Historical Preservation District by the state of California, are: the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg (gardenbythesea.org); Jug Handle Nature Preserve, located half-way between Mendocino and Fort Bragg (parks.ca.gov); the house museums (mendocinohistory.org); the ongoing Mendocino Arts Showcase (MendocinoArts.com); Ricochet Ridge Ranch with horseback riding (horse-vacation.com); Liquid Fusion Kayaking (liquidfusionkayak.com); the many wonderful art galleries, (mendocinocoast.com, northcoastartists.org, artsmendocino.org, mendocinostories.com, mendocinojewelry.com); and, of course, some outstanding wineries, like Zina Hyde Cunningham in Boonville (zinawinery.com); Goldeneye in Philo (goldeneyewinery.com), and Meyer Family Cellars in Yorkville (mfcellars.com)