Verdant Visit

Verdant Visit

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Exquisite cuisine, intimate wineries, and romantic scenery are highlights of Mendocino trip.

I’ve learned to love our desert landscape. I find beauty and comfort in Reno-Tahoe’s dry, desolate, brown hills accented with dusty pines and sagebrush. But sometimes I need to be surrounded by lush, dewy greenery seeping out of every crevice. That’s when I head to cool, coastal Mendocino.

The drive is windy but gorgeous, giving way to luxuriant meadows and grape vineyards, then to majestic redwoods and ferns clinging to rich soil. Finally, you emerge on the misty, rocky Pacific shoreline covered in a dense carpet of clover and tall, lichen-laden trees.

Beautiful B&B

I booked three different properties for my trip to get different perspectives on lodging. My first stay was at the 10-room Brewery Gulch Inn. The property features a comfortably rustic bed and breakfast built in 2001 out of old-growth redwood logs fished from the nearby river and is decorated with Gustav Stickley-inspired furniture. Inside the great room, with its 13-foot-high ceiling, I enjoyed complimentary wine, tea, locally roasted coffee, and games (including the popular Scrabble set). Outside the French doors and windows, woodpeckers and scrub jays fought over the birdfeeder, Monterey spruces framed the view, and, when I visited in May, robust rhododendrons were in full bloom.

My room at the inn, called Lookout, was sunny and cozy, with open windows welcoming the ocean breeze. Every convenience and detail are considered, including unlimited La Croix sparkling water in mini-fridges near guestrooms and candied ginger at the reception desk to greet me. Are you a movie fan? Pick from about 500 DVDs to watch in your room. The icing on the cake was a delicious, locally sourced, hearty complimentary breakfast as well as afternoon appetizers. Be sure to order the house-made lassi and local apple juice.

For dinner, I headed to Luna Trattoria in Mendocino. Sit in the adorable garden among the trees, plants, wind chimes, and stringed lights and be serenaded by live music. Pastas and sauces are handmade, bread is freshly baked daily, and local produce incorporated when possible. As you wait to be seated, peek inside a window revealing kitchen staff making pasta. Be sure to pair your meal with an Italian wine from the restaurant’s lovely list.

Grilled rib eye at Luna Trattoria in Mendocino. Photo by Jaci Goodman

Wine Tasting

There is much to do in Mendocino, but if you’re up for a drive, plan a wine-tasting adventure in nearby Anderson Valley. It offers an experience that’s free of pretension, hassle, and great expense and is full of friendly, down-to-earth people. Once you get to know this area and its wine and winemakers, you’ll want to steer clear of escapades to often-overrun and pricy Napa and Sonoma. Anderson Valley is well worth the 45-minute rural trek from Mendocino, which includes spotting herds of sheep and deer, as well as ravens, hawks, and turkey vultures along the way.

My first destination was to learn about wines created by not-open-to-the-public Fathers + Daughters Cellars in Philo. I met owners Guy and Sarah Pacurar, who were the proprietors (until recently) of Brewery Gulch Inn, where I stayed the first night of my visit. A dirt road took me to a quaint home, where I jumped in the Pacurars’ side-by-side to tour their 79-acre vineyard, with their dog, Cotton, running alongside it. We chugged up the dirt path to view the valley and perch at a picnic table. The Pacurars sell most of their grapes to other winemakers, including Williams Selyem Winery, but also produce their own wines for sale, primarily pinot noir, as well as sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer. On the hilltop, I tasted several of their wines, including the delicious Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles, made in a pet-nat (petillant naturel) style.

Sarah Pacurar, of Fathers + Daughters Cellars in Philo, with a glass of Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles. Photo courtesy of Fathers + Daughters Cellars

Next it was on to Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville. The highlight here is the handmade cheeses. Book a farm tour to meet the 100 goats and 30 ewes who produce small-batch, hormone-free milk for the cheeses. The animals are pasture raised and pampered, and every goat and sheep has a name. In addition, each gets maternity leave for a scheduled time each year and is released into the retirement pasture when she stops milking.

Milking goats at Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville. Photo by Jaci Goodman

I was happy to hear that regenerative, sustainable, full-circle farming is practiced here, including using solar for power, recycling whey in compost piles, and employing miniature sheep to weed vineyards. In addition to the cheese operation, 23 acres’ worth of wine grapes grow on the property, which yields mostly pinot noir and some sauvignon blanc. Pennyroyal’s sister vineyard is Navarro Vineyards & Winery (started in 1973), just down the road in Philo. Navarro’s owners, Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, are parents of Pennyroyal’s owner and manager, Sarah Cahn Bennett. Reserve a table on Pennyroyal’s dog-friendly patio to taste its wines and cheeses. If you join the cheese-and-wine club, products can be shipped home to you.

The third winery of the day was Lula Cellars in Philo. The 22-acre, 12-year-old boutique winery is known for its pinot noir, which has received many accolades (92 to 96 points from Wine Enthusiast, double gold and gold in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and gold/91 to 93 points in Sunset’s International Wine Competition). Sit outside on the tiny patio and listen to frogs bellowing from the adjacent pond while you sip Lula’s delicious wines. The hospitable staff members, including friendly tasting-room manager Dan Reed, take the time to explain the wines and the valley’s history, and offer local recommendations. In addition, Lula is dog friendly, and you may even meet sweet vineyard dog Kepler.

The pond and vineyards at Lula Cellars in Philo. Photo by Jaci Goodman

My final winery visit of the day was Handley Cellars, founded by the late Milla Handley, an Anderson Valley pioneer, in 1982. Her daughter, Lulu Handley, now runs it. The 39-acre farm is one of the first to grow entirely organically for the health of the land and staff. Get a seat on the elegant patio covered with lush trees and plants and Asian statues. Hummingbirds entertain you while you drink nicely balanced sparkling wine, riesling, peppery zinfandel, aromatic whites, and esteemed pinots, which grow well in the mostly foggy, chilly valley. Handley’s winemaker, Randy Schock — who has lived in Anderson Valley since 1998 and deeply respects the area — is devoted to making beautiful wines that customers love.

Million-Dollar Views

I returned to Mendocino to stay at the 80-year-old Little River Inn, which offers million-dollar ocean views. Outside my room on the shared patio, I sat in a rocking chair to breathe in the salty air and watch sea waves crash against the rocks. The scene was framed by stoic eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees, sailing sea birds, and kayakers off in the distance.

Storm watching on the Little River Inn patio. Photo by Brendan McGuigan

The Little River Inn is a nostalgic property to which people return again and again. I witnessed this as I waited in line to check in and heard stories from guests who had been visiting for many years, including one couple celebrating its 50th anniversary. Maybe the lure is that the property has been in the same family for five generations. Great-great granddaughter Cally Dym now runs it with her Culinary Institute of America-trained husband, Marc, who is The Little River Inn Restaurant’s executive chef.

Start with a cocktail in Little River’s handsomely weathered bar staffed by chummy bartenders. Then move to a dining table in the enchanting, pet-friendly outdoor garden out back, where each table has ample space around it and is surrounded by mature trees and shrubbery. The delectable farm-to-fork meals are composed of many local ingredients. In fact, the restaurant has its own proprietary organic farm, Laughing Duck Farm, and additional ingredients come from other nearby farms. I devoured the risotto, which was filled with the juiciest and most flavorful radishes I’ve ever eaten. Be sure to order a slice of the mouthwatering warm mixed berry cobbler topped with melty vanilla ice cream.

Abalone fritters and 75th anniversary saison beer at Little River Inn. Photo by Aubrie Pick

Bountiful Garden

The next day I headed to the 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite public gardens (particularly when a collection is in bloom). The Rhododendron Festival just happened to be in full swing when I visited. More than 1,000 rhodies are blooming throughout the garden from early spring through June. During the festival, you can see cuttings of all the species entered into the competition inside a heavenly scented tent. I’m a big fan of the dahlia gardens, too, which are in bloom from July to October. Other collections include camellia, fuchsia, conifer, native plants, roses, and succulents. Keep walking beyond the gardens and you’re rewarded with a gorgeous trek along the dramatic coastline. Bonus: Your well-behaved, leashed dog is welcome to wander the gardens with you.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens during rhododendron blooming season. Photo by Jaci Goodman

For lunch, I made my way to Princess Seafood Restaurant in Noyo Harbor in nearby Fort Bragg. The female-owned-and-operated eatery — even the fishers are women — highlights local seafood delicacies such as a Dungeness crab roll, grilled rock cod sandwich, wild king salmon burger, and grilled wild prawns. If you want to grab some seafood to go, head to its market and deli a few miles down the road. At the market, I met co-owner Heather Sears, who was a hoot. This fisherwoman, fittingly, has quite the salty sailor mouth.

Heather Sears, co-owner of Princess Seafood restaurant, market, and deli. Photo by Jaci Goodman

Elk Cove

After an eventful day, I checked into the final property of my trip: Elk Cove Inn in Elk, about 30 minutes from Mendocino. I stayed in a second-floor room at this charming property. The 16 suites and rooms feature early 1900s Arts-and-Crafts-style furnishings. My room — with a vaulted and open-beam ceiling — came with chunky wooden furniture, an electric fireplace, and a big bathroom with a large jet tub. Sunset selected Elk Cove Inn as one of the Top 10 B&Bs in the West, and I can see why. I instantly fell in love with the relaxing, romantic property.

A glass of local wine with a view at Elk Cove Inn in Elk. Photo by Jaci Goodman

I stepped out onto my private balcony to sit in an Adirondack chair and overlook the stunning ocean and driftwood-strewn beach and watch pelicans in formation fly past. I sat in silence, reading, every so often lifting my head to stare at the marine layer flowing toward the shore. I slept in a nice firm bed with the screen door open to hear the breaking waves, lulling me to sleep.

The passions of the current owners, spouses Victor Passalacqua and Melissa Boon, are growing, raising, and preparing food. The inn, built in 1883 out of old-growth redwood trees, houses the eight-seat restaurant called Sibo, which overlooks the cove. There, chef Passalacqua, who has worked at nine different Michelin-starred restaurants, cooks eclectic French cuisine with local ingredients, some of which come from the property. Dishes, depending on the season, can include locally harvested mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and parsley; local burrata cheese with tomatoes, olive oil, and homemade balsamic glaze; line-caught local salmon pan seared with Champagne butter; and braised rabbit raised on property.

Boon tends the greenhouses, outside garden, honeybees, and animals. She is working on creating more of an edible garden. For now, she grows broccoli, herbs, strawberries, and tomatoes, among other produce, and native plants and flowers. She raises about 67 chickens, a few quail, goats, and rabbits as well. The duo runs a sustainable operation, which involves little waste. Some of the many green initiatives include giving restaurant leftovers to the chickens and upcycling wine bottles as pathway decoration.

This dreamy, pet-friendly getaway also offers direct beach access, in-room breakfast, and a European-style day spa (complete with dry and wet sauna). I enjoyed a therapeutic massage treatment from a colossally talented therapist.

Relaxed and serene, I began my journey home the next day. Driving through Anderson Valley, I made one final stop. Disco Ranch in Boonville is a great little wine bar and specialty market, which has won three Wine Spectator awards (2020 to 2022). About 18 wines are served by the glass on the patio, and you can buy more than 150 (many local) wines, small bites, cheeses, charcuterie, and more to take on a picnic or take home.

To unplug and enjoy sublime food, wine, and lush scenery, the Mendocino area is the perfect getaway.


Amanda Burden is editor and publisher of edible Reno-Tahoe. She’s counting the days until she can visit Mendocino again.



Anderson Valley Wines (festivals in February, May, and October)

Brewery Gulch Inn

Disco Ranch

Elk Cove Inn

Fathers + Daughters Cellars

Little River Inn

Lula Cellars

Luna Trattoria

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Navarro Vineyards

Pennyroyal Farm

Princess Seafood Market & Deli/Restaurant


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