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 air is redolent of pine and cedar outdoors, while indoors you will find crackling fires and tables piled high with local delicacies such as Dungeness crab and Chanterelle mushrooms, alongside luscious wines that originated from grapes grown in one of Mendocino’s famed wine regions. Seasonal specials at alluring inns entice you to enjoy the traditional fun—ride the Magical Christmas train with Santa, marvel at the stunning display of lights that adorn the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens during their annual holiday festival, sip artisanal wines with a friendly winemaker—or decompress at a heritage campground that brings the mysteries of nature to you.
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. Carols, reindeer games and more are in store. Trains also make a 90-minute jaunt from their inland Willits terminal, or from the coastal Fort Bragg station. To learn more and book tickets, please visit: https://www.skunktrain.com/experiences/magical-christmas-train/. The Magical Christmas Train runs daily December 2 – 23, 2017. Skunk Train, 100 W Laurel St, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, (707) 964-6371, http://www.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. Abalone fritters, which helped build the inn’s reputation decades ago, have been reintroduced to the menu with a sous vide twist. Always on offer are Grandpa Ole’s melt-in-your-mouth hotcakes, a breakfast specialty passed down from the innkeeper’s grandfather, and a cozy way to start a chilly morning. The Little River Inn has 66 rooms, from the luxurious to the affordable, and every single one with a view of the ocean (and most with fireplaces as well).
The Little River Inn’s Festival of Lights special includes:
- Two nights lodging in an Ocean View Gas Fireplace Room
- Dinner for two in Ole’s Whale Watch Bar. (Dinner is served in Ole’s from 4 pm to 8 pm)
- Admission to the Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a spectacular celebration of glittering color, dazzling artistry, live music, and local craft beers and wines set amongst the West Coast’s only coastal botanical gardens on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening from 5 pm to 7:30 pm
- Breakfast for two in the Garden Dining Room
The Festival of Lights Package is available November 26 – December 17 and must include a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night stay. Packages begin at $435 for two, exclusive of tax and gratuity. More at: http://www.littleriverinn.com/little-river-inns-festival-of-lights-winter-package/. Add additional nights and enjoy the best rates of the year during LRI’s WINTER SPECIAL, which offers 25% off all rooms between November 26 and December 21. Little River Inn, 7901 N. Highway One, Little River, CA 95456, (707) 937-5942, www.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 5:30PM 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. Asprey products, Himalayan bath salts and thick Abyss towels elevate the bathrooms to spa-like temples of relaxation. Fall asleep under featherbeds cloaked in Sferra linen and wake to the sound of the waves. Each morning, the chef will prepare a made-to-order breakfast for you, to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own room, or in the soaring Great Room, anchored by an iconic, four-sided glass and steel fireplace fabricated by a local shipbuilder and flooded with light tumbling down from the central core’s three-story high skylight and 13-foot high, redwood-trimmed French doors overlooking Smuggler’s Cove.
Mention “Festive Mendocino” at the time of booking, either online in the Comments section or over the phone, and receive a 15% discount applied to your stay. This offer is applicable during the months of December and January, to new reservations only, is not combinable with any other discounts and must be mentioned at the time of booking. Blackout dates are: December 18 through January 2 and January 15-18, 2018. http://www.brewerygulchinn.com/special-offers/festive-mendocino.htm. Brewery Gulch Inn, 9401 N. Highway One, Mendocino, CA 95460, (707) 937-4752, www.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. The guest quarters are both grand and intimate, designed to enhance the landscape and carefully crafted to incorporate materials such as recycled redwood trees and the finest imported stone. When you’re not exploring the forests, beaches and meadows on their land, you will want to hunker down in your suite or room to enjoy panoramic views of the tempest-tossed ocean—or take a hot tub atop their repurposed water tower with 50-mile views across the Pacific. The onsite Fireside Spa is entered through a grove of Redwood trees, and the Chef serves up North coast seasonally-inspired ranch cuisine—with many ingredients sourced from the Inn’s own organic gardens. Only open since 2016 (they made USA Today’s ‘Top 10 New Hotels in the US’ that year), the Inn’s new Winter Storm Watch Getaway is the very first guest special that they have ever offered.
The Winter Storm Watch Getaway deal includes:
Get 10% off the suite or room of your choice from January 1, 2018 – March 31, 2018. Room rate includes the full Ranch Breakfast and evening appetizer hour.
For an additional $325, add on an all-inclusive experience that includes:
- Two 3-Course Dinners for two
- One lunch for two in the Main Salon or boxed into a picnic
- An ATV tour of the property, encompassing the mile and a half of ocean front bluffs and miles of Redwood trails
Call the Inn directly to book or go to http://www.theinnatnewportranch.com/special.php. The Inn at Newport Ranch, 31502 N. Highway One, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, (707) 962-4818, www.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 2 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. Camp Navarro has capacity for over 400 people to sleep on memory foam mattresses in a variety of cabins, East Coast-style Adirondacks and Teepee tents. This season they are adding new Adirondack cabins and new Deluxe Teepees (all of which will have heating), in addition to 40 new Glamping tents and brand new bedding, to entice you to drift off to sleep to the sound of the bubbling creek. Facilities include a 10,000-square-foot main lodge and infrastructure and Wifi throughout the property. The cuisine is a stand out—you will be reminded that their chefs have Michelin-starred restaurant experience when you tuck into a pizza from their Mugnaini wood-fired oven. At this contemplative season, guests can take long walks through miles of lush acreage, take classes on how to forage or make a fire in the wilderness, or learn to identify winter constellations, among other activities designed to enhance appreciation of the sylvan surroundings. Long nights are filled with fireside conversation, board games, dance parties, and steaming mugs of mulled cider and cocoa—and no camp would be complete without sweet gooey S’mores. Camp Navarro, 901 Masonite Industrial Rd, Navarro, CA 95466, (707) 633-3020, http://www.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. It has all the complexities of a fine Pinot Noir with none of the pretension, making it both an important addition to your cellar and a perfect gift for wine-loving friends. Other Lula vintages that make stellar gifts include their multiple Gold Medal-winning Pinot Noirs and celebrated Rosato (a style of Italian rosé). You can order their wines and find more information about visiting them at http://www.lulacellars.com. Lula Cellars Tasting Room, 2800 Guntly Rd, Philo, CA 95466, (707) 895-3737, www.lulacellars.com.
Mendocino during the winter months allows you to experience a Norman Rockwell holiday, pamper yourself with sumptuousness, and tap the power of the Pacific and forests of centuries’ old trees to refresh your spirit. Still relatively undiscovered—and so truly affordable in the off-season—Mendocino can be your secret place to winter or a destination to celebrate with friends and family.