view from Harbor House Inn, Oceansong Cottage, Elk, March 27, 2012
Living in the City, you easily forget how dark night can be. Driving South on Highway 1, at 10 p.m., blasting the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album and singing along…and realizing there are no lights other than those from your headlights. Back at the cottage, even standing out on the deck, the ocean is lost in the darkness. But the roar of the waves breaking against the rocks in the cove reminds you it’s there. Temporarily out of sight but still within reach, should you be so foolish as to try and brave the treacherous path down to the black sand beach in the pitch black dark.
The picture window that so perfectly framed the ocean view and the keyhole rock it crashes through is now a mirror. The reflected light from the glowing apple on my laptop illuminates my face as I type type type away.
This is the escape from the every day I needed. No Internet. No television. And not too many people.
Our little cottage at Harbor House Inn, with the amazing view, was $100/night cheaper than its neighbor thanks to a slope to the floor. The ocean is trying to reclaim this patch of land or so it seems. But the pitch isn’t so steep that it’s a bother, so yeah us for getting a good deal. And in case you are wondering, the bed has been adjusted for the slope, so there won’t be any accidental rolling out of bed.
Since we were staying at the Inn during the off season, dinner was not included, thus our first night’s meal was at Ledford House, up Highway one just past the 128 junction. A pleasant ocean-facing dining room, with a piano player. The duck pate starter was very good, as was L’s leg of lamb. And I have no complaints about my steak au poivre with asparagus. About midway through dinner, I thought I heard a familiar pitiful wail. After hearing it a few more times, and determining that yes I was hearing a sorrowful cat lamenting how very hungry it was, I spotted the calico kitty at the door of our dining room. “She thinks she’s an indoor cat,” our waitress remarked after seeing we’d spotted the little beggar, then shooing her out the door. “And she’s not starving, either!” Clearly this was not the first time for these antics.
Exploring Mendocino County
Our first full day in Mendocino County started with complimentary breakfast at the inn (omelet with mushrooms, asparagus, and caramelized onions and a side of bacon), where to our dismay we started seeing raindrops spatter the picture windows. Undeterred by the light rain, however, we headed out to Ross Ranch where we’d reserved a couple of hours of horseback riding through the redwoods. This turn of weather reinforced my purchase of a new rainproof jacket and then some.
I should point out that the horseback riding was L’s idea. Those of you who know me personally IRL know that despite the many years I spent tearing around on my bicycle, I have had horrible balance for the past few years. So the idea of mounting a huge horse and tooling around steep backwoods inclines would not have been the first leisure activity that I would have suggested. Thus I bucked up, signed the waiver that pointed out all the ways in which horseback riding could be very dangerous and possibly maim me, and off we went.
My horse was a pro. What I mean by this is he figured out pretty quickly that he had a first time city slicker rider on his back. And thus, every time he saw some nommable greens—or some branches that were just above his head—he headed for them. After a while, I got the hang of reigning him in and reminding him that I was the dominant one in charge, thank you very much. I was faking it, mind you, but he seemed to buy it and was mostly well behaved. Other than trying to eat my shoe when we stopped for a break at the midway mark.
That’s when the rain started to get a little more aggressive, even within the protective redwood canopy, prompting me to pull up my hood, and we ended up getting back to the ranch a littler earlier than scheduled. Since my jeans were soaked, and I was pushing my luck as far as my ability to stay upright and in charge on this horse, that was OK by me. I should have taken a photo of our horses once we dismounted, but the moment escaped me. And clearly, there wasn’t any opportunity for me to take photos while we were riding.
After changing into dry clothes, we ventured back onto Highway 1, this time headed to Fort Bragg. More specifically, headed to North Coast Brewing Company. Because I definitely deserved some strong beer as a reward for my equestrian efforts. It had been more than a decade since I visited the tasting room, but the food was as tasty as I remembered, though the portions were even more hearty than I remembered. I should have done a tasting set like L (he did 4 tasters), but I wanted an entire goblet of the Brother Thelonious dark Belgian style ale all to myself. I have a real weakness for dark Belgian style beer (hello Maredsous!)
Finally giving in and accepting the fact that the rains were not going to abate, we headed back to the Inn, where we spent the evening drinking wine (picked up from wine tasting on Highway 128 on the way up on Wednesday) and playing Scrabble and Monopoly.
A Trip to Mendocino Proper
Friday’s plan was to finally make it into the village of Mendocino. But first, we stopped at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens and spent a few hours walking through the gardens and out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Thanks to the persistent light rain, there was only one other couple out on the paths with us, so it felt as though we had the place to ourselves. One item to note: we never did figure out why there were numbered metal quail all over the property. They weren’t map points or anything obvious. I imagined a secret, members-only audio tour might make use of them.
After the gardens, we drove in to Mendocino, parking in front of Café Beajoulais where we had a leisurely lunch. L had a lovely spring greens salad with a perfect mound of baked Laura Chenel goat cheese, and a burger with white cheddar and avocado. I started off with a duck leg confit, and had a baguette sandwich of brie, bacon, and chicken. Very tasty food, though everything from getting seated to having our orders taken seemed to take much longer than you would expect. Only later in the day did I realize that the somewhat harried state of our waitress was likely due to her acting as hostess, waitress, busperson and cashier for the entire restaurant, which had 8-9 tables active while we were there. Yikes!
Our walk through the tourist shops of Mendocino was over fairly quickly – it’s actually a pretty small area. I was tempted, very tempted, to purchase the Jedi’s Path at the bookstore (to better know the enemy since my allegiance goes to the Sith, in SWTOR at least.) But I remembered my vow to stop buying books, so I didn’t pick it up. I’ll wait until I sell a few books back to my local used bookstore and make room on the shelves.
Our final night’s dinner was at the Bridget Dolan's Public House in Elk, just up Highway 1 from the Inn, which was suggested to us by a tasting room person at Navarro. In addition to great service and a nice selection of local brews on tap, they had mini chimichangas on the appetizer menu. Can you imagine? Of course we had to have them and they were delish.
Overall, the rainy weather did but a damper on some of the hiking and exploring we had planned, but we did make the best of it. And I returned home relaxed and recharged and that was definitely the larger point of it all.
Mendocino County Resources
Harbor House Inn
5600 S. Highway One
(800) 720 7474
Food & Drink
Bridget Dolan's Pub
5910 S Highway 1
Elk, CA 95432
961 Ukiah St
Mendocino, CA 95460
The Ledford House
3000 N. Highway One
Albion, CA 95410
North Coast Brewing Company
55 North Main Street
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-BREW (2739)
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
18220 North Highway One
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Ross Ranch Horseback Riding