California travelers know fall is the ripe time to pack the corkscrew and hiking boots for an adventure in Northern California’s Mendocino County. As the barometer slides, the fog pulls away, corks pop and nature hits it seasonal migration stride. The annual grape harvest, mushroom haul and artisan array is nothing short of nirvana for visitors. Come stay in some of the most unique lodging properties in Northern California. Add in 24 state and local parks, numerous trails, lakes, vineyards and a powerful perch along 90 miles of Pacific Coastline. This makes the concept of social distancing nothing short of seamless.
MILD ANIMAL KINGDOM
From migrating whales to rare African hoofstock and happy hour with resident goats, the opportunities for tapping into Mother Nature are front and center this fall. October through April marks the annual California gray whale migration, between Alaska and Mexico. The 12,000-mile roundtrip is considered to be the longest known mammal migration in the animal kingdom, and Mendocino is the stop for key sightings. From the Mendocino Headlands State Park to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse the panorama of the Pacific is a lure for enthusiasts.
Those seeking a bit more adventure can tap into B. Bryan Preserve with the new DIY Car Safari Tours. Experience the African veldt in the safety of your own automobile while visiting rare Rothschild Giraffes, Greater Roan, Sable and Kudo Antelope and Grevy’s and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. The visit culminates with a gentle giraffe feeding. Daily VIP tours in a vintage Land Rover and individual painting sessions with the giraffes are also available at this remote outpost in Point Arena.
Mingling with Mother Nature hits a high note during happy hour at Little River’s Andiron Seaside Inn and Cabins. Set on five acres of meadow and woods with 11-quirky retro cabins, the Inn hosts weekend happy hours with resident goats (Peanut Butter, Coco and Sugar.) Cocktail in hand, guests can safely distance in the outdoor amphitheater while cavoring with these naughty, but friendly characters in their natural setting. Nearby, the newly-renovated Glendeven Inn & Lodge offers in-room chicken treats for treks to the hen house as well as a daily happy hour with the resident llamas.
Celebrate fall by climbing aboard the historic Skunk Train and enjoy the Pumpkin Express, a scenic round-trip to an autumnal pumpkin patch wonderland. Visitors of all ages can enjoy this seasonal attraction onboard the train, and get the chance to stroll through the pumpkin patch, explore the nearby redwoods, take photos, and choose their very own pumpkin to bring back on the train.
POP UPS & PICNICS
As harvest unfolds, a variety of restaurants have put a fresh patina on picnics to go and alfresco dining. In wine-centric Anderson Valley, the Bewildered Pig has taken takeout fare to a whole new level with hyper-local “PigNics.” Keeping with chef Janelle’s rustic-refined style, beautifully presented repasts include local albacore salad Nicoise, sweet corn and chanterelle risotto, house-made port rillettes and a piquant citrus tart, an ideal foil to the local sauvignon blanc.
In Boonville, San Francisco’s A16 restaurant has taken the pop up concept up a notch with a series of weekend dining adventures pairing local talent with its signature Southern Italian flair. Local farmers, brewers, vintners and artisans will be highlighted in the four-course repasts offered in a garden setting set smack in downtown. Pick up a picnic or reserve a seat for the inaugural pepper party saluting the region’s locally-crafted Piment d’Ville.
In the tiny enclave of Elk, the Michelin starred Harbor House Inn is offering a three-course lunch (Thursday – Monday) served alfresco on the deck overlooking the cove. Chef Matt Kammerer’s fall menu includes delicacies such as braised butter beans with seared daikon and lamb confit followed by stewed stone fruit with shiso panna cotta.
Trillium Café & Inn in Mendocino is the stop for a full-court picnic box, ideal for lunch or dinner under the stars. Fully sanitized to-go boxes include table cloths, napkins, silverware, wine glasses, wine opener, dishes and a picnic map to mark out the spot. Not to be missed is the caramelized goat cheese and onion tart followed by a perfectly-grilled wild king salmon. Flat iron steak and vegetable gnocchi round out the savory options.
For travelers seeking autumn at its best, a visit to the family-owned 140-year-old Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders is a must. Here visitors can taste six apple cider wines hand-crafted from organic apples among 100-year-old orchards as part of the “Gowan’s Cider Tasting in the Orchard” experience.
Inland on the Inspiration Highway (101) in Hopland, Campovida offers a gorgeous walk or picnic pairing set on six acres of mature gardens. Guests can indulge in a self-guided tasting basket – Campovida Govino – including a tasting of six current release or rare Italian and Rhone varietals, charcuterie plate and reserved sanitized private picnic table. The farm and estate winery is by appointment only; tastings available up to six guests.
HOT SPRINGS & FAIRY RINGS
For those seeking a real slice of Mendocino magic, a heady hike in the ancient redwoods followed by a soak in the natural hot springs is the call. Keeping inland west of Ukiah, start the day with a moderate saunter into Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve, one of the county’s top gems. Tucked off Orr Springs Road, this 1,323-acre mythical reserve delivers five virgin redwood groves with trees spanning ten feet in diameter; dig deeper and reap the ultimate reward — a stunning Jurassic-style fern forest. Next door, strip down for a soak at Orr Hot Springs. The 27-acre redwood hideaway is a study in serenity offering a cold spring-fed pool, multiple hot spring soaking tubs and claw-foot baths in a meandering creek setting just north of Ukiah. Opened in 1857, Orr also offers rustic lodging including 23 guest rooms cottages and yurts. Day rates available.
East of Ukiah sits California Landmark No. 980 – better known as the champagne of mineral springs. Vichy Springs Resort and Spa, a 700-acre facility boasting America’s only warm and naturally carbonated Vichy mineral baths (and Olympic-size pool), is the perfect Rx for rejuvenation. Long a hideaway for Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Jack London, this quaint hideaway offers fourteen individual soaking tubs and a hot pool and plunge sourcing springs dipping 30,000 feet below the surface. A variety of guest rooms and cottages dot the premises; bed down in the historic Blue Cottage (1852), hike to Chemisal Falls or take to the creek side baths like a lime in Perrier. Day rates available.
SOLO TREKS & TOURS
Isolation tourism and social distancing are key pivots this season, and Mendocino County has a variety of outposts for one-on-ones with nature at her naked best. On calm mornings, these key spots are certain to provide plenty of room to roam with an optional migrating whale sighting.
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: This unique setting where the gardens meet the sea is the stop for migrating whales, as well as a glimpse of a rare tender species and big leaf Rhododendron collection which blooms in December.
- Mendocino Headlands State Park: Cliffs along the western edge of the Mendocino Headlands are a prime spot to watch for spouts from shore.
- MacKerricher State Park: This expansive beach in an other worldly setting, is ideal for hiking and spotting whales and other wildlife. MacKerricher’s neighbor, Ricochet Ridge Ranch, allows horse lovers of all skill levels to roam on horseback on its Ten Mile Beach Ride and a Forest Rides through the majestic Redwoods.
- Point Arena Lighthouse: Surrounded on all three sides by the great Pacific, the lighthouse offers whale watching from a panoramic perspective; . For those who want to take a walk on the creative side, revel in the “Sigils Walkshop” and “Hike, Write & Design Walkshop” with Unbeaten Path Tours & Yoga. These unique experiences in the great outdoors facilitate creative expression through nature, meditation and design.
- Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands: Designated in 2014 as the only land-based portion of the California Coastal National Monument, the lands are one of the Pacific Coast’s greatest treasures and an ideal place to see the grays and other feats of nature untouched;
- Point Cabrillo Light Station: In addition to a grandstand view of the annual gray whale migration, visitors can go back in time and enjoy a half-mile downhill walk to the historic 1909 Light Station lighthouse and three restored lightkeeper homes located at this historic state park.
- Van Damme State Park: Hike downhill through the Spring Ranch property to bluffs overlooking the ocean for a great opportunity to view the migrating ocean giants. Add a bit of perspective with a visit to the nearby Pygmy Forest.
Fall into Mendocino County and find your Room to Roam!