Walk on the Wild Side

It’s fungi time in Mendocino County, one of the nation’s top regions for tapping into these seasonal gems.  With winter rains underway, now is the time to take to the trails, belly up for mushroom-laced menus or tie into a tour of the treasure trove of coveted candy cap, chanterelle, porcini and hedgehog mushrooms.  This season is nothing short of nirvana for local chefs, winemakers and foragers.  It’s also easy for you to grab some top Pinot Noir and glean a taste of place.  Straddling historic Highways 1 and 101 with nearly 2,500 sq. miles of live oak and stately redwood groves, the region is a natural hotspot for some 3,000 mushroom varieties, 500 of which are edible.

2019 mushrooms

What could be more fun than grabbing a few friends and joining a fungi fanatic for a relaxing hike through the vaulted redwood forests in search of all things edible at the Stanford Inn by the Sea, a sprawling retreat with 41 guestrooms set on 10 acres overlooking Mendocino Bay.  The seasonal Mushroom Exploration Tours and Nature Walks includes a one- to two-hour hike with a guide tracing the surrounding forests and streams.  Open to both guests and non-guests, the adventure provides valuable insight into the region’s top varietals as well as providing a refreshing winter reboot.  While there, the award-winning organic-plant-based Ravens Restaurant is an ideal pit stop for a fabulous repast of wild mushroom and polenta with local chanterelles in a port reduction.  www.stanfordinn.com; tours $90/couple, $50/person; non-guests $100/couple, $60/person.

If you’re seeking a true outback experience, venture north to mile marker 70 to the Inn at Newport Ranch.   Set 12 miles north of Fort Bragg, the 2,000-acre private ranch, with a nearly two-mile perch over the Pacific, is the stop for top shelf lodgings and a deep culinary dive with chef Adam Stacy driving the stoves.  Architectural standouts for the nine guestrooms include select 20-foot wide walk-in stone fireplaces, a building supported by 24 individual redwood trees from base to cathedral-like ceiling, and hot tub perched atop of the water tower with commanding views of sea. 


The Forage for Incredible Edibles package is ideal for couples with a down-to-earth four-hour UTV guided excursion deep into the depths of the ranch’s private forests and groves for a scavenger hunt and educational adventure focused on Mr. Fungi.  Unique to the tour is the option for you to create and inoculate a mushroom log to take home and enjoy once the big boys sprout.  Back at the ranch, you can enjoy a mushroom-themed picnic lunch served fireside with wine.  As the sun sets, a mushroom-laden repast awaits, paired with Mendocino County’s prized Pinot Noirs.  www.theinnatnewportranch.com; $800/two; excludes lodging.


At the other end of the coastline straddling historic Highway 1, the rustic Mar Vista Farm + Cottages is your call for a true getaway this winter season.  Set in Ancho Bay on nine acres with forested trails, organic gardens, farm animals and a back-to-the-land ethos, this is ideal outpost for families seeking a recharge.  Eleven vintage cottages with fireplaces dot the landscape, with activities including egg gathering, forest bathing, star gazing and chicken chats.  Fresh eggs hit the doorstep each morning with a day of play ahead.  The seasonal Mushroom & Garden Foraging package includes a two-night stay and personal tour of the property’s top mushroom haunts, with a morning forage for the ultimate fresh-egg scramble.  www.marvistafarmandcottages.com.


Grab a guidebook and hit the trails for an up-close and personal encounter.  Blessed with 24 state and natural parks, a tapestry of oak-shrouded trails and ancient redwood groves, Mendocino County is the ideal spot for you to cut loose on a mushroom identification hike.  Top bets include Jug Handle State Reserve or Russian Gulch State Park, both skirting the Pacific with panoramic views.  Inland, Hendy Woods State Park in wine-centric Anderson Valley is the stop for Big Hendy, and a sprouting force of fungi.  Montgomery Woods State Reserve is another idyllic walk in the woods with one of California’s most magnificent virgin redwood groves.  Step into nature’s cathedral for a mind-blowing mix of gigantic spires shooting high in the canopy, past flying buttresses and enormous treetops soaring more than 350 feet.  The eye-popping fern forest, flush with a sea of giant green fronds reaching for the sky, taps the imagination. 


If you’re crew is more on an epicurean bent, celebrate the annual mushroom haul with a romp around the local restaurants.  Many chefs are rolling out prix fixe fungi menus, daily specials and a full-on mushroom celebration.  Double down at the two Michelin star Harbor House Inn for a repast flecked with foraged fungi.  Four of the eight courses feature a bounty of mushrooms including Prince, Maitake, Hedgehog, Yellow Foot and Black Trumpet.  Other top stops include The Bewildered Pig, Boonville Hotel, MacCallum House & Restaurant, Trillium, Café Beaujolais, The Golden Pig, Patrona and The Little River Inn, perched on the Pacific in Little River.


Travel Alert:  Please check directly with wineries regarding tours and timeframes given the current COVID-19 conditions.