I am the first to dust off my passport when the word vacation pops up. This summer over a glass of rose while talking about summer plans, we realized we do not take advantage of what is available to us in our own backyard. At that moment, we decided it was time to explore a wine region we knew of; but knew very little about, the Anderson Valley. We decided it would be more fun to make our staycation a real vacation and become reacquainted with the Mendocino Coast. Time away that involved staying at hotels and planning things to do which we normally would not do if we stayed local. We never take advantage of our area and after this excursion realized we need to do this more often.
The Anderson Valley is approximately 100 miles from Oakland and is nestled in Mendocino County. The summer days are hot and the evenings are cool which makes for amazing grape growing conditions. There are rolling hills and steep mountains as well as dense redwood forests and cows everywhere. Misty fog hugs the curves of the road and dew kisses the vines as you rumble by sleepy little towns. I have been wanting to discover the likes of Boonville as well as Philo, and was like a kid in the candy store with every turn, my mind was exploding as I wanted to shoot all of the farms and vineyards; unfortunately, those big beautiful blue skies did not make for good photography afternoons. We did the next best thing and went wine tasting.
The wine industry began in the 1980’s as the timber and farming industries began to decline. The weather makes for perfect growing conditions for Pinot Noirs as well as Roses, which became the focus of our four days in this area. We got a bit of a late start and after grabbing lunch we only had time to visit two wineries but don’t fear we tried plenty of Anderson Valley wines while we were there, and we definitely plan on going back to try out a few other wineries that peaked our interest.
Lula Cellars was our first stop in the Anderson Valley. We had experienced their rose wine at Experience Rose event and could not wait to learn more about the winery and the wines they produce. Lula produces about 3000 cases of wine a year and their focus is Pinot Noirs. The winery is located in Philo which is an area considered the Deep End. The grounds are lovely with a pond and picnic areas; we had wished we didn’t have lunch earlier as it would have been a great spot to enjoy a bottle of Rose. Dan greeted us with a warm smile and generous handshake as well Honey the winery dog gave a couple nudges and licks to say hello. Seated at the redwood bar, Dan dazzled us with more than just Pinot Noir and Rose. We started with the Rose, which we had enjoyed before so we knew we would love it. This Rose is made with Pinot Noir and is light and floral and very refreshing. Perfect for a hot summer day. We enjoyed a bottle that evening as well with a picnic of cheeses and charcuteries. Dan surprised us with a Gewurztraminer, and by surprise, I mean he made us fall in love with this wine. Typically we do not drink this style of wine as the ones we have had tend to be too sweet. This wine was crisp, dry and had aromas of stone fruit and lemon. Not sweet at all. Their 2016 Pinot Noir is a classic; jammy red fruit-forward flavors with a smooth finish make this a very drinkable bottle of wine. It was very good but our favorite Pinot was the 2016 Costa Pinot Noir. This wine has all of the characteristics of the wine that we love; rich jammy berries, spicy and moist dark earthy undertones. It was chewy and delicious. Dan mentioned that this wine would be a good one to tuck away for a later date. I wish we had grabbed a couple bottles. Definitely make a stop at this hidden gem to say hi to Dan, and learn more about their amazing pinot noirs. Be sure to bring a picnic to enjoy the grounds of the winery.
Handley Cellars was our second stop, and again we were familiar with their Rose wine after the Experience Rose event but not with the winery. Another delightful spot to lose one’s self during an afternoon of tasting. The grounds are gorgeous and as soon as you walk up to the winery lavender brings you in. We started with a 2016 Brut Rose which was the perfect way to start a tasting. One can never go wrong with bubbles, especially pink bubbles. It was crisp but delicate with hints of raspberries. We decided to taste only their Pinot Noirs, and that was a wise decision. Each of them was really unique in its own way an very lovely. We came home with a bottle of their 2015 Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard which we enjoyed with a grilled pork tenderloin.
After a lovely afternoon of tasting wine, we made our way up the coast about 45 minutes north on Highway 1 to an area called Newport. The drive is stunning as we weaved through redwood forests and hugged gorgeous coastal lines. We were so lucky as the sun was out and the area was showing off for us.
We wanted to get the most of a few days and spread out our stay amongst three completely different properties. Each offered a different experience, and all were equally enjoyable.
Inn at Newport Ranch – if you blink or drive to fast you will pass this gem on the coast in Newport. From the road, it looks like a private ranch, but as you make your way down a gravel road past the cows that are greeting you, you realize you have arrived at a magical spot. The property sits on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean and the views are breathtaking. We stayed two nights here, which was clearly not enough time to fully become zen and explore the area. The staff throughout the property was more than hospitable and offering to help make our stay most enjoyable during our entire time there. We stayed in the Birdhouse Suite which was a stunning little suite with a small kitchen where we could enjoy coffee in the mornings as well as a separate living room area which was the perfect place to stare out at the view or cozy up with a book in front of the fireplace. After enjoying fireside appetizers in the main lodge of the inn, we opted to enjoy a picnic on our deck the first evening and enjoyed a bottle of wine from Lula and attempted to watch the sun dip back into the ocean through the fog. Each morning we could hear birds singing which was the perfect way to wake up in our bird themed room. Cows were wandering in the fields past the garden, and we found their mooing to be heavenly. Breakfast, as well as evening appetizers, are included with the suite, and Patricia and Ricki energized us with their amazing breakfasts. While we could have driven up the road about 20 minutes to eat out, we opted to stay at the inn for dinner our last night. They source their ingredients locally as well as growing their own vegetables, herbs, and greens. I usually never order chicken but on the recommendation of the staff, I did and I was not disappointed.
We spent one day at the inn being lazy and enjoying the property which is something we hardly ever do when we travel so it was really nice to take advantage of such a luxury. We hiked, took photos, read books, played in the grass and took a ranch ATV safari which was a blast. Ethan took us all over the property past hidden beaches with seals to the redwood trees and fern grottos in the mountains. The views were stunning, and we both had so much fun. I cannot recommend it enough. There is also a winery right next door, Pacific Star, but they were closed when we were there.
After one and a half days and two nights of complete and utter zen and romance, we had to say goodbye to our friends. Before heading to our next destination we did something we usually never do, and again it was so much fun. After a leisurely drive and grabbing a delicious coffee at Headlands Coffee we made our way over to the Skunk Train. Come to find out the Skunk Train is a world-famous train that makes it way through the redwood forests and along the coastline of Mendocino while transporting back in time. We took the Pudding Creek Express which was a 1-hour train ride through the Pudding Creek Estuary; we saw many different birds as well as a few deer. It was very relaxing as well as a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Brewery Gulch Inn – As we enjoyed another scenic drive along the coast, we could not wait to get to the Brewery Gulch Inn. I kept talking about how I felt this spot was going to have amazing service, and that I had a very good feeling about it. From the time our reservation was booked we received amazing service from an email not only confirming the reservation but another one welcoming us to the area with suggestions of places to go and discounts at wineries. I was blown away as we stay at a lot of hotels and this never happens. As soon as we made our way to the reception area, Guy was there to welcome us with a glass of wine and made us feel like we were visiting old friends. Warm and hospitable are an understatement. We stayed in the Madrone room which was a lovely king size room with amazing views and a deck, along with a fireplace. There was every amenity imaginable, we could have arrived with only our clothing and been just fine. It was rather mind-blowing to be honest with you, how a hotel could think of everything from bath salts to chargers for your phone. After all, I am all about the little things at a hotel.
Guy left us a lovely note written in French along with a bottle of wine that he makes, Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles from the Anderson Valley vineyard Fathers and Daughters which was very well thought touch. What a lovely way to enjoy the late afternoon; it was a rustic chardonnay with slight characteristics of a cider as well as a champagne. I would say it was rather farm style or rustic, which is something we both enjoy in wine. It was crisp with hints of green apple and very lively. One can never go wrong with bubbles in the afternoon.
We thought about going into Mendocino for the evening but after seeing how gorgeous the property was we opted to take full advantage of our gorgeous room. They offer what they called a Light Dinner Buffet, and we expected a glass of wine and some appetizers. What we got was an amazing dinner of beef tenderloin along with vegetables, salads, and some of the best scalloped potatoes I have ever eaten. Yes, I had two servings or maybe three. Guy was off for the evening but Steven made sure we were well fed and that our glass of pinot noir was never empty. It was really a fantastic night.
After a most enjoyable sleep and walking the grounds in the morning we enjoyed a breakfast made to order. Again the meal did not disappoint. Everything was fresh and local and it was hosted in a wonderful dining with a fireplace to take the chill offer. We had the entire afternoon open and Guy gave us some great suggestions. We decided to head back up to Fort Bragg to enjoy some time at MacKerricher Beach as well as Glass Beach. MacKerricher Beach was really gorgeous and there were even some seals. Glass Beach was a bit of a disappointment as the photos make it look so spectacular but really we didn’t see much of any glass colored pebbles. After spending a few hours beachcombing we headed over to Noyo Harbor. Guy recommended a spot Django’s Rough Bar and he promised it would not be touristy and that the food was good and the beers cold. He was right! We shared oysters along with spicy squid and a couple of those cold beers before heading back to Mendocino.
Little River Inn – this property is a Mendocino icon and if you have ever driven that way you have definitely passed it. I remember the first time I went to Mendocino some twenty years ago, I really wanted to stay at this beautiful white inn perched upon a bluff. When we were able to get a night booked at this spot I could not wait. We arrived later in the day unfortunately and did not get to take advantage of their spa which we heard was amazing. There is always next time. We had a great room with ocean views and another fireplace so we took full advantage of the situation and enjoyed a bottle of wine before heading to dinner which was enjoyed at the inn. We tried to get in a bit early at the Whale Watch Bar as Guy told us they make outstanding cocktails; but, it was packed so go early if you are staying there. We had a great table with ocean views and amazing staff which kept us full and happy. I cannot pass on a classic Iceberg Wedge salad when I see one of the menus and I have to admit this was one of the best I have ever had. It was loaded with bacon and blue cheese, just the way I like it. I ordered a pasta dish and Lenny had the bouillabaisse which is something he always orders when it sees it on the menu; both were cooked perfectly and were very filling. We could have shared as the portions were large. That did not stop us from enjoying the olallieberry cobbler for dessert.
After another restful night sleeping on the coast, we sadly made our way home after stopping in Boonville for a little coffee, pastries, and shopping. While we did not get a passport stamp on this vacation we left with our minds and bodies relaxed and our hearts were full after a wonderful experience with wonderful folks, close to home.
Mendocino Coast, we will be back for more, most definitely! If you want to see a little video with more information about our holiday hop over to Instagram to catch my Mendocino story. More Photos of our staycation as I know you are visual people.
Wines that we enjoyed but did not get to visit the vineyards:
Bee Hunter – Lenny saw this on the menu when we had dinner at the Little River Inn. He had heard about this wine but could not remember were. So, we tried their 2014 Pinot Noir and it was a knockout! When I say jammy that is an understatement as it was loaded with stonefruit flavors and was soft as well as elegant.
Next Time – four days was not enough as there was so much we wanted to do. We are already trying to figure out how we can get back there this winter to whale watch. Yes, you can see whales there! Here are a few things we did not get a chance to do this trip and plan on taking advantage of next time.
Balo Vineyards – have enjoyed their Rose wine and would love to explore more of what they have to offer.
Toulouse Vineyards – we heard from a few folks that this is a great little spot to visit and that their pinot noirs are lovely wines to enjoy.
Maggie Hawk – another pinot noir that we love to drink, and would be great to visit.
Nye Ranch – we drove by and they had an adorable vegetable stand out front but were not open. After doing some research on their ranch I am dying to go back, buy veggies and flowers.
Pennyroyal Farm – love their goat cheese but did not realize they had a spot in Booneville. As well, they give farm tours. Definitely, want to hit this spot!
The Bewildered Pig – again a local spot that we heard has amazing food.
Stone and Embers – we heard their pizzas are definitely worth stopping for.
Jug Handle State Reserve – want to do some hiking here the views are supposed to be lovely.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens – almost everyone we talked to said to plan a visit here that it is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens.
disclaimer: this post is not sponsored. We were gifted our rooms at all three properties and were not asked to write about them. We had an amazing time and wanted to share our experiences and travel. All content and photos are our own and were not influenced by other parties. We appreciate our readers supporting brands that we stand behind.