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A California road trip takes you through wine country and heritage towns.
Mendocino—both town and county—may be less than three hours north of San Francisco, but its combo of rolling green hills, farm animals, vineyards and Dr. Seuss-inspired shrubbery feels like a world away.
If you’re driving, you can hug the curvy (very, very curvy) Pacific Coast Highway all the way up the coast if you like, but the path less taken, accessed from Anderson Valley, wears its charms closer to its chest. This remote region (be sure to set your email to out of office; cell service is sparse here) is home to some of California’s most renowned cool-climate pinot noirs—think the opposite of Meiomi. And while many bold names—Williams Selyem, Cakebread—grow grapes here, it’s the family-owned spots, such as Yorkville Cellars, that give the truest sense of place. Their quaint tasting room is surrounded by Mendocino’s vast unspoiled topography, and their wines are atypical for Anderson Valley—no pinot.
Best of all, you don’t have to spit your pinot if you hunker down for the night at the Madrones in Philo. This boutique spot blends Mediterranean architecture, nine luxe rooms and an agora-esque collection of very petite satellite tasting rooms from some of the region’s smaller wineries, such as the absolutely amazing Drew Cellars. Enjoy a glass of their legendary Fog-Eater pinot before heading out to dinner at the Bewildered Pig. The farmhouse-chic spot rocks a desert-style patio bordered with loose gravel and cacti, and chef/co-owner Janelle Weaver is a force with seasonal ingredients like spring onion and asparagus soup followed by stinging nettle pasta with rabbit ragu. The wine list is populated by nearby friends but, for fun, give the abundant pinot a pass and try a local syrah, like the amazing offering from Baxter.
After checkout, hit Highway 128 en route to Mendocino, but save some time for a stop at the small, spaghetti western-inspired town of Boonville for a stroll—it won’t take long—and then amble over to Pennyroyal Farm. Operated by Sarah Cahn Bennett and Erika Scharfen, the 23-acre property is both a goat and sheep farm, and you’re here to snag a chunk of their legendary farmstead cheese (the soft blueberry laychee cheese will pair nicely with rosé in your room later in the evening). Plow on toward the smell of sea air and in no time you’ll be rolling into the town of Mendocino, perched cliffside on a spectacular bluff above the Pacific. There’ll be time to explore the town in the morning, but for now pull into the Little River Inn. The historic property—currently being operated by the fifth generation of family owners—channels a Victorian vibe with its gabled architecture and perfectly manicured lawns. Leave the car parked and grab a bite at the on-site restaurant, where chef Marc Dym has long set the standard for fine dining in the area with elevated locavorism like his indulgent abalone fritters. The night ends on a perfectly old-fashioned note: a fire crackling in your room as the swells of the Pacifc crash into the cliffs below. Sleep will come easy.
If you wanted to get up early, you could sneak in 18 holes at Little River’s course or put in a quick set of tennis, but your main priority is a few hours in town before the weekend ends. Spend a bit of time strolling among the best-preserved Victorian architecture on the West Coast (much of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places) and poking into shops that have a distinctly artistic bent. When it’s time to head back to the big city, take Highway 101, as it will allow for a quick hike through the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve. This remote park (there’s a decent chance you’ll have it all to yourself) is home to some of California’s ancient old-growth redwoods, and it has larger trees than the more famous Muir Woods park near San Francisco. And a contemplative stroll through these giants is the perfect place to plan your next trip to Mendocino.
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