Romancing the Coast

Romancing the Coast

The tough Pacific coast beckons. Sunlight filters by the eucalyptus trees and grassy knolls. The sea wind clarifies your thoughts as dreams turn into reality. It’s the unspoiled beauty of Mendocino County, California.

Sometimes I travel alone, but this time I brought my husband James, daughter Lauren, and dog Honey with me as we embarked on a wonderful adventure.

In the winter, there’s nothing like the romance of placing another log on the fire as you huddle close to your loved ones inside a beautifully appointed room at an Inn. On the road to Mendocino, our first stop was at the Gualala Country Inn, dressed in the cheerful blue and yellow of French Provincial with its cozy parlor. The rooms are intimate and confront the ocean. The innkeepers are quiet and keep to themselves to allow you an especially peaceful stay.

That first evening, the three of us enjoyed a fine meal at the Phoenix Restaurant in Gualala. Rack of lamb, snapper, eggplant parmesan, and fettucine was the order of the night combined with an impressive wine list from nearby wineries. In its casual elegance, we enjoyed our meal with huge appetites.

The next morning was brisk and cheerful as we made our way up the coast to visit the

B. Bryan African Hoofed Animal Preserve in Point Arena. It’s quite unexpected to see a zebra grace the coastline and antelopes and kudu grazing on the hillside. My family and our guide piled into a Gator, finding ourselves rambling along 105 acres of ground spotted with exotic and abundant wildlife. Owners Frank and Judy Mello consistently do everything they can to adjust to their beautiful animals, with each species having their own barn. More than 30 animals call this special place home, and we were able to enjoy them up close and personal. It is especially great to be able to view them in wide open spaces to observe their fun behavior in a natural setting. It’s not a zoo, rather a private facility dedicated to protecting and breeding abundant animals. Next up? A giraffe barn to house three long-necked friends who will arrive later this year.

There is something magical about a lighthouse. Lauren was especially thrilled when we pulled into the Point Arena Lighthouse stop. She climbed more than 100 stairs to the top, catching a spectacular bird’s eye view of the coast. Built in 1870, it is one of the oldest lighthouses in the country, finally constructed after hundreds of boats shipwrecked on the coast during the 19th century.

The churning sea wove a spell of mystery as we cruised along the winding coastal highway in search of the Heritage House. In Little River, this hotel is one of the most luxurious places to indulge in a winter weekend. Their trademark bright red door opens, and their staff welcomed us literally with open arms. Nestled among a grove of trees and meticulously cared for grounds, the Heritage House is the ultimate rendezvous. Our room was right on the edge of a cliff, and James made a crackling fire. White robes hung inside the closet, accompanied by matching slippers. The room was decorated with Asian influence, with tatami mat woven floors, bronze tables, metallic hues, and big bay windows leading to the expansive deck that featured Adirondack chairs overlooking the oceanfront. A fully stocked wine cellar was also tempting along with crystal decanters filled with the finest cognac and brandy.

Dinner was served inside the Heritage House fine dining room. It was a five course meal, spotlighting pumpkin gnocci appetizers, roasted duck, seafood chowder and garden salads.

We returned to our suite that night to find the beds fluffy with down comforters and mattresses. A bottle of champagne was dropped off later that evening as they turned down our beds while we were out eating and exploring.

We awakened to espresso hissing in the background as we dressed warmly for our whale watching trip with Captain Tim. All Aboard Adventures in nearby Noyo shelter hosted our excursion, and we were shivering in the icy wind as wave after wave bounced our 45-foot fishing boat. Lauren learned how to fish for crabs, and we brought up several dozen angry crustaceans much to our delight. As the boat pitched forward for the 100th time that morning we saw a pod of grey whales in the distance. Following their flukes wasn’t hard to do as there were dozens of huge whales all around us. If fact, at this time every year, California Gray whales (and in lesser numbers humpback, blue and killer whales) can be seen making their annual migration at the rate of dozens of pods an hour-with some pods containing up to 20 whales each. After three hours on the open sea, we were invited to come back later for a recently steamed crab dinner.

Elements Spa at the Heritage House was my next stop as James and Lauren went to the crab dinner without me. I had other things in mind. From head to toe, I was exfoliated with a small brush. Spa owner Laura Boohers then applied a uncommon confront disguise and massaged me with lavender oil. My feet and hands were immersed in paraffin to soften my skin. An hour and a half later, the recipient of a facial and complete body massage, I was restored and feeling blissful.

Dinner that night was in Mendocino at the renowned Café Beaujolais. Our great number seated us at a nice table with flickering candlelight and a never ending wine list. The meal was divine; featuring cast iron pan roasted free-range Sonoma duck breast, pan-seared wild Colombia river sturgeon with a truffle emulsion sauce, and broiled swordfish accompanied by roasted red pepper mashed potatoes and artichokes. Their wine list is extensive, featuring Shramsberg Blanc de Blancs champagne, Ferrari-Carano chardonnay and Pride Mountain Vineyard merlot. Dessert was delicious, spotlighting coconut cream pie and carmel sauce along with sour cream cheesecake and a Ghiradelli chocolate lava cake with hazelnut ice cream.

We drove back to our room feeling sated. We simply lounged around reading, talking and playing with our sheltie, offering her a few scraps of roasted chicken from the night’s leftovers.

Morning came too soon, so we slept in lazily. I didn’t want us to go home; it would break the spell. Lauren went down to breakfast. We loaded up our truck and checked out.

After a few bites of whisper soft pastries, we went into Mendocino to do some shopping. I found a pair of gold Chinese slippers and a journal for Lauren. I also snagged cologne from the Perfumery along with a pair of jeans, socks and a travel bag from “Fancy That,” which is a fabulous downtown boutique with upscale clothing at reasonable prices. It’s one of the shops designated as a special part of “Spendocino.”

James took the wheel and we enjoyed a leisurely excursion along the coast, back into our own home in Latrobe.

Mendocino County proved to be a magical getaway that combines romance and family fun in one weekend vacation. Certainly, it is something to remember.

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