Dean Clough

May 4, 2021

Portico Darwin: Mendocino/Anderson Valley Travel Guide

You may not know this, but a scant 3 hours north of SF, there is actually an answer to my question about where else you might point someone to explain California in one shot, other than Montecito and Santa Barbara.  That somewhere is the not-quite-real little coastal town of Mendocino, and just to its south, the verdant, unspoiled, and truly world-class wine region of Anderson Valley.

We've been to Mendo a bunch over the years since moving to SF in 1992, and it's never failed to delight.  From its stunning coastal cliffs, to tidepools brimming with beauty and life, it's a special place that's off the beaten path yet completely equipped to deliver an amazing vacation.  And that covers everyone from stoner mountain bikers to art gallery and farm-to-table food/wine aficionados.  It is spectacularly gorgeous and it has it all.  (Well, perhaps except for hot weather.  We're talking the actual Northern California [San Francisco is really in Central California, if you take the time to look at a map], so bring a sweater, or perhaps three.)

And I've yet to mention Anderson Valley.  Julie and I are lucky to have visited many wine regions, both here in the US and also abroad, so I feel I have some standing here.  In the words of Ol' Purple Label, let me be clear:  Anderson Valley is a world-class wine region, full stop.  In fact, its always-perfect weather (it's just inland from the coast enough to deliver that Goldilocks thing in terms of climate), subtle-yet-still-stunning topography, and the fact it is the opposite of the modern Napa or Sonoma experience makes it one of my top happy places.  I'm talking like right after The Dolomites and Hawai'i Island.  Yes, it's that good.

Your lodging choices (apart from a VRBO or Airbnb, which we've not yet done) boil down to staying in Mendo or not.  In town, there are quaint (some disgustingly so) hotels and BnB's.  In town, we've stayed here twice, and it's Killer (or at least was - it's been years).   We've also dined at The Boonville Hotel, but never stayed there, but we do hear it's cool.   Mendocino would be a day trip, but Boonville is basically the southern gateway to the wineries; if that's your priority, it's definitely an option (as would be renting a house there, or in Philo or Navarro).

But this time, based on some research I did, we chose The Glendeven Inn.   This is a mostly-full-service hotel (they serve only breakfast, no lunch or dinner) that is about two miles south of Mendocino.   Frankly, having just been there (I write this in May of 2021) and experienced the hotel itself and its location, it's unlikely we'll stay elsewhere anytime soon.  You won't grow tired of the crazy-fresh breakfasts and the easy-peasy stroll (about a ten minute walk on an empty trail) to the coastal cliffs, not to mention its proximity to town and Anderson Valley.  A great, mellow/chill vibe permeates the place.

Since we were there with 3 other couples, we got to see a total of 4 rooms.  I believe one would be very happy in any.  We stayed in Pinewood, which would likely be our overall pick on a return visit, although both The Bay View and Bayloft are on the second floor of their respective buildings and have unobstructed ocean views and are both wonderful.   And last but not least is East Farmington; this had the best deck, although ours was also Killer.

Diamond Certified overall?  Not quite - while our room was wonderful and huge, a couple of the double-paned windows needed replacing - they were cloudy due to condensation on the inside, and it marred otherwise perfect views of the bucolic fantasy world right outside.  Yes, my standards are high but Glendeven is still Killer and highly recommended.

Yes, in spades.  Mendocino and the surrounding areas are nothing if not the definition of squishy California, and here I mean that in the best possible way.  Everything is fresh and prepared well, no matter where you go or what you eat.  In order (and remember, we had silly-fresh breakfasts every morning at Glendeven) here's where we chowed.

Patterson's Pub:  Killer
We got takeout from here for our first night, so we could keep the rage on at the party in our room (we later got in trouble - hey, it's not a party if the cops don't come or the hotel isn't pissed).  Mostly a bunch of cheeseburgers, but they took great care of us, and the food was darned good. 

Luna Trattoria:  Killer
I can't comment on this beyond the leftovers I had (I was down with a touch of C19 vaccine jab 2 chills) later, but Julie reports a great time was had by all at this Italian mainstay.  The Italian owner is the real deal, as was the food.

Trillium:  Textbook
That's the rating not so much because it's old school, but more because the meal we had there is just the classic Mendocino experience.  Dine outdoors, with a view down the street to the waves crashing on the coastal cliffs right at the edge of town.  Marvel at the lower-cost local wines from Anderson Valley that are equal anything anywhere.  And of course the food.  Suffice to say there's nothing off a Sysco truck that makes it onto a plate here.  Great service, to boot.

The rest of our meals were picnics at wineries or on the beach.  Yeah, it's that kind of area.  Add in the Emerald Triangle component for those so inclined, and it's kind of chill everywhere, and not just at the hotel.

We've been to a whole bunch over the years.  I can recommend every last one of them.  This time we visited Toulouse and Husch, but everyone of them ranges from Textbook to Killer to even Diamond Certified - I'll let you figure out which is which.  

There is a vast array of state parks all around.  There are beaches.  There are ethereal redwood groves.  You can go places and not see anyone.   We had two magical experiences.  You want redwoods?  Hendy Woods State Park will more than hurt your neck.  We took a great 2 hour hike on the Upper Loop that wouldn't disappoint anybody.  

And we had what can only be described as an idyllic beach party at the pretty-empty-for-a-Sunday Russian Gulch State Park.  You'll kind of have to experience it yourself to believe it.
Like Mendocino and Anderson Valley as a whole. 

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