Those of you who live in the San Francisco Bay Area are likely familiar with Mendocino although you may never have thought of it as a weekend escape. I’ve been a few times now over the years and it is always lovely regardless of what time of year it is. We hit the area over the holidays and stayed at the Little River Inn, a mere two miles south of Mendocino Village. It made for a lovely getaway given it’s old fashioned charm and authenticity.
The dining room was decorated to the brim and the staff was incredibly hospitable and accommodating despite how busy it was during late December. Perched on the Pacific Ocean, Little River Inn has dramatic and ever-changing ocean views from the main lodge sitting area, bar and outside porch. We arrived in the evening and the entire property oozing all things Victorian, was lit up like a Christmas tree but in elegant white lights. Its architecture isn’t the only impressive thing as you make your way up the driveway — the peaceful gardens and wrapping porch embraces you with enough warmth, you could easily imagine calling the inn home for a few days or even a week or longer.
Many of the rooms have private decks which face the ocean and fireplaces inside if its too cold to sit out in the evening, which is an added bonus for winter months. That said, it never gets that cold and we found ourselves on daily walks along the cliffs and on other trails nearby.
The porches are my favorite part about the rooms however, a godsend and must have if you’re there during warmer months. Imagine having tea or coffee on your deck as the sun greets you and a new day.
The architecture of the inn is about as old fashioned as it gets for the west coast and as an East Coaster, executing on charm is a must for me. Note that there are rooms in and around the main property (pictured below), most of which face the ocean, and there are standalone condos if you want a little more room and privacy or if you’re traveling with your family.
Off property, a less than 5 minute drive down the road sits the Van Damme, Mallory House, and the Llama Barn. Below are examples of a Mallory House cottage to give you an idea of what to expect, although each one is a little different — they all have luxury bathroom amenities however and a fireplace. Electra sits on the second floor and faces the ocean. (below)
During our stay, we were in the downstairs cottage at Mallory House, which they call Hannah Madison. Our cottage faced the ocean and had a lovely hot tub outside on a flat deck, which was surrounded by Adirondack-like wooden chairs.
Below is the view of Mallory House (the ocean was behind me as I took this shot), and Hannah Madison is in front on the ground floor. You can see the hot tub right in front of the property both on the ground and second floor (the Electra cottage) – it’s pure bliss lounging in a jacuzzi at night after a lovely meal.
Other cottages, which are all romantic and tastefully appointed, with fireplaces, Jacuzzi bath, king size beds, ocean view decks and hot tubs are available as well. These exclusive units are situated on the spectacular bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so you’re guaranteed privacy and uninterrupted ocean views. The options include Coombs Cottage, Van Damme South, Brackenwood, Alice Abbot, MargaretBullard, Electra, Hannah Madison and White Cottage — visit the Seaside Luxury part of their site for more details and photos.
The sky can get moody and dramatic in the Mendocino area during winter and while you can do get overcast days, we had plenty of crystal clear blue mornings for our walks.
The beach area a couple of minutes from the main lodge…
Below is a view of the ocean and rocks, a mere five minute walk from the Mallory House cottages.
What we loved most about the property was its authentic family hospitality. The fifth generation, including Innkeeper Cally Dym and her husband, Executive Chef Marc Dym, are currently at the helm, and personally welcomed us when we arrived. The property now occupied by the Little River Inn and its Golf Course was originally three hundred acres of rolling wooded pastures in the 1800’s. In 1934, fifty acres were sold and eventually became what is now Van Damme State Park which includes some of the last remaining protected stands of pygmy forest.
Apparently, much remains the same as it was when it first opened although they’ve obviously made some improvements and updates like fireplaces, modern luxury bathrooms and wifi being among a few. They have golf, tennis and a day spa and pet lovers will be happy to know that the property is pet-friendly and fees are only $25 per pet, per night for a maximum of two pets per room.
Their nine hole golf course is on the coast and it’s so scenic and natural, don’t be surprised to find a deer crossing the putting green. The course extends to 5,458 yards and is surrounded by redwoods and pine trees on all sides. They also have a driving range, putting green, and a fully stocked Gold and Tennis Pro Shop for the more serious among you. Rental clubs and golf lessons are also available and you can even have lunch in the Pro Shop for those who want to hang around for awhile.
Speaking of food, dining is also a special treat at Little River Inn, which has garnered high Zagat ratings thanks to five star chef Marc Dym on board. Breakfast was a delight, with traditional meals like Swedish Hotcakes, Huevos Rancheros, Crab Cake Benedict, Eggs Florentine, Flat Iron Steak and Eggs, omelets and their to-die-for Roundman’s Thick Sliced Bacon (YUM!!!)
Outside the main dining room is the Ole’s Whale Watch Bar, which dates back to the beginning of the inn — 1939. Back then, it was just called The Bar of course, and today, it is nearly as it was – unpretentious and relaxed. We found it cozy and like the restaurant and hotel staff, the bartenders were welcoming and warm.
In the evening, the ambiance of the old fashioned dining room changes and we had a hoot for two nights in a row chatting about wine with their on-site sommelier. We were there for long enough to sample a pre-fix four course meal with wine pairings and off-the-menu. A huge call out goes to their Roasted Red Pepper Soup which is served with spinach cream. A tip from the chef – roast them (which he did with shallots) but do not blacken them. Oh so delish!
We had to try the to-die-for Green Lip Mussels, which were tangy but not too spicy — the texture was very silky in their finish. They were broiled with wasabi tobiko mayonnaise and ponzu sauce and served over a seaweed salad. Other options included steamers, baked brie, shrimp cocktail, deep fried calamari, oysters on the half shell, Dungeness Crab Cakes and Billionaires Bacon Sliders (wow!)
On the lighter side, they had plenty of salads as well, from a classic “Wedge” Salad and a Gulf Shrimp Salad to traditional Spring Greens with cured red onions and tomatoes, Caesar, and my favorite — the Roasted Beet Salad. They served this with Baby Spinach, local “Boont Corners” aged goat milk cheese and a cilantro ginger vinaigrette, which we loved.
On the holiday menu, they offered a House Smoked Prime Rib with crisp red onions, smashed red potatoes, green beans almondine, whipped horseradish and roasted shallot au jus and a delicious Center Cut Pork Chop with savory cornbread stuffing, roasted Brussels Sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry apple chutney and grain mustard sauce. For veggies, there was a scrumptious Roasted Acorn Squash stuffed with local chanterelle mushrooms, chestnuts, wild rice, spinach puree and pumpkin seed oil. You could tell that the ingredients were organic and likely locally sourced as much as possible given the season.
Their standard menu featured Scallops, Beef Tenderloin Bourguignon, Pork Chops, Confit Pork “Osso Bucco” with fennel marinara sauce and roasted garlic red chili broccoli, Pinenut crusted and pan seared Salmon with spinach puree, Bouillabaisse which is perfect for a cold evening, Vegetable Torta, New York Steak and a Flat Iron Steak Diane, which we had to try. They served it with green peppercorn mushroom sauce, crispy red onions, smashed red potatoes and green beans almondine.
As for wine pairing, they had plenty to choose from, but between our appetizers, salads and steaks, we opted for the 2011 Trujillo Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and I paired my fresh oysters with the Navarro Premier Reserve Chardonnay from Anderson Valley although the Seghesio Pinot Grigio or the Saracina Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino may have been a better choice.
For dessert, we died and went to heaven over their Bread Pudding, which they serve with warm caramel sauce and whipped cream. Two Thumbs up! I’d recommend dining at Little River Inn even if you don’t stay there, but the combo is a blissful choice and makes for a great romantic getaway. And, it’s only a 4 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area.