Stanford Inn by the Sea – Mendocino, CA

April 20, 2009

I took a seat in the breakfast area at Stanford Inn by the Sea, relaxing back into my chair as I looked out over lush, green gardens to the blue of the ocean beyond. Soft music flowed through the air and, hands wrapped around a mug of fresh brewed coffee, I said a silent thank you for the peaceful atmosphere.

I’ve long been a Mendocino devotee, making yearly or, whenever possible, multi-yearly treks to soak in the fresh air, outstanding scenery and sense of life being lived as it’s meant to be. I’ve hiked on the bluffs, done volunteer work at the art center and holed up for weeks at a time to work on writing projects. But, until this particular visit, I had never been to Stanford Inn by the Sea.

With both my father and dog in tow, I needed an inn that would work for all of us, each with varying requirements. My father needed comfortable accommodations and photo opportunities. I sought peaceful surroundings and access to food that would suit a vegetarian diet. Thunder, my corgi-shepherd mix, simply wanted to be with her human companions, but, by default, needed pet-friendly lodging. We all found what we needed and more at this exceptional inn.

We drove in via Hwy 128, crossing from Cloverdale to the coast on a winding, scenic highway. Passing through the small towns of Boonville and Philo, we emerged from a redwood canopy to take in the fresh smell of saltwater and shimmering blue of the Pacific Ocean. Another few miles up the road, just before reaching the town of Mendocino, we turned right on Comptche-Ukiah Rd. and found our way to the inn, where we were booked for a two night stay.

One flight of stairs took us to our room, which was perfectly situated midway across the second floor of the Big River Building. Our private deck offered an excellent view of the grounds and ocean. As an added bonus, the much-photographed Mendocino Presbyterian Church was beautifully framed between two tall pine trees to our right. The perfection in vistas was equaled by the room’s interior, which offered a queen bed, day bed with trundle, writing desk, private bath, refrigerator, coffee maker, flat screen TV, and fireplace, already pre-set for the evening.

Realizing how much there was to explore without even leaving the property, it’s amazing we made it into town. The inn has expansive gardens and sitting areas, a pool building that’s open 24 hours, yoga classes on selected mornings, a “Massage in the Forest” studio, and enticing areas in the main building for relaxing in front of crackling fires. A hosted bar allows guests to pull up a barstool and enjoy a good Merlot or Chardonnay. And the gift shop, which meanders artistically throughout the lounge areas, has a wide enough selection of merchandise to keep even the most discriminating shopper browsing for a long time – books on vegan cooking, sustainable living, and pet-related subjects mixed with locally-knit scarves and hats, jewelry and candles.

Still, one of the advantages of staying at Stanford Inn by the Sea is its close proximity to the town of Mendocino, home to numerous eclectic shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants. As hard as it was to leave the inn, we headed into town to explore.

A stroll along Main St. led us to the Gallery Book Store, where I picked up an artsy memo pad and a black Gallery Book Store t-shirt. Dad picked up a book of local area points of interest. Thunder was allowed to browse inside, as well, which was a welcome surprise. From there we wandered over to A Cultured Affair for a mini-lunch of Mexican corn chowder, after which we spent time photographing the town’s many water towers, weathered fences, and gardens.

We headed back to the inn for afternoon “tea.” Well-known for its award-winning food at The Ravens’ restaurant, the inn sets out an impressive spread for its guests from 3:30-4:30 in the afternoon. Over tea and coffee, we enjoyed hummus, vegan sweets and the inn’s signature “Sea Palm Strudel,” a delicious blend of sea palm, carrots and onions, rolled in sesame phyllo.

Had I not been traveling with a non-vegetarian father, I might have stayed put for the rest of the afternoon and evening, but I worked out a culinary compromise with Dad. We would go back into town for dinner and enjoy breakfast at the inn in the morning. It was a plan that worked perfectly. We landed at The Moosse Café for dinner, finding rack of lamb for the carnivore—Dad, not Thunder—and an outstanding arugula salad with red onions, feta cheese, pine nuts, and papaya-vinaigrette dressing for me.

We returned to find homemade chocolate chip cookies in our room, compliments of the inn. With the warmth of the fireplace, the plush, luxurious bedding, and crisp silence floating in from the private deck, the evening was nothing short of perfection.

Up early, Thunder and I took a walk to visit the llamas and horses that live on the property, stopping also at the edge of Big River to watch the cleverly named Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too preparing for a day of activity. We wandered through Big River Nurseries, the inn’s certified organic garden, which provides many of the fresh, healthy ingredients for The Ravens’ recipes. A sense of healing energy surrounded us everywhere, and we tried to soak up as much of it as we could.

Breakfast was impressive, even to my father, a strictly professed non-vegetarian. Potential guests who opt to stay elsewhere because the included breakfast is vegetarian are missing something special. I ordered huevos rancheros with black beans and salsa, while Dad had an omelet with a russet and sweet potato medley. Accompanying these dishes were homemade huckleberry-lemon scones, fresh squeezed orange, grapefruit, or carrot juice, and fresh brewed coffee. The scones were the best I’d ever tasted.

Before leaving, I was fortunate to have a chance to visit with Jeff and Joan Stanford, owners-innkeepers who have spent almost three decades developing Stanford Inn by the Sea into what it is today. They are devoted and caring – to the land, the staff, the community, the guests and the energies that allow this special place to exist. Their understanding of and ability to explain sustainability, earth energy, and vegetarian and vegan philosophy, as well as their uncompromising dedication to the guest experience, makes for a lodging experience that is not only unique but exceptional.

The ability of an inn to be down-to-earth yet luxurious, nurturing and educational yet unobtrusive, is rare. But this is the foundation of Stanford Inn by the Sea. It works. And it’s magic.