The Beautiful Redwood Trees
Mendocino, CA., Did you know that old growth coastal redwood trees obtain 40% of their water from coastal fog? Well, neither did I until I wandered in awe through the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve located about an hour east of the charming seaside town of Mendocino.
The two-mile trail leading off of Orr Springs Road ushers you into grand salons of silent groves with names like Ynes Mexia, Kellieowen and Lohrli. This reserve begun in 1945 by Robert Orr with a nine-acre donation claims fame to The Mendocino Tree, once considered the tallest tree in the world towering at 367.5 feet. That is a lot of redwood! It has since been surpassed by others further north in Humboldt County.
Exploring The Forest
After scouring for newts and salamanders across the damp, fern covered forest floor, we headed back to the coast and checked into our charming seaside bed and breakfast, the Brewery Gulch Inn. Strategically located five minutes south of Mendocino and Big River, this inn built from eco-salvaged logs from deep in the river sports ten quaint rooms overlooking Smuggler’s Cove.
A chorus of frogs can be heard all day long while Steller’s Jays, butterflies and woodpeckers provide dizzying entertainment over breakfast on the deck. Chef James Hardenburg dazzled us with mouth-watering dishes like the house-smoked skirt steak, Hatch green chile and Manchego omelet, eggnog French toast with a vanilla-bourbon whipped butter and “Nor Cal” chilaquiles accompanied by the innkeeper’s famous “millionaire bacon” blanketed in maple and chili pepper.
Exploring After Breakfast
With enough calories to climb Mt. Everest, these breakfasts will surely energize you for more sightseeing and hiking. Head a few minutes north of Mendocino to Russian Gulch State Park and lose yourself among the ferns, regal redwoods and misting waterfalls of Fern Gulch trail.
Our hike, about 6.5 miles with an elevation gain of 515 feet, shrouded us in a salty spray that kept us cool and refreshed. Mushrooms of all sizes and shapes hide in tree crevices and pop up like popsicles along the forest floor. I’m told that mushroom foraging is now a popular excursion among these coastal redwoods and local chefs have taken advantage of these plentiful fungi ripe for cooking.
Rewarding Ourselves With Wine
As a reward for your efforts, stop by MendoVino Wine Bar in town and sample the local grape juice with proprietor, Mike Gordon. His selection of neighboring, small production wineries won me over especially, the honeysuckle, apricot Drew Viognier Valenti Ranch Mendocino Ridge, the boysenberry Baxter Langley Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and the dark raspberry Murder Ridge Zinfandel Fashauer Vineyard. Even during the pandemic, there were plenty of boutiques and art galleries to poke around in as well as a few marijuana dispensaries offering a plethora of products.
The MacCullum House Inn
After a respite at the Brewery Gulch, we returned to town for dinner at MacCullum House Inn, a historic property dating back to 1882 with gardens, cottages and a barn. We opted for the four-course tasting menu paired with wines or whiskey depending on your preference. Oysters on the half shell with jalapeno, lime mignonette married well with the M.V. Roederer Estate Brut followed by a chive potato gnocchi gratin with Trumpet Royale mushroom duxelles and La Quercia prosciutto.
This time, my travel partner opted for the Bruichladdich Islay Barley Single Malt Scotch while I reveled in the Paul Hobbs Sonoma Coast Crossbarn Chardonnay to match the rich flavors of the pasta. Abandoning wine at dessert, I daringly chose the Nikka whiskey from Japan that sang with the poppyseed beignets drizzled with Meyer lemon curd and Chantilly cream. It was a fait accompli.
The following day it was time to head up the coast to Fort Bragg and glimpse the rugged, coastal farmland that transports you back one hundred years. Our first stop was the Point Cabrillo Light Station (a state historic park) which is still in operation and just a short hike from the main highway. Walk along the craggy, weathered headlands and take in fifteen-foot waves crashing around chiseled rocks.
This is no sleepy, sandy beach, but the stunning wild sea is a spectacle to behold fomenting a lifeforce of its own. A colony of seals played in the rising tide as we spied hidden caves and hollowed out rocks. Further up the coast happy cows grazed on vast pastures emptying into the icy waters. We even spotted a winery, Pacific Star, clinging to the cliffs which given the chance of a misstep after a wine flight left us with a splash of trepidation.
Our Valentine’s Day Dinner
After epic scenery and a power nap, it was time for our Valentine’s Day dinner back at the Brewery Gulch Inn. With doors agape and the large, enclosed glass fireplace roaring, we feasted on fennel, orange and rock shrimp salad, Beef Wellington with locally foraged mushroom duxelles, asparagus with whipped ricotta and honey followed by a ridiculous Amarena and cherry fudge. Warmed by the fire and satiated by chef’s carefully choreographed menu, it was the perfect recipe for a goodnight sleep and even better for the short commute up the stairs.
Other restaurants we enjoyed were Wild Fish in Little River and Trillium in town. If you are looking for a brief vacation with untamed ocean and tall trees, this is the place for you albeit with a little vino to soothe those pandemic nerves.