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Saturday, 11 November 2017 12:14

We Visit the Little River Inn

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By Michael Eady

The Little River Inn is an historic Victorian-style lodge located on Highway 1 on the Northern California coast, two miles south of Mendocino. It’s an iconic landmark that celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2014.

The Inn is situated on a hillside set back from the seaside bluffs but overlooking the rugged, rocky, ragged Northern California coast and providing spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Couple this with beautiful autumn weather and you’ve got a twin bill that is hard to beat.

The original inn building was constructed as part of a ranch in 1853. In 1939 the property became an inn operated by Cora and Ole Hervilla. The original building still stands and now serves as the Inn’s office, bar and dining room. The second floor houses the original bedrooms.

With a landmark property containing such a rich history, I had to ask: “Do you have ghosts here?” This seems to be a leitmotif commonly associated with old Seaside inns and hotels. The lore of sailors or seafaring in general, conjure up such images. In any case, all I got in response to my inquiry at the front desk about any such apparitions was something akin to a non-denial denial. The only proviso was that if indeed there were ghosts they were confined to the original sleeping quarters. The newer (presumably unhaunted) rooms are tastefully and luxuriously appointed. The Inn has 65 guest rooms, 64 of which come equipped with an ocean view. The 65th? Unknown—perhaps it is haunted.

 

Little River Inn fplc LG Picmonkey

 

Our particular room was cozy with a user-friendly gas fireplace providing a warm, romantic indoor ambience with a private deck overlooking the inn’s well-manicured lawns and the ocean beyond gave us a postcard-perfect view of the sunset. The spacious bathroom was equipped with a Jacuzzi tub which provided additional relaxation benefits. Visitors looking for a little seaside R & R can find complete relaxation without leaving their room. In addition, the Inn also offers a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a spa and salon and a private trail that leads to the beach at Van Damme State Park below the property. The property is situated on a sloping hillside rising from the shore bluffs. This hillside location not only enables almost all guests a spectacular view of the ocean, it also provides for a unique round of golf. The golf course is not a particularly long one, but with the fairways tucked into a thick redwood forest and ascending the fairly steep hillside, the setting is at once scenic as well as challenging for those who eschew the use of a golf cart and choose to walk. The tennis courts, on the other hand, are quite level and standardized for normal play.

 

Little River Inn Oles Whale Watch Bar LG Picmonkey

 

Of the many noteworthy features of this historic inn, perhaps most widely known is its bar and dining experience. The bar, Ole’s Whale Watch, named for Inn’s founder, Ole Hervilla, has, not surprisingly, an ocean view. I was informed by the bar maid that one can indeed see whales from this vantage point, mostly spouting, occasionally breeching. On rare occasions, orcas are spotted. The bar, which acts as a portal to the dining room, is busy indeed. I ventured down to Ole’s on a Monday evening, expecting a sparse crowd, even with the baseball play-offs on in the background. However, the bar was crowded and full of conversation and conviviality that verged on the boisterous. Thinking I would enjoy a quiet beer while waiting for my dinner reservation, I was instead bracketed by two older couples who quickly introduced themselves and started conversations. When they departed, they were replaced by two new couples and two new conversations. These amiable and well-traveled folks seemed to hold a unanimous opinion about the Little River Inn: they loved coming there, had been to the Inn many times, and everything on the menu was sure-fire delicious. After my dining experiences, I am happy to say that they were correct on all counts. The dining room on a Monday and Tuesday were full of guests and regulars from the area, which speaks well to the popularity and quality of the establishment.

The Little River Inn is propitiously located, offering a scenic gateway to the nearby town of Mendocino and, a bit farther north, the city of Fort Bragg. Mendocino is an archetypal seaside town of quaint bungalows along with a cute, eminently walkable downtown. It is situated astride craggy bluffs overlooking the mighty blue. Shops and eateries abound, including the 5-star Café Beaujolais, a French bistro in a sprawling old house.

Mendocino was founded and prospered, like so many of the towns on the Northern California coast, from the growth of the lumber industry. Farther to the north (approximately eight miles) is the larger city of Ft. Bragg. Ft. Bragg originally served as a military garrison (it wasn’t really a fort) before the Civil War, but later transitioned to a lumber town that took advantage of its natural harbor as a shipping center. Owing to its larger size, Ft. Bragg, population 7,273, offers a bit more variety of activities than its smaller neighbor to the south, Mendocino, population 824. Among the many visitor-friendly features of the city is the famous Skunk Train. This is an excursion train that winds slowly through the bucolic coastal redwood forest to the town of Willits, 24 miles to the east. Ft. Bragg is also home to the Fort Bragg Botanical Gardens as well as North Coast Brewing. The latter is one of California’s oldest and most widely-known breweries. The operation occupies three corners at the intersection of Main Street (Hwy 1) and Pine Street; one corner houses the brewery, another a gift shop and the third a restaurant. The popular Glass Beach is just north of town.

 

Mendocino Beach nr Little River Inn Picmonkey

 

Traveling south from the Little River Inn also provides scenic recreational opportunities. To the south, the town of Elk and several ocean beaches are found. The area is popular with abalone divers. Heading east from the coast is Highway 128, ambling toward U.S. 101 as it courses through the Anderson Valley. For wine enthusiasts this is the road less traveled, as compared with the tourist-trampled Napa and Sonoma counties. The Anderson Valley is as pastoral as its more famous wine country neighbors, though more rustic and more remote from population centers. It has fewer wineries but certainly not of lesser quality. There is less traffic and fewer visitors and, hence, cozier, less-crowded tasting rooms. Wineries such as Husch, Navarro, Greenwood Ridge and Scharfenberger, dot the winding, two-lane road. As many oenophiles can tell you, nothing is better after a day of wine tasting than a cold beer. To that end, there is the Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, another well-known and widely marketed brewery.

North, south or east from Little River, visitors can find beautiful scenery, a variety of sea- and land-borne activities and a thoroughly relaxing environment. Making the Little River Inn the centerpiece of a trip along the North Coast will enhance your entire travel experience, adding its own rich history and lovely coastal ambience to the many sights and adventures that make this area such a must-see destination for travelers world-wide.

Editor’s note: Next week in part two, we’ll bring you a visit with Little River Chef Chef Marc Dym and one of his special seasonal recipes. More information about the Little River Inn can be found at www.littleriverinn.com. More information about this area can be found in the North Coast listings of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory, where there are links to the websites of hundreds of Wineries, Craft Beer Purveyors, Lodging and Dining options.

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