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The Secret Life of Mendocino

Mystical California.

To reach semi-remote Mendocino, arguably California’s most fiercely independent county, you head north from San Francisco for three and a half hours, driving on a highway that eventually shrinks to a two-lane road. You travel through hilly terrain and the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, its second-growth trees stretching high toward the sky, before coming upon the Pacific Ocean. Push farther north and the mystical village of Mendocino will appear on a craggy bluff. The drive feels very much like rewinding to a different time; the destination does too.

“A line of earth energy runs through this property,” explains Stanford Inn by the Sea owner Jeff Stanford over dinner at his all-vegan Ravens Restaurant. “It’s said to be the same line of energy [sometimes called a ley line] that runs through places like Stonehenge and St. Michael’s Mount.” Stanford and his wife, Joan, bought the historic farm and property in 1980, turning it into the only vegan eco-resort in the country. The coastal retreat—coddled by water on one side, forest and meadow on the other—feels wrapped in a healing energy that comes from the staff and owners as much as the storied earth beneath its foundations. (Some of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs book in to disconnect from the frenetic pace of the tech world.)

“A line of earth energy runs through this property. It’s said to be the same line of energy that runs through places like Stonehenge and St. Michael’s Mount.”

It’s not hard to see why some have described Mendocino County as being “a state of mind.” Replete with rugged natural beauty—deep forests, wave-lashed cliffs—and somewhat isolated, it has an untouched feel. When the fishing and lumber industries nosedived in the late 1940s, the area became a vibrant artists’ haven, with Mendocino village at its epicentre. These days, the artistic fervour is subtler but still present. Drive into town, past the Center for Spiritual Living and streets of Victorian homes to the stalwart Mendocino Art Center, where that community still thrives. (Fans of the TV show Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury may recognize Mendocino’s shores; it was a popular filming location in the ’80s and ’90s.)

Winding your way back to San Francisco, Anderson Valley is not to be missed. Mendocino County wine country feels like a well-kept secret; it’s the Napa Valley of 30 years ago. In the heart of it all, check in for a night at the Madrones, tucked away in a place called Philo. Along with a garden full of citrus trees and Italian-style accommodations, the Madrones is home to four tasting rooms. Seek out bottles from Signal Ridge Vineyard, best known for its bubbles and high-altitude wines.

The Madrones is also a 10-minute drive from the Bewildered Pig, which was a French restaurant before chef/owner Janelle Weaver turned it into a rustic-refined gem with plates built around foraged fare. The “purveyor of gastronomic pleasantries,” as she puts it, serves dishes like rabbit pot pie, radishes with caraway butter, and an explosive “celebration of carrots” that includes them cooked, pickled, raw, and topped with chive leather (like fruit leather, but using herbs). The cozy 38-seat room fills quickly and by night’s end is boisterous with local winemakers.

“They all know each other,” says Weaver, a Napa expat herself, gesturing toward the multigenerational crowd, sharing bottles of wine and switching tables to chat. “There is no competition here; everyone is friends.”

Stanford Inn by the Sea, 10051 South Big River Road, Mendocino, California, U.S.A. 95460, 707-937-5615.

The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo, California, U.S.A. 95466, 707-895-2955.