Meandering Through Mendocino Coast

By Beverly Mann

It is not every day that I get to have a casual lunch with a mayor, dressed in jeans and with his dog. Or go on a safari to be up close and personal with some rare, endangered species—and all only a few hours from home. But then again, I haven’t been to Mendocino County for more than 25 years. Upon arriving there, many an unexpected, pleasurable experience and journey awaited me.

My adventurous three-hour sojourn began north on the dramatic coastline of Highway 1 from San Francisco, as I intrepidly snaked my way up and down hairpin turns. I encountered enormous waves crashing against cavernous cliffs and islands of sculptured rock formations, with windswept cypress trees on my left.

Long stretches of manicured farmland and Victorian homes from the early 1800s on my right transported me back in time. I had already left the fast-paced city life behind and was totally indulged in the vast magnificence of the nature enveloping me.

Stornetta National Monument

My five-day trek through tiny coastal towns included more than scenic beauty and peace of mind. I absorbed a wealth of history and strong sense of community through the eyes of the colourful locals. I leisurely strolled through such welcoming places as Point Arena, which was placed on the map in March 11, 2014, when President Obama declared Stornetta the first land-based California Coastal National Monument.

This massive ecological conservatory of a magnificent 12-mile stretch of ocean adorns some 1,300 acres for hikers to now explore. This is one of only four other areas in the world that has deep upwellings, an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface.

Margaret Lindgren, owner of Unbeaten Path, an agency offering personal and group nature tours, took me for a private walk through this treasure trove of birded bluffs, sea lions, elephant seals, pelicans, and Spanish moss (Old Man’s Beard) mystically covering the branches of cypresses—all easily accessible from the recently renovated Arena Lighthouse and Highway 1. …


Part of the allure of this unique part of Mendocino County, besides the locals and landscape, is the nearby 110-acre outpost, B. Bryan Preserve, where one can go on a one-and-a-half-hour safari.

I journeyed in a jeep with owner Judy Mello and a handful of others to help feed the rare Rothschild giraffes (only 700 left in the world). I closely viewed the largest herd of Roan antelopes outside of Africa and three different kinds of zebras. There are also two cottages and a carriage house for a unique overnight stay.

According to Mello who spoke in her charming southern accent, “It takes $60,000 for us to feed the animals. My husband Frank and I came out from Mississippi with only 11 animals in 2005, and now we have 80.”

Little River

Just a short way up the coast sits another treasure of a town, Little River, once known for logging and shipping, and a more than 1,800-acre Van Damme State Park. …

…For yet another memorable meal, the neighbouring Little River Inn celebrates its 75th birthday with a first-class restaurant menu by the creative hand of executive chef Marc Dym, whose originality extends beyond cuisine. He helped develop a limited-edition private label beer made with cap mushrooms and savoury spices for the occasion. 

The spinach salad was presented as an intricate flower petal, a work of art. The pine-crusted fresh salmon with grilled polenta left a memorable mark, as well as the finishing touch of a mouthwatering banana bread pudding with whipped cream, enough for two—or more.  …

During my drive back to San Francisco, I promised myself that I would not let 20-some years pass again before returning to Mendocino Coast. Hopefully I’ll be back the “same time next year”—if not sooner.

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Beverly Mann has been a feature, arts, and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 28 years. To read more of her articles, visit: