LA Weekends: Mendocino County

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Since our past two LA Weekends kept us within just a few hours of Los Angeles, we were feeling ready to stretch our legs and see what the distant reaches of California have to offer. (A three day weekend didn’t hurt, either.) So we settled on a trip to Mendocino, California, roughly three hours north of San Francisco, where we’d split our time between wine country and the oceanside.

As soon as we began plotting our itinerary, several landmarks stood out to us. Anderson Valley, Russian River, Fort Bragg—these are home to some of the world’s best breweries. And so our trip to wine country became a trip to beer country.[/one_half][one_half_last]

Listen while you read

 

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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][four_fifth_last]We made our first pit stop at the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, CA. We parked just few feet from one of the giant tanks the company uses to produce beer that is distributed all over the country. But inside the bar and restaurant, Lagunitas feels decidedly local. On Friday night, the joint was packed, but we didn’t wait long to sample an array of brews, including some only available there at the brewery.[/four_fifth_last]

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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][four_fifth_last]But we had to pace ourselves, as just a short drive ahead was our next destination, the Russian River Brewing Company. On a sleepy street in downtown Santa Rosa, we suddenly found ourselves in a lively and crowded brewery. We had to wait about an hour before we could be seated, which seemed appropriate considering we were about to drink the infamous Pliny the Elder, an IPA beer that beer connoisseurs have voted time and time again the world’s best beer. Did it live up to the hype? Well, we’re more aficionados than connoisseurs, so we’ll just say it was quite satisfactory.[/four_fifth_last]

The Other Place in Boonville, CA
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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]We got to our first hotel late that night, and after following a long and very windy road, then a shorter dirt road through a vineyard, then unchaining a fence to enter the driveway, we arrived at The Other Place and promptly fell asleep. We soon experienced one of the most spectacular views we’ve ever woken up to. The dirt road had taken us to the top of a hill in the middle of a green valley, giving us spectacular views from every angle, and an incredible feeling of remoteness. We spent most of the morning just enjoying the view, which was hard because the house itself was nicer than anywhere we’ve ever stayed. The two bedroom house has a full kitchen (stocked with granola and local apple cider,) a wood-burning stove (stocked with firewood and kindling,) an iPod-powered stereo (stocked with Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell,) and a small library of books and movies—in other words, this place is the perfect retreat.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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But we couldn’t stay long as we had a busy day of wine tasting ahead of us. We arrived in Mendocino just in time for their annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, when many of the area’s wineries offer free barrel tastings, along with h’ordeuvres made with fresh local crab. Unfortunately the jostling road from our hotel in Boonville to the city of Hopland was a bit much to handle on an empty stomach, so to cure our nausea we stopped at Be-Bop’s Diner in Ukiah, CA. We try not to expect too much from a roadside diner chosen in haste, but we got lucky with this one. The circular restaurant had an effortless ’50s theme, very decent prices, a friendly staff, and chicked-fried steak that tastes like home. Or so we imagine someone might say.
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[one_half][/one_half][one_half_last]With that it was just a short drive to Hopland, a city so named because it was once home to a large number of hop farms. Now most have been converted to wineries, including the Milano Family Winery, which actually operates out of one of the old hop barns, a few of which remain in town. We were greeted by the owner and winemaker, who facilitated our barrel tasting and showed us around the winery, offering us some of her famous chardonnay meatballs.

Downtown Hopland is home to a number of tasting rooms for the area’s many wineries, so if you’re looking for an easy way to taste lots of wines without having to drive, this is a good place to do it. You can even take a break to have a beer in the Hopland Ale House, a 100-year-old building that was once home to the first post-prohibition brewery in California. But we didn’t want to spend too much time indoors, so we made our way for Jeriko Estates, another local winery that allowed us to walk through its fields and take in the views, as well as to sample some great crab cakes and pinot noir straight from the barrel.[/one_half_last]

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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]Soon though it was time to head for the coast.

The drive took us straight through the Jackson State Forest, one of several redwood forests in the area, where the trees are tall enough to block the sun nearly any time of day. We had to push through in order to hit the coast in time for sunset, though, and we arrived at Pomo Bluffs Park just in time. I don’t know if we lucked out or if every sunset up there is this stunning, but for scenery and for color, this was an all-time great sunset.
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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]As luck would have it, again and again on our Mendocino adventure, our room for nights two and three was just a block away from the North Coast Brewing Company. Unlike our last two stops, North Coast had something of a formal dining room (well, formalish,) where we partook in exclusive North Coast beers, as well as some excellent fish and chips. The Red Seal cask-conditioned ale is highly recommended.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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[one_half][/one_half][one_half_last]We spent the night at The Weller House, a bed and breakfast on the National Register of Historic Places that dates back to the town’s lumber-mill days. As you enter, the stacks of board games in the the front hall that make it feel like a summer home, but when you enter your room to see a bathtub at the foot of your bed, you realize this really is a special experience. We stayed in a Japanese-themed room with a ridiculously comfortable bed and an array of vintage books to peruse. Just next door to the house is an old water tower, the highest point in the city, which offered a great view of Fort Bragg.

In our two nights there, we ran into a few of the same guests at night and at breakfast, and got to know them a little bit, as we did the owner Vivian and the two Dutch twenty-somethings working there temporarily in exchange for room and board. They brought us made-to-order eggs (from their own chickens!) and fresh-squeezed orange juice to go along with a buffet-style breakfast that varied slightly by day. We were invited to rejoin them for a crab bake one day, high tea the next, though regrettably we were carried away by the rest of our packed schedule.
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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]The biggest tourist attraction in Fort Bragg has to be the Skunk Train—named for the smell of the engine, though our train seemed modern and mostly odorless. The route, carved through the area’s redwood forests, was created for the town’s lumber industry, and along the two hour route (each way, for the day trip) you see remnants of that—towering redwoods with logging equipment stuck in them, cabins that belonged to the lumberjacks (still owned by their descendants), and old trails to settlements that no longer exist. But most of all, the Skunk is a fun way to see the scenery. You can ride in the passenger car—somewhat like a school bus—or stand in the open-air car, but bring a coat for that, especially if you come in winter.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]Once we returned, we made a quick stop in the village of Mendocino, a small strip of shops. We had coffee and a muffin to energize ourselves before a hike in Van Damme State Park. It was around this time that we started to get fed up with what an unfair concentration of gorgeousness Mendocino County is. Everywhere you go is just achingly beautiful, and you have to pass through equally beautiful places to get to them. Hiking in the park was like being in Fern Gully—huge trees and incredibly dense greenery. At one end of the park was something of an oddity, a pygmy forest, where land formations have prevented the soil from being replenished for over 1,000,000 years, resulting in an odd variety of tiny, struggling trees.
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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]After working up an appetite on our hike, we planned something a little special. We’re not usually much for fine dining. As twenty-somethings, our opinions of food tend to revolve around the words, “for the price.” If a burger is going to cost twenty dollars, it better be ten times better than a $2 In-N-Out burger. But Mendo Bistro, in downtown Fort Bragg, impressed us from the very beginning.

Continuing our pursuit of fresh, seasonal crab, we started with the crab cakes, which were easily the best and most crab-filled we’ve ever tasted. (We were so convinced by the restaurant’s powers that we even ventured to try, and then finish, something we normally avoid like the devil: coleslaw.) They serve a variety of entrees—very customizable meat dishes, some pastas, and a seafood stew come to mind—and we were both thoroughly impressed with our choices. The portions were large, but we forced ourselves to make room for dessert. We chose a chocolate volcano and something that sounded worthy of royalty, a “poached pear with roasted apples, spiced caramel sauce and goat cheese gelato.” Our theory stands: always order the oddest thing on the dessert menu.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]We had to hit the road early the next day, but we did have one more stop to make in Fort Bragg: the famous Glass Beach. Another remnant of the old logging days, Glass Beach was once where residents dumped their garbage. You wouldn’t know it today except that the pebbles on the beach are mixed with millions of smooth pieces of multicolored broken glass. We hate to admit pollution can ever be beautiful (like LA’s fire-red, smog-fueled sunsets,) but Glass Beach was definitely something to see. [/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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The route back to the 101 took us through another gorgeous forest, the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, and past the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which thankfully was open for some unreasonably early drinking. But we limited our visit to a short flight, because we had a lot of driving and a little more drinking to do, at Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg, CA, where we stopped for lunch and to try their famous Racer 5 IPA.[/one_half_last]

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With a very full trip behind us, and a long drive still ahead of us, we had just one more stop to make. We meant to hit this on our first LA Weekends trip to San Francisco and ran out of time, so we rectified it this time, in a short detour that took us over the Golden Gate Bridge[/one_half_last]

[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]The Musée Mécanique at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a dream come true for childish nerds like us—an arcade and a museum in one. This is the only place in the world where you can play arcade games that are as many as 100 years old, and even some electronic games that only slightly predate Pong. They have Big-esque fortune tellers, shooting galleries, baseball simulators, and a lot of moving dioramas (several of which depicted executions—an odd fascination,) including one giant diorama that encompassed an entire circus scene. We were excited to see the games, but the fact that these games are all playable, most for just a quarter, is amazing, and definitely made the museum worthy of a visit.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

[one_fifth][/one_fifth][three_fifth]And with that, we got back on the road home. We couldn’t help but think about all the stuff we wanted to do but didn’t have time for, how we could’ve used another weekend just to go hiking and explore the area’s trails. But, oh well. Next time![/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

ESTABLISHMENTS MENTIONED AND RECOMMENDED:
[one_fourth]WELLER HOUSE INN
524 Stewart St.,
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-4415[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]THE OTHER PLACE
14655 California 128,
Boonville, CA 95415
(707) 895-3979[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]BE-BOP’S DINER
1200 S State St.,
Ukiah, CA 95482
(707) 462-1750[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]MILANO FAMILY WINERY
14594 U.S. 101,
Hopland, CA 95449
(707) 744-1396[/one_fourth_last]

[one_fourth]HOPLAND ALE HOUSE
13351 S Highway 101,
Hopland, CA 95449
(707) 744-1255[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]NORTH COAST BREWING CO.
455 N Main St.,
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-2739[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]SKUNK TRAIN
100 W Laurel St.,
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-6371[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]MENDO BISTRO
301 N Main St.,
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-4974[/one_fourth_last]

[one_fourth]ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO.
17700 California 253,
Boonville, CA 95415
(707) 895-2337[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]BEAR REPUBLIC BREWERY
345 Healdsburg Ave,
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-2337[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]MUSEE MECANIQUE
Pier 45 Shed A,
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 346-2000[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]LAGUNITAS BREWING COMPANY
1280 N McDowell Blvd.,
Petaluma, CA 94954
(707) 769-4495[/one_fourth_last]

[three_fourth]This trip was made possible with the assistance of Visit Mendocino.[/three_fourth][one_fourth_last][/one_fourth_last]


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