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Mesmerized in Mendocino: Taking the scenic route toward the California seaside

Charlene Peters
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Sunset view from my room at Little River Inn, Mendocino.

Seeking a mini-vacation with my four-legged BFF the last weekend of February, I left the suburban roads of Napa Valley behind and headed to California’s prized Mendocino Coast. It was a leisurely two-plus hours as I drove two-lane Highway 128 up and down the Mayacamas Mountains past countless vineyards.

My recommendation: Take your time, breathe in the fresh air, and stop at a few tasting rooms. I stopped at the rustic Artevino-Maple Creek Winery, about half a mile off the main road in Yorkville, part of the Anderson Valley, where pinot noir grapes reign supreme.

You’ll also want to stop in the funky town of Boonville, the home of Pennyroyal Farm & Winery, where you can taste an Alsatian-style sauvignon blanc that fairly screams of crisp green apples.

Further along the road, in Philo, be sure to crack open your window and take a few deep breaths. Yes, those redwoods and sturdy oaks are present, yet you’re only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the vague scent of salt now mingles with the ultra-fresh mountain air. Amazing.

This is the home of Toulouse Vineyards & Winery, an organic and sustainable family operation that offers a wine and cheese pairing on the outside deck overlooking Handley Park and the Navarro River.

With wineries at practically every turn, I realized I’d never reach Mendocino, so I motored on, spotting cows, sheep and horses grazing in the pastures of the many small farms. When I reached the Navarro region, I entered a giant redwood forest where deep breaths beckon. And then, suddenly, you turn a corner and the California coastline comes startlingly into view.

I’ve visited Mendocino twice in the past 12 months, and both times I’ve stayed at the Little River Inn — for two reasons. I love that it’s pet-friendly, with 23 of its 65 guest rooms accommodating dogs like my Freddie, who can accompany me in a separate dog-friendly dining room while I savor the inn’s delicious scallop and asparagus entrée.

The second reason is the inn’s location, just outside the Victorian town of Mendocino, perched on a bluff with an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean. At sunset, the sky becomes a hue I’ve deemed “oxidized citrus,” and its magic becalms the soul. Down below, waves crash against the cliff with a mesmerizing sound.

Friends had instructed me not to miss the inn’s signature breakfast dish, Swedish Hot Cakes, so I ordered up a plate from room service on my first morning. Unlike its American counterpart, these hot cakes were paper-thin and crepe-like, and I silently thanked Ole Hervilla, the inn’s founder (circa 1939) for bringing this unique Scandinavian recipe to California.

My pet-friendly adventure du jour was a stroll through Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Here, one’s senses are heightened by a kaleidoscope of blooming flowers against a backdrop of wind-swept waves crashing on top of boulders. (The gardens are temporarily closed now, but check gardenbythesea.org for opening information.)

The next day, Freddie and I drove to nearby Fort Bragg for a ride on the renowned Skunk Train along the Mendocino Railway, built to carry lumber in 1885.

With one loud toot, the Skunk Train took off, and we passengers oooh’d and aaah’d as the tracks wended through majestic redwoods, over vintage bridges, through mountain tunnels and along the Noyo River.

Ole’s Swedish Hot Cakes

Serves 4

• 1 cup flour

• 1 tsp sugar

• ¼ tsp salt

• 1 tsp baking powder

• 1-1/2 cups milk

• ½ cup half and half

• 3 eggs

• 2 tbls butter, melted

• Your favorite fruit for topping

Mix the dry ingredients together. Combine milk and half and half with the dry ingredients. Separate egg whites from yolks. Beat egg whites until stiff. Beat yolks and add to batter. Fold in whites. Add melted butter to batter.

Pour batter on non-stick pre-heated griddle. The hot cakes will be thin. Add your favorite fruit topping and enjoy.

For best results, make 12 to 24 hours before serving. Refrigerate.