Mendocino Coast

Story and photos by Dorothy O’Donnell

Meat and dairy aren’t on the menu at Stanford Inn by the Sea. But even if you’re a die-hard carnivore, the gourmet plant-based fare served here will win you over. While the food at this sustainable resort on the Mendocino Coast is delicious, it’s the idyllic setting and Zen vibe that keep luring me and my vegan daughter back year after year. Dogs are welcome too – ours always insist on coming along for the fun.

During a recent stay, I felt the tension in my shoulders soften as soon as we entered our cozy pine-paneled room. Like all rooms at the inn, ours included a wood-burning fireplace and private deck overlooking 10 acres of lush, organic gardens and a peek of the ocean. 

Over the next couple of days, we relaxed even more as we slipped back into the familiar rhythm of life at the inn. Mornings started with a stroll through the grounds where we said hello to the horses, llamas and donkeys munching their breakfast on a hillside pasture. Then we headed to Ravens, the resort’s vegan restaurant, for to get our breakfast (included in the room rate). 

The author’s daughter and dog explore Big River in a canine-friendly outrigger canoe.

The menu features inventive dishes, many starring just-picked ingredients from the gardens. I didn’t miss the eggs in my portobello Benedict, a savory concoction of juicy mushrooms, spinach and creamy hollandaise sauce. My daughter loved her French toast and breakfast polenta topped with sautéed veggies and a rich cashew-cheese sauce. 

Stanford Inn sits above Big River, a protected estuary, and borders a state marine conservation area. Exploring them by outrigger canoe or kayak is a must. Both are available to rent on-site at Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too. While you paddle, keep any eye out for otters, seals and the various waterfowl that call this serene spot home. To make your excursion more enjoyable, try to depart when the tide is in and return when it’s out. The folks at Catch a Canoe can help you time your trip for optimal conditions. 

Post-paddle, unwind in the resort’s greenhouse, a plant-filled oasis with a large saline pool, sauna and whirlpool. Need some extra pampering? Book a massage. You can also enjoy a variety of wellness programs and classes such as yoga, gardening and cooking.

Just north of Stanford Inn, driftwood-strewn Big River Beach is a popular spot for dogs and their humans to romp. At the east end of the parking lot, you’ll find a flat multi-use trail. The former logging road hugs the river for six miles and is suitable for hiking and mountain biking. (Catch a Canoe provides free bikes for inn guests.) You can connect to more challenging trails at the end of the road.

If you’re craving more off-campus activity – or a non-vegan bite – head to the charming village of Mendocino, just five minutes away. In addition to exploring the village’s shops and restaurants, be sure to take a ramble through the Mendocino Headlands State Park. Miles of trails meander along windswept bluffs and offer dramatic views of the crashing surf, secret beaches and rocky coves.