Road Trip: Mendocino


By Aaron Hicklin

Napa and Sonoma are well-trodden routes; Mendocino, not so much. Its isolation has served it well. Once you hit the gorgeous Anderson Valley you'll be lucky to get a phone signal. This part of Northern California is sparsely inhabited, refreshingly underdeveloped, and about as gay-friendly a slice of rural America as you can find. The city of Mendocino feels more like New England than California with its timbered homes and Gothic-steepled church. Rainbow flags abound in shop fronts and local inns, and the headlands make for awesome walks, with spectacular sunsets and dramatic outcrops on which edible sea palms bend and twist against the weight of the waves.

Day One: San Francisco to Elk

Morning: Stock up on picnic provisions at the Ferry Building (One Embarcadero, San Francisco, 415-693-0996). Try the Cowgirl Creamery's buttery triple-cream Mt. Tam cheese; get the wonderfully chewy rustic baguette from Acme Bread Company and some local pears from the farmers' market. Proceed to the Golden Gate Bridge, following the 101 to Cloverdale, where the landscape dramatically changes as you navigate the snaking Route 128 to beer town Boonville. Take in one of the local brews -- Boont Amber Ale is a good medium-bodied favorite -- or drive a little farther to Goldeneye winery (9200 Hwy. 128, Philo, 800-208-0438), where the owners will let you lunch at their picnic tables, alongside one of their fine pinot noirs. If you prefer more sparkle, try the Roederer Estate (4501 Hwy. 128, Philo, 707-895-2288) a few miles farther along the road.

Afternoon: Allow 40'60 minutes for a leisurely drive to Elk, taking the woodsy Greenwood Road. Stop at Philo Apple Farm (18501 Greenwood Rd., Philo, 707-895-2333) for fresh apple juice, and cross the river for hiking in Hendy Woods State Park (Philo-Greenwood Rd., 707-895-3141), with 850 acres of old- and second-growth redwood forest. Continue to Elk.

Sleep: Harbor House Inn (5600 S. Hwy. 1, Elk, 800-720-7474) One of the very few inns on this stretch of coast to stand so close to the cliff edge, this 1916 arts and crafts lodge is a perfect refuge from the city, with dramatic views of the Pacific and paths plunging to the coves below.