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Trip Report California Coast: Post Ranch Inn, Mendocino, & olive oil from Paso Robles

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This August my husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with a trip up the California coast. My birthday had been the raison d’être for our last trip--we went to Sicily--and so, in the spirit of togetherness, it was my husband’s turn to choose. This meant we would not be getting on a plane. Mendocino, my husband’s all-time favorite place, was our ultimate destination.

The itinerary:

San Luis Obispo 1 night San Luis Creek Lodge
Big Sur 2 nights Post Ranch Inn
Mendocino 3 nights Joshua Grindle Inn
Atascadero 1 night Carlton Hotel

We had just the night in SLO and got in around 6. The San Luis Creek Lodge ($169/night plus tax, breakfast included), well-reviewed on Tripadvisor, was clean and reasonably comfortable with an above average breakfast. Some of the furniture seemed too large for the room and the shower (not enclosed, a tile floor with a raised edge) was odd. For our purposes, I think one of the Trellis Court rooms at the Apple Farm would have been fine. Dinner that night was at Luna Red, a relative newcomer which we were told had the same ownership as Novo. We had a few of the small plates--corn on the cob, sea bass, oysters, and duck--the only one I would recommend is the duck.

Afer a brief stop at Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seal rookery, we made our way to the Post Ranch Inn ($945/night plus tax, breakfast included):

“They’ve taken nature and improved on it” my husband pronounced and went on to elaborate: “It’s the best place we’ve ever stayed.” Things were looking up. My husband has antibodies to feeling he’s been ripped off and wondered, numerous times up the 1, how any place could be worth that much money. I care about my surroundings but have never gone to a hotel as a destination. For me, the culture, people, art and crafts, food products, and sights, both natural and manmade, are most important. I pick the hotel to fit and favor small privately owned hotels or inns with character and charm and a sense of place. My husband zeroes in on the food. We’d stayed at Ventana in the 80s shortly after moving to California and had traveled through Big Sur again with our boys. There wasn’t quite enough there there to lure us back to Big Sur on a regular basis. Still, I’d long been curious about the PRI—it had achieved iconic destination status over the years--and figured the cost of our two nights was less than the cost of the plane fare to most of the other places I’d want to travel to.

The Post Ranch Inn channels its ranch roots (the logo is the ranch’s brand) together with an Eastern meditative thread and just enough glamour to spice it up but not take away from the sense of peace and well being that begins to envelope you at reception. We were able to book a Lexus package which meant two nights of complimentary dinners, excluding tax, tip, and beverages. The 4-course pre-fixe dinner was $110/person so this was definitely a plus. The room choice was either a Tree or Ocean house; we picked Tree. After I’d made the initial booking, PRI called every few weeks to ask if there were anything else we’d be needing. I asked Megan to pick out a nice room for us and she came through, selecting one of the Tree Houses with an ocean view from the bedroom. I liked the floor plan of the Tree House with its roomy bath. The furnishings were fresh and in harmony with PRI’s architecture and roots.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and waited by one of the basking pools for our room to be readied. Took a picture for the Japanese couple making their way down the coast who mentioned that they’d tried to get a room for the night, but the inn was totally sold out. Our fellow guests were a cosmopolitan group with a good sprinkling of honeymooners.

Food: Meals are served in the Sierra Mar restaurant--very dramatic, perched on a cliff looking out over the Pacific. The breakfasts were terrific. Differed slightly over the two days with one morning including house-cured salmon with all of the accoutrements (the non-New York bagels were admittedly a small weak link). Also frittatas, bacon, sausage, a separate station providing eggs and pancakes or waffles cooked to order, yummy baked goods, a table of fresh fruit with the best mango I’ve ever eaten, fresh orange and grapefruit juice, good coffee. Dinners were four-course affairs. The food was fresh and it did taste good, but we found the presentations, which seem to be favored in “fine” restaurants everywhere now, to be somewhat overwrought. (Our best meal ever was at Troisgros in Roanne in the mid-70s). My favorite item was the fois gras appetizer.

Activities: Enjoyed Mindful Movement Meditation at 8:30 a.m.in the yurt. Saw deer and wild turkey while walking down to the store. Loved the Jade basking pool and the facial I got at the spa with Jenny. Stargazing after dinner—we topped off a memorable stay with a view of Saturn.

Service: Superb, thoughtful and warm, not overly deferential.

Was it perfect? Almost. Getting in and out of the shower, as the shower is also the soaking tub, was a challenge. The chaises longues on the Ocean house patios looked comfier, at least for this aging body, than the Tree House deck chairs.

The final verdict: We’d go back.

We’ve always loved Mendocino’s spectacular site on the headlands, the charm of the village with its Victorian homes, weathered watertowers, flowers ever in bloom, wild blackberries, its galleries and arty 60s vibe. Four years had passed since we were last there, and we’d looked forward to revisiting our favorite haunts. While the recession cannot rob Mendocino of its beauty, it did feel a bit beleaguered on this visit. There were some empty store fronts (the wonderful Zimmer Gallery closed a while back), but most of our favorites were still there. The Highlight Gallery is always our first stop, and I purchased three scarves made by a local artist. We stayed at the Joshua Grindle Inn in the North Cypress room ($279/night plus tax, breakfast included). On prior vists, we’d stayed in the main house and the watertower. Our room was comfortable, (there was some noise from the adjoining room’s plumbing), breakfasts were good, and Cindy and Charles were welcoming hosts.

Dinners: Our first night’s dinner at perennial favorite, Café Beaujolais, was a disappointment. The sauce on my duck had too much vinegar, and the spaetzle and kale were overcooked. Our second night at Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg was much better. We liked the restaurant’s location perched above Fort Bragg’s main street. My sautéed ling cod, fresh and perfectly cooked, was my favorite dinner of the trip, and my husband’s fried chicken was excellent. Chapter and Moon, down on Noyo harbor, has a picturesque setting. The quality of the fish in my fish soup was quite good, but the seasoning was bland. Always the plainer sister to lovely Mendocino, we noticed this trip that Fort Bragg had a sense of energy that was appealing.

A tip: Harvest Market at Mendosa’s is a good place to buy local jams and honeys.

Next: lunch in Petaluma and an olive oil find in Paso Robles

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