Making Magical Mendo Memories
On one of our trips to the Village of Mendocino, we stayed at the Stanford Inn By The Sea, a very special boutique hotel on a hillside meadow overlooking Mendocino Bay. Turns out, planning a Mendo escape is easy once you decide to stay at this magical place, which is about way more than just lodging.
On our casual outdoor adventure, we rented bikes and then canoes from Catch A Canoe & Bicycles, Too! (Don’t you love the name?) This delightful little shop is part of The Stanford Inn By The Sea eco-resort. The shop sits along Big River on the only privately-owned land on the eight-mile estuary.
Paddling Mendocino’s Big River
We walked from the Inn down to the dock and rented canoes to paddle down the Big River Estuary, a beautiful way to spend the morning. The river flows fifty-five miles west from the coast range into Mendocino Bay, curving around a redwood forest and grassy meadow to a tidal lower eight.
Catch A Canoe & Bicycles, Too, mentioned above, will rent you one of their locally-built reclaimed redwood outriggers (easy to paddle with no tipping) canoes, kayaks and probably a few other things perfect for a paddle down beautiful Big River.
Savvy tip: Catch a Canoe’s outrigger canoes are also dog friendly!
If you go, keep an eye out for harbor seals and river otters in the water, high-stepping egrets in the shallows, great blue herons, double crested cormorants, and other local wildlife on the adjacent protected lands of Big River Headlands State Park.
We wished we had brought a better camera along on this trip. We did bring a snack lunch, which is a good idea if you’re planning to take breaks and just float along in the sun with your hand trailing in the water.
Savvy tip: Mendocino Headlands State Park docents are knowledgeable about local whale migration (November through April). Ask them about the best places and times for whale watching.
Mendocino River Tours
Catch A Canoe also offers three Mendocino Big River guided tours. The first two tour options allow you to either join a tour with others, or book the same tour for your own private group. Private tours are pet and child friendly.
They’ll take you out in an ultra stable six+ person catamaran, called the Mendoléa, built from reclaimed old growth redwood. You can help paddle or let your guide do all the work. This craft has a downwind flip sail, and a super-quiet electric drive for the return trip against the wind.
For the third tour option, you’ll paddle two miles up the Lower Big River with a naturalist, on a human-powered redwood outrigger canoe. This tour is only available from Labor Day through Memorial Day. And you’ll need to help paddle, especially on the return.
Bicycling Mendocino’s Big River Headlands State Park
I was surprised how great a place this was for riding bicycles. Since we stayed at Stanford Inn for this trip, the bicycles from Catch A Canoe were complimentary (but are available for rent to non-guests). Find them around the bend right next to the kayaks and canoes.
Bicycles available include mountain bicycles in various sizes (Cannondale and Trek, including full suspension bikes for advanced riders); and comfort bicycles (more upright with cushier seats and easier shifting). They tell me they’re expecting to offer electric assist bikes soon.
Whether you rent bikes or bring your own, you can choose to peddle around the Redwood canyons and coastal bluffs, over Big River bridge to the 10-mile Big River Trail in Mendocino Headlands State Park (which surrounds the city of Mendocino on three sides), or ride to downtown Mendocino.
We took the Big River Trail, which was an easy and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Savvy tip: Ask the bike shop for one of their detailed local trail maps with aerial imagery and topo data, GPS trail intersection co-ordinates, trail head parking and mileages from HWY 1.
Finding the Power of Prana
After days of paddling and peddling our way through the beautiful Mendocino coast, we wanted to relax, take a deep breath, and get centered.
In yoga, we talk about pranayama, the controlled breathing that creates prana, our “vital life force.”
For this, we looked into Mendocino Center for Living Well (MCLW), which also happens to be located on the Stanford Inn By The Sea grounds. The center offers several alternative ways to meditate on life and connect with nature. The folks at MCLW offer more than just yoga classes. Their goal is to help people find vitality and improve their experience of life.
“We strive to assist our guests in becoming more ‘mindful’ in their daily lives and believe that true meditation is being present, attentive, and engaged in life.” I know I could use more of that.
The center offers not only yoga, but tai chi, meditation, vegan cooking, and organic gardening classes. You can get a massage, Ayurvedic treatment, or acupressure. Or take their guided nature walk and wild mushroom tour (when fungus are among us). For more serious needs, ask about their Chinese medicine, herbals, and acupuncture treatments.
Stanford Inn’s award-winning Ravens restaurant is vegan, too, featuring gourmet plant-based cuisine. I love the idea of their beautifully presented seasonal, fresh from-the-garden dishes. I must admit, some of the Ravens’ dishes I ordered tasted a bit strange to me, especially the breakfast menu.
I’m not a vegan, although I often (not always) prefer vegetarian dishes. I would love to try it again sometime. If you go, tell me what you think of the food.
We found this part of our escape plan more than enough to nourish us, body and soul. If all this is a bit too woo woo for you, though, you could simply stroll around the grounds and enjoy the gardens and orchard, the horse pastures (and llamas and donkeys), and the beautiful views.
Or spend your quiet time by their heated pool and Jacuzzi. Don’t think you’ll be swimming in a pool in Mendocino? We didn’t either, so we didn’t pack our swim suits. Not very savvy of us! Don’t make the mistake we did. As you can see, the setting here is extremely inviting.
Stanford Inn also has an outstanding wine list and a full bar. So you really can’t go wrong and will find a little something for every taste.
Mendocino wines are more amazing than you might think. Sure Napa and Sonoma get all the buzz. But don’t let that stop you from sipping like a local while you watch the sunset on your savvy Mendocino adventure.
Planning your Mendo Paddle Peddle & Prana
The Stanford Inn By The Sea
About: A four-star hotel featuring redwood and pine paneled rooms with wood-burning fireplaces, a pool, Jacuzzi, award-winning restaurant, organic garden, wellness center, bicycle, kayak, and outrigger canoe rentals. Pet-friendly, family-friendly.
Address: 44850 Comptche Ukiah Rd., Mendocino, CA
Contact: 800-331-8884 | Local 707-937-5615 | email@example.com
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Catch A Canoe & Bicycles Too!
About: Rent canoes, kayaks, bicycles, and more. Open daily 9am to 5pm (closed on major holidays)
Address: 1 S Big River Road, Mendocino, California
Contact: 707-937-0273 | catchacanoe.com
Mendocino Center for Living Well
About: Stanford Inn’s holistic wellness center and spa offers massage, yoga, and more.
Address: 44850 Comptche-Ukiah Road, Mendocino, California
Contact: 707 937 5615 | livingwellmendocino.com
About: Gourmet vegan dining at the Stanford Inn By The Sea. Open all day until 9pm.
Address: Coast Hwy. & Comptche Ukiah Rd, Mendocino, California
Contact: 707-937-5638 | ravensrestaurant.com
Big River Headlands State Park
About: The land that hugs the Village of Mendocino on three sides, featuring forest trails, coastline views, and secluded beaches.
Address: 10000 CA-1, Mendocino, California.
Contact: (707) 937-5804 | www.parks.ca.gov