One of my favorite road trips to take is the one from San Francisco to Mendocino. It only takes a few hours to get there, there’s plenty of farms and wineries to visit on the way and once you get there you feel like you have been transported to another world.
Getting there is half the fun!
Lets start with getting there. This could take you three hours or all day depending on how much time you have and how much you want to see.
On my most recent trip we started out by taking the tour at Penny Royal Farm. Biodynamic farming is pretty much the norm up in these parts. Animals and nature do most of the work with the help of some very skilled and passionate farmhands. Penny Royal, in Boonville, is the sister farm to the very popular Navarro Vineyard in Philo. Both towns are easily accessible on your way up to Mendocino.
We started our tour at Penny Royal Farm by learning a bit about how they process their goat and sheep’s milk for their farmstead cheeses. Unlike other farms Penny Royal drives the milk up to their creamery and pours it into vats slowly by hand as opposed to pumping it through underground pipes. This prevents the milk from getting overly churned giving their cheeses a smooth velvety texture.
From there we got to meet and pet the goats (including the ridiculously cute baby goats, OMG) and sheep. The animals are separated by age group and are kept in surprisingly clean and neat conditions. Lets just put it this way, if I am coming back reincarnated I want to come back as a Penny Royal goat.
Penny Royal also makes wine. The vines are just tall enough to where they can let miniature Babydoll sheep run through the vineyards to mow the grass but not eat the grapes. A moveable chicken coupe comes along behind the sheep to aerate the soil helping to mix the sheep’s fertilizer into the soil and eat pests. And of course, you can also buy eggs from their chickens in the tasting room. They also have an enormous composting system and an organic garden.
The tour finished off with a beautiful wine and cheese tasting and a primer in Bootling – the local (and nearly extinct) jargon of Boonville, since many of their cheeses have names such as Laychee, which means milk in Bootling.
Continuing the drive through Anderson Valley is a tasty one. This is pinot noir country but also home to some very elegant Alsatian style wines like Gewürztraminer and Reisling. You really can’t go wrong at any of the wineries you pass along the 128 but Navarro and Balo Vineyards are two of my favorites. Across the street from Balo you can also taste wines at Drew Family Cellars and have an artisan pizza at Stone and Embers Pizza. Oh, ya and if you are still in Philo in the evening make sure to stop for dinner at The Bewildered Pig, a local favorite specializing in dishes made with local heritage breed meats and produce.
If you are up this way in the fall make sure to visit The Apple Farm in Philo. It wasn’t apple season this time when we stopped by but the farm still stocks their homemade jams, apple chips and famous apple juice – probably the best apple juice I’ve ever had in my life. I learned about The Apple Farm, Penny Royal Farm and Navarro Vineyards from Sarah Henry’s book, Farmsteads of the California Coast. If you like to geek out on this kind of stuff like me I recommend picking up a copy. It’s full of fun facts about each farm and the fascinating stories behind the people who run them.
Where to stay in Mendocino
If you are staying the night in Mendocino you’re staying in a bed and breakfast. I’ve stayed at a couple of really cool ones – The Algeria Inn and The McCallum House. The Alegria is right on the ocean and serves up a killer breakfast. The McCallum House has, in my option, the best restaurant and cocktail program in Mendocino. Both are centrally located in town and since Mendocino is all of about 3 blocks long, you really can’t go wrong with either option.
Where to eat in Mendocino
I love the food here. Most restaurants try hard to use organic produce and sustainably farmed meat. As I said before, McCallum House is my fave. Their cocktails and food change seasonally and are always interesting. They also make everything in house from their sourdough bread, to ice-cream for desserts and bitters for drinks.
The Mendocino Cafe is my second favorite. Great for lunch or dinner you can always have a really solid meal here. Their menu is sorta all over the place ranging from curries to dumplings to Italian pastas but still manage to do all of them well. We even had meatloaf and mashed potatoes last time we went that would put your Mom’s to shame.
If it’s a nice day have lunch or a glass of wine on the patio at Flow, the only restaurant with an ocean front patio. Trillium is also a great option for dinner if you want to go high end. If you want a throw down local’s joint Patterson’s is a fun Irish pub that serves a huge menu of comfort food like fish and chips and shepard’s pie.
I even love the grocery stores here. Harvest Market is your main grocery store with all the regular staples plus a great local wine and housewares section. Corners of the Mouth health food store is a not-for-profit worker operated collective like Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco only smaller. Like Rainbow they have an extensive bulk foods section filled with ingredients like spices, teas, whole grains and misos. They also carry locally made foods and skin care products.
Meandering through Mendocino along its winding beach trails is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. If you are there during the spring the whole bluff pops off with wildflowers, clovers and if you can believe it collard greens!
Breathtaking views, clean air and a break from the city madness await you when you travel from San Francisco to Mendocino. It is truly the perfect weekend getaway.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.