The Best Destinations in Mendocino and Lake County

In the northern extremes of California wine country, Lake and Mendocino Counties offer rugged appeal along with tranquil beaches and back roads.
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Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting
Illustration by Trisha Krauss

Lake County aspires to be California’s next great Cabernet country, but the region’s wineries continue to explore beyond King Cab. In downtown Kelseyville, the Rosa d’Oro tasting room features Italian-inspired wines. Just outside town, Steele is one of the region’s pioneering producers. Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill operates the only olive mill in Lake County and offers flights of its oils as well as its wines. At Cache Creek Vineyards, guests can picnic in an area that overlooks a stream, perhaps even sight a herd of Tule elk.

In Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, start your trip with a splash of bubbly at Roederer Estate. You’ll learn about how sparkling wine is made and taste the difference between sparklers poured from a regular-sized bottle and a magnum. For the Pinot obsessed, Baxter, Balo Vineyards, Handley Cellars and Foursight Wines make some of the best in the area. At Goldeneye Winery, you can compare Anderson Valley Pinot Noir with bottlings from grapes grown in Sonoma, produced by the winery’s sister label, Migration. If you have a sweet tooth, Navarro Vineyards’ Cluster Select series includes some of the most distinctive dessert wines in the U.S.

Craft Beer and Spirits

Ice Cream
Illustration by Trisha Krauss

Mendocino is home to one of California’s most vibrant craft beer scenes, with destinations like Anderson Valley Brewing Company and Mendocino Brewing Company. In 1988, Mark Ruedrich founded North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, inspired by British beer traditions. Its portfolio holds standouts like Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale, Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale and Acme California Pale Ale, a reimagining of a popular pre-Prohibition beer.

For those who are after sips of something stronger, Germain-Robin, in Ukiah, is one of the most acclaimed brandy producers outside Cognac, France. Distilled in a small antique potstill from high- quality wine grapes, the brandy has been served in the White House. The company shares a facility with American Craft Whiskey Distillery, where Crispin Cain bottles rye whiskey, as well as dark gin under his Russell Henry label.

Of Lakes and Oceans

Much of Lake County’s outdoor activities center around its namesake, Clear Lake, the state’s largest body of freshwater. The lake is ideal for swimming, fishing and camping, and several companies rent boats and Jet-Skis. For breathtaking views, visitors can hike Mount Konocti, the dormant volcano responsible for the distinctive soils of the Red Hills AVA.
Just beyond wine country, the Mendocino coastline intersperses rocky, wave-pounded headlands with ancient redwood groves. With its Victorian architecture, the town of Mendocino conveys New England-like charm. Kelley House, a museum in the historic district, recounts the town’s origins as a logging community. Boutiques and art galleries line Mendocino’s streets, while hiking trails on the town’s outskirts lead to the water.

North of Fort Bragg, MacKerricher State Park abounds with marine life. Harbor seals lounge in the sand, while crabs and starfish rest in the tide pools. Visitors might even spot whales as they spout in the distance. As you drive back through Fort Bragg, stop at Cowlick’s to try its candy-cap mushroom ice cream, a local delicacy.


Where to Stay

Hotel
Illustration by Trisha Krauss

Mendocino boasts fabulous, quirky lodging options in the heart of Anderson Valley wine country. The Boonville Hotel in Boonville calls itself a “modern roadhouse,” with 15 rooms in the main building and surrounding cabins. Each guest accommodation is different, with amenities that range from wood-burning fireplaces to outdoor showers. The hotel is also home to restaurant Table 128.

Up the valley in Philo, The Madrones provides a boutique, luxury experience in a Mediterranean-inspired atmosphere. Rooms are stylish and spacious, and the Stone & Embers restaurant is a local favorite for its wood-fired pizzas. You don’t have to leave the property for wine tasting, as Drew and Bink house their tasting rooms there.

In Lake County, the 19th-century Tallman Hotel was fully restored in 2003. Guests can unwind in several ways. Relax in traditional Japanese ofuro (wooden) soaking tubs in select rooms, or enjoy the popular “Concerts With Conversation” series.

Table 128 Boonville
The patio at Table 128 in Boonville

Where to Eat

Housed in the charming Boonville Hotel, Table 128 cooks up a prix-fixe menu that changes daily and is served family style.

Proprietor Johnny Schmitt and his team of chefs take inspiration from local ingredients, complemented by a wine list that features Mendocino’s top bottlings.

During summer, the restaurant serves fresh-shucked oysters and paella on its expansive outdoor patio.

Blue WingA popular establishment when the town of Upper Lake was a stagecoach stop, the original Blue Wing Saloon was torn down during Prohibition. Today, the re-created restaurant lives again adjacent to the Tallman Hotel. It serves up hearty California cuisine alongside live music several nights a week.

The menu at The Saw Shop Bistro in Kelseyville features old-school favorites like oysters Rockefeller and veal piccata, and changes seasonally to highlight locally sourced ingredients. Likewise, the wine list showcases Lake County selections to enjoy on the quaint, wraparound porch. —Bryce Wiatrak

Tips from Local Experts

 

Joy Merrilees Shannon Ridge
Photo by Stain Rasmussen

Joy Merrilees, Director of Winemaking, Shannon Ridge Family of Wines

Two types of visitors venture to Lake County, Joy Merrilees says: “history buffs and outdoor adventure seekers.” People interested in the past head to the remains of 19th-century geothermal spas at Highland Springs and Witter Springs. Several old stagecoach stops dot the region, which include Six Sigma Ranch and the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum, which hosts monthly Fiddler’s Jams. The Lakeport Historic Courthouse Museum tells the Native American story.

People interested in the past head to the remains of 19th-century geothermal spas at Highland Springs and Witter Springs.

Merrilees, whose parents were hippies who moved back to the land, was born in Lake County and embraces the open spaces. She recommends the Konocti Regional Trails kayak maps for Clear Lake and says that a good bass guide like Chris Childers makes fishing a sure victory.

North of Clear Lake, the Mendocino National Forest
offers campgrounds, four-wheeler trails and 4,600-foot Pinnacle Rock, from which “you can see all the way to the Sierras on a clear winter day.” —Jim Gordon

Chase Thornhill, Senior Brand Manager, Mendocino Wine Co.

For inland Mendocino, Chase Thornhill recommends a hike in Montgomery Woods for its serenity and giant redwoods, plusthe mineral baths at Vichy Springs by moonlight. Along the coast, he loves the steamed mussels at the Albion River Inn. —J.G.

Bryan Kane, Co-owner/winemaker, Sol Rouge Vineyard & Winery

The estate vines of Sol Rouge grow at the base of Mount Konocti, and Brian Kane loves the summit trail and its views over Clear Lake and the Red Hills. He credits the Lake County Wine Studio in Upper Lake for “showcasing wines from small wineries that don’t have tasting rooms here.” —J.G.

Published on May 18, 2017
Topics: Mendocino


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