What’s New on the Mendocino Coast of CA this Winter: Magical Christmas Train, Distance Learning Experiences, Crabbing Excursions & more


Select inns and attractions in Mendocino County, Northern California are launching a variety of new guest experiences this winter, all designed with the conscientious traveler in mind. From the Distance Learning package at Little River Inn (geared towards families), to new F&B offerings (Fishing and Crabbing excursions from Noyo Harbor Inn, a Luxury Mushroom Foraging package at The Inn at Newport Ranch, and a complimentary Bento Box and Wine Hour at Brewery Gulch Inn), to the Skunk Train’s Magical Christmas Train (with mindful social distancing protocols in place), these winter offerings are sure to delight visitors of all ages.

This November and December, the scenic Mendocino Coast presents new experiences and thrilling treats that will delight every type of traveler. A taste of what’s on offer: Little River Inn has created a nature immersion package that teaches the whole family about botany, geology, sea life, astronomy and history and runs the gamut from tide pooling to kissing a giraffe; Noyo Harbor Inn, Restaurant & Tavern introduces a delicious package that includes crabbing and fishing excursions; Brewery Gulch Inn adds elegant bento boxes full of exquisite cuisine at their elevated Wine Hour; The Inn at Newport Ranch offers an interactive mushrooming expedition, complete with a mushroom-themed picnic; and ride the Magical Christmas Train for a socially-distanced encounter with St. Nick himself!

Un-crowded Mendocino in winter is the perfect getaway from the stresses of life. Perspective is gained at the foot of thousand-year-old giant redwoods, the ocean unfurls as far as the eye can see, and a cozy fireside warms the heart. The slower small-town pace lends itself to a laid-back holiday season. Most attractions are open and the area safely welcomes visitors to revel in what is most special about Mendocino – the profound connection with nature and her extraordinarily delectable bounty. Guests can luxuriate at four different hospitable inns and enjoy local customs like strolling pristine beaches, sipping outstanding regional wines, and watching whales right from the shore – or take an old-fashioned train ride filled with seasonal cheer.

The historic Little River Inn, a classic coastal resort overlooking the Pacific, appeals to all ages, with rolling lawns for kids to romp on and a private trail that leads to miles of hiking in Van Damme State Park. Guests will find everything they need on-site: an Audubon-certified golf course, regulation tennis courts, an award-winning restaurant serving California Cuisine and locally sourced delicacies, and a sheltered beach teeming with aquatic life right across the street. The resort has 65 rooms that range from the affordable to the quite luxurious, all of which have ocean views. Their brand new the Distance Learning Family Package offers families a unique way to experience education together with the outdoors as the classroom. The five-day self-guided itinerary includes lessons on botany, tidal sea life, geology, astronomy, and history. The experience includes a private guided walk with local Naturalist Sue “Magoo,” a B Bryan Preserve Safari Tour with giraffes and zebras, plant and mushroom identification guides for Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and Van Damme State Park, stargazing complete with hot chocolate, and more. The price of the package includes all tickets and materials – including four educational books for families to keep. The package starts at $325 for four nights for two adults and two children, plus the cost of the room. Little River Inn, 7901 N. Highway One, Little River, CA 95456, 707-937-5942, www.littleriverinn.com

Noyo Harbor Inn, Restaurant & Tavern is agracious hilltop property built in 1867, with sweeping views over a quaint working harbor to the Pacific beyond. Lovingly restored and refurbished rooms throughout provide spacious comfort while retaining some of the exquisite features left by the Norwegian shipbuilders who embellished the inn. Many of the elegantly appointed rooms boast fireplaces, soaking tubs, and private balconies. Their restaurant, HarborView Bistro & Bar, features pre-Prohibition era cocktails and California Coastal Cuisine, including fresh wild-caught fish from the harbor below and herbs and vegetables gathered from the Chef’s garden. And new this Winter — introducing Noyo Harbor Inn’s new Winter Ocean Catch Adventurepackage!

In partnership with All Aboard Adventures, this is an unprecedented opportunity to harvest some of the sweet Dungeness crab for which Mendocino is justly famous. Also on offer, fishing for coveted Rock Cod, also known as Pacific Snapper, which seafood aficionados hail as an incredible find. Noyo Harbor Inn’s prime location means guests can stroll from their rooms right down to the harbor to begin their adventure. This package allows guests to choose from among three exciting nautical experiences, all of which depart Noyo Harbor at 7AM sharp. During the half-day crabbing excursion, anglers bait the crab pots and drop them in the ocean. On the way home, they pick up the pots and retrieve the crabs. Once back at the dock, All Aboard Adventures’ crew can cook the crab in their big picnic area while guests listen to music and enjoy the atmosphere of Noyo Harbor. The 2nd half-day excursion offered features deep-water Rock Cod fishing in remote waters that yield an unsurpassed quality of catch. Rod, reel, tackle, and bait are included. Or a whole leisurely day can be spent both fishing and crabbing, with crab cooked afterwards in the big picnic area. Crab cleaned and/or cooked for $10 per bag. Fish cleaned for $10 per bag. (Cleaning/cooking is an additional fee and is not included in the package price.) Ice is provided. The half-day fishing or crabbing package is $750 and includes two nights at the inn and an excursion for two. Each additional person is $150 and each additional night is $250. The full day crabbing and fishing combo package is $900 and includes two nights and an excursion for two. Each additional person is $200 and each additional night is $275. The ½ day fishing excursion is available now through December 23 (excluding holidays), and the ½ day crabbing excursion and combo crabbing/fishing excursion will be available beginning December 1 through December 23 (excluding holidays). There is a two-night minimum and seven days’ notice is required for reservations. Bad weather or heavy seas cancel excursions (full refund for excursion will be provided). Room type based on availability. Fishing license is not included and can be purchased at tackle shops, drugstores or online for less than $20. Noyo Harbor Inn, Restaurant & Tavern, 500 Casa Del Noyo, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, 707-961-8000, noyoharborinn.com.

Perched high on a bluff top overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Brewery Gulch Inn reigns cathedral-like over the dramatic Mendocino coast. Constructed in 2001 from 150-year old redwood reclaimed from the nearby Big River, this architectural masterpiece is located on an historic piece of land that was once home to Mendocino’s first brewery. The 10 romantic rooms – most with private decks – all look out over picture-perfect views of Smuggler’s Cove. Each of the rooms boasts soothing earth​ ​tones, feather beds cloaked in Sferra linens, Molton Brown products, Himalayan bath salts and thick Abyss towels. Included with each stay is a daily cooked-to-order breakfast, and an evening Wine Hour, now featuring sleek redwood Mendo Boxes showcasing an array of delectable appetizers. Crafted from the same eco-harvested redwood from which the inn was constructed, these Mendo bento boxes are like gourmet treasure chests. Depending on the day, guests will discover a collection of delicacies from Chef James Hardenburg, who cooks exclusively for guests. He has crafted a rotating menu, sampling cuisines from around the world and featuring seasonal, local ingredients. There may be ahi tuna with wasabi tobiko one night, crispy duck breast and cinnamon blue corn crackers the next, or chicken souvlaki with mouthwatering tzatziki sauce another.The Mendo Boxes make it easy for guests to savor each evening’s offering on the large outdoor deck, around the firepit, or in the privacy of their own rooms. Brewery Gulch Inn, 9401 N. Highway One, Mendocino, CA 95460, 707-937-4752, www.brewerygulchinn.com.

The Inn at Newport Ranch is four hours north of San Francisco at the gateway to the wild and majestic Lost Coast. This bijoux resort is situated on 2,000+ pristine private acres and boasts 50-mile panoramic views across the Pacific. Guests have exclusive access to the vast property that encompasses virgin redwood forests, grasslands and beach. Many guests opt to tour the acreage on horseback or book a private UTV tour – there is so much to see. There is every amenity on offer, from Ranch cuisine cooked from locally sourced ingredients (much of which is from their own organic gardens), to sumptuously appointed guest rooms, to the onsite Fireside Spa and a hot tub perched atop an old water tower. The Inn’s interior spaces are designed to enhance the natural beauty of the location and each room is a bespoke masterpiece filled with handcrafted objects and fascinating items from the owner’s world travels. Recycled redwood trunks soar to cathedral ceilings, local wines are poured in front of a 20-foot fireplace, and stunning views are at your disposal all the time. Starting in December, guests can Forage for Incredible Edibles with this tasty new package that focuses on mushrooms, one of the edibles for which Mendocino is renowned. Included in this romp: a half-day tour of a 2000-acre timber preserve with resident guides, a Mushroom-themed picnic lunch, complete with sweet Candy Cap mushroom ice cream, a fireside tea and informative lecture on the medicinal properties of mushrooms, and a mushroom-infused dinner. All materials are provided. Availability depends on presence of mushrooms. Cost is $350 per person. Accommodations not included. The Inn at Newport Ranch, 31502 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, 707-962-4818, https://www.theinnatnewportranch.com

The California Western Railroad’s Skunk Train is a 135-year-old heritage train line that takes visitors deep into ancient Redwood forests, along riparian corridors, and past some of the most unchanged scenery in Northern California, including trees that are more than 1,000 years old. Since 1885, the Skunk Train has carried passengers along the Redwood Route, and today a ride on the train charms the whole family (including Fido). Passengers travel over bridges and deep into the heart of the redwoods, through terrain that has remained essentially undisturbed for centuries. They can observe deer, blue heron, egrets, osprey, ducks, turtles – and even the occasional river otter – all from the comfort of their seat, or an open-air-car. Riders can opt to take the Pudding Creek Express train out of Fort Bragg, enjoying a 7-mile round-trip journey to Glen Blair Junction that snakes along the Pudding Creek Estuary, transporting riders over some of the first tracks laid down by the California Western Railroad in 1885. Or out of Willits, the Wolf Tree Turn train is a 2-hour round-trip train which climbs up to the highest point of the line (elevation 1,740 feet), through Tunnel #2, and down into the Noyo River Canyon.

Beginning in late November, kids and kids-at-heart can take a ride on the Magical Christmas Train, a festive jaunt with holiday music playing in the background. Author Shellie Hart reads her classic, “Skippy the TrainDeer,” Santa makes a socially-distanced appearance, and everyone goes home with a goody bag. Christmas trains run on weekends starting on November 27 out of Willits and December 5 out of Fort Bragg, with daily holiday trains running December 18 through 23. Skunk Train, 100 W. Laurel Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, 707-964-6371 (Fort Bragg Depot) and 299 E Commercial St, Willits, CA 95490, 707-964-6371 (Willits Depot), www.skunktrain.com.