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Mendocino – California’s New England Fishing Village
When the producers of the TV show Murder She Wrote were looking for the perfect replacement for the fictional New England coastal village of Cabot Cove, they found it some 3,000 miles this side of the East Coast in the Northern California community of Mendocino. So it’s no mystery that with all the television exposure, Mendocino has become one of the most popular vacation spots on the California coast.
The series ran for a total of 12 years, the last series was filmed in 1996. During that time, 264 episodes were broadcast to millions of viewers each week, each segment providing a good portion of scenery in and around Mendocino. Interestingly, only nine episodes were filmed in the city – the remaining 255 episodes used standard exterior shots that the producers captured during those nine shoots in the city.
When you visit this city for the first time, the seascape just stretches and touches your spirit. It’s not just Mendocino – the entire stretch of coastline that goes north to Mendocino offers vista after vista, each a little more spectacular than the last. Driving this part of Highway 101, you really have to make an extra effort to focus on driving so you don’t go into some sort of meditative trance.
Mendocino sits high on a bluff overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. It’s a small town and what you really think a New England fishing village would look like. The mix of Cape Cod architecture and historic storefronts gives the town an almost theme-town feel. Winding trees, grassy hills and steep cliffs mark the village’s miles of coastal paths, perfect for hiking and photography. Below are remote beaches and rugged rocky shores.
In the Village, you’ll find many eclectic shops – unusual records, one-of-a-kind musical instruments, vintage toys, you name it – interspersed with historic homes, taverns and fine dining. With over 60 movies shot here, it seems like everyone has some connection to cinema. Blair House Bed and Breakfast was the fictional home of Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder She Wrote. At Heritage House, they became famous as the pub was used as a location for a film at the same time the following year. And so it goes.
Our overnight stay had nothing to do with the movies, although the popular MacCallum House Tavern has a strong connection to Mendocino history. This house dates back to 1882 and was built by Alexander McCallum, whose father-in-law was one of the first settlers in Mendocino. The house was eventually converted into a B&B and passed through a series of owners until it was purchased just two years ago by local residents Jed Ayres and Noah Sheppard.
Ayres, 30, took a rather unconventional path from Mendocino high school student to McCallum homeowner. He got his start in the hotel business while still a college student, working summers at Heritage House as a waiter, chain and assistant manager. But after his MBA, he did a summer internship at computer retailer AmeriData, which eventually led to a position as CEO of the company’s Bay Area office, overseeing 100 employees and $60 million in sales. From there, Ayres took on an even more prominent position as a start-up DSL provider that sadly went out of business the following year. It’s time to make a decision.
“I wanted to move home, do something different and start a family,” Ayres explains. And that’s when he and longtime friend and local contractor Sheppard struck a deal to buy the McCallum home where Ayres once worked. Ironically, they bought the restaurant from Alan Cantor, who had hired Ayres back in the day as a dishwasher. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Cantor stayed on at the restaurant and today is recognized as one of the top chefs in the region. Ayres went from dishwasher to half-mahogany, Donald Trump’s version of Mendocino.
In the short time Ayres and Sheppard have owned the hotel, occupancy has skyrocketed, thanks in part to the technical savvy Ayres brings to Internet marketing. The partners went on to buy more buildings, including the well-known Reed Manor, which is the newest and possibly the most luxurious hotel in Mendocino. It is now known as MacCallum Suites.
Our stay at MacCallum House was quiet and peaceful and gave us a great opportunity to just walk around the block to visit local merchants or walk to the headland where the trails offer spectacular views of the coast and the city itself. We stayed in the “Upper Barn Suite”, on the second floor in a building across the lawn from the main house. This is the largest room in the MacCallum property with an ocean view. The unit has a private deck as well as a stone fireplace, wet bar, refrigerator and large living room in addition to the bed, bath and kitchen area. The furniture is generally antique – or close to antique.
Of course, dining at MacCallum House is a big part of the fun, and luckily we decided to dine there in addition to the breakfast that is usually delivered to the room. Both dishes lived up to expectations. For example, breakfast might include a pumpkin omelette or red potatoes with cremini mushrooms, or the dish we tried, Lupe’s Breakfast Burrito, a delicious combination of apple and turkey sausage, scrambled eggs, white cheddar, onions, peppers, and a fresh tortilla salsa. . Most of the evening menu items feature regional and fresh dishes.
A good meal should be followed by some exercise, and the Mendocino area has no shortage of places to walk. In addition to the previously mentioned trails, there are many places where you can walk by rivers and streams and even enjoy redwood forests. Near Mendocino, you’ll find a total of five state parks as well as five state beaches waiting for you to explore. Hikes range from easy to moderately difficult.
A slightly different kind of stroll is available when many local art galleries open their doors for special artist openings and group shows between 5 and 7 p.m. It is offered on the second Saturday of every month. In fact, Mendocino’s beauty has always beckoned artists, and the Mendocino Art Center will even teach you how to become an artist.
Finally, if you think you need to travel to Napa to sample fine California wines, Anderson Valley is just a short drive from Mendocino. In total, Mendocino County has 40 wineries and 16,000 acres of vineyards. Anderson Valley, with different climates at each end, offers excellent conditions for growing a variety of grapes.
Yes, the one mystery Jessica Fletcher really can’t solve is how so much natural beauty ended up in one place: Mendocino, California. BRIEF VIEW
WHERE: Mendocino is about 150 miles north of San Francisco, accessible by taking Highway 101 north, then Highway 128 northwest to the coast. The scenery is plentiful once you hit 128.
WHAT: Mendocino is one of several locations on the Northern California coast, each with spectacular views and a distinct coastal charm. Mendocino is perhaps one of the most picturesque, so it has been used as a backdrop in more than 60 films. When you think of vacationing in California, the coast often comes to mind, and this is one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the entire state.
WHEN: Anytime of the year. Summer is warmer, of course, but there is fog along the coast at any time of the year. In the event of bad weather, Mendocino is more protected from flooding than most communities in the area, but it is still close to water and can experience storms from the Pacific Ocean. Many people consider the weather part of the charm. Be sure to check for travel deals and passes during certain times of the year that are considered “off-season.”
WHY: Great views and atmosphere, and some of the most beautiful accommodations on the coast.
HOW: For more information about MacCallum House, go to http://www.maccallumhouse.com or call 800-609-0492.
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