Friday Heather and I drove from Menlo Park to Mendocino. We had to pick up the kids from Camp Winnarainbow on Saturday, and decided not to do the usual barrel-up-101-that-morning thing. After two weeks of freedom, we were enjoying being adults a little too much. So instead of going inland, we took Highway 1, which runs along the northern coast. I hadn’t been on Hwy 1 since I was a kid– my dad quite liked driving roads like that when I was young and he had a Mustang– and I’d heard good things about it.

Fort Ross
the coast, via flickr

Highway 1 along is beautiful, though a lot of it is terrain you’d look at, not walk around. The cliffs can be pretty sheer, and the tide looks treacherous. (I wonder how close you can get to the rocks on an ocean kayak.) It was pretty foggy on Friday, but that didn’t make the drive less interesting: the fog was often driven across the road by pretty high winds, so that only added to the drama of the landscape.

We stopped at Fort Ross, a Russian fort built in the early 19th century to supply the Russian settlement in Alaska.

fort ross, via flickr

It wasn’t much of a success, and eventually was sold to Sutter in 1841 (who given the extent of his involvement in colonial California real estate really should have died incredibly wealthy). As the state Web site says,

Fort Ross was the southernmost settlement in the Russian colonization of the North American continent, and was established as an agricultural base to supply Alaska. It was the site of California’s first windmills and shipbuilding, and Russian scientists were among the first to record California’s cultural and natural history. Fort Ross was a successfully functioning multi-cultural settlement for some thirty years. Settlers included Russians, Native Alaskans and Californians, and Creoles (individuals of mixed Russian and native ancestry.)

The fort is a mix of original and reconstructed buildings, and if you go for that sort of thing, is well worth the visit. The park nearby is also excellent: the coast is rugged, and there are sea lions on some of the rocks.

Fort Ross
fort ross, via flickr

From there, we drove up to the town of Mendocino, and got checked into the Mendocino Hotel and Garden Court, a hotel opened in 1878. It was recently renovated, and looks very 19th century.

Mendocino Hotel and Garden Court
mendocino hotel, via flickr

The hotel has several restaurants, including one that’s kind of taken over the main reception area; but you can still sit there and relax.

mendocino hotel, via flickr

Mendocino is a tiny town, with a disproportionate number of art galleries, boutiques selling earth-toned natural fiber clothes meant to be worn by willowy middle-aged women possessing tasteful collections of silver Navajo jewelry, and restaurants that range from the outrageously expensive to the strictly organic, with nothing in between. Heather thought it would make a fine place to spend a weekend, but after that it might get a little dull. After she shared this with a friend who lived there, he said, “Yeah, the first three days are fine, and then there are the next two and half years.”

With our local dining choices reduced to “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” foie gras or gluten-free, we chose the latter. After a little wandering around, we found Frankie’s, an excellent pizza and ice cream place. It was extremely friendly, the sort of place where the kids are playing under the tables while parents sing a long with the folk songs.

Meridian Green at Frankie's
frankie’s, via flickr

We chose the Navarro pizza (chicken and carmelized onions), and I got an organic porter (my nerves felt a little jangly after driving). Both were excellent.

Organic pizza and organic beer
navarro and porter, via flickr

After that, I tried the candy cap mushroom ice cream. Candy cap mushrooms are a local delicacy, a mushroom that has a very sweet, almost maple syrup flavor.

candy cap mushroom, via flickr

It made an interesting ice cream, though I don’t think mint chocolate chip has to worry about competition.

The next morning we had breakfast at Thanksgiving Coffee Co., another organic local place. From what I could tell of the scene that morning, and the vast number of flyers on the cafe wall, it seemed to me that for all its tourist orientation, the town does also have a nice degree of local culture and community.

Thanksgiving Coffee, Mendocino
the breakfast rush in mendocino, via flickr

The scones and Danish were excellent.

danish and scone, via flickr

After we finished them, we headed off to Winnarainbow, and back to parenthood.

[To the tune of Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr. Blue Sky,” from the album Greatest Hits (a 3-star song, imo).]