Mendocino holiday

Find tranquility, spectacular scenery, and great rates during quiet season on the California coast

Amy Traverso

As we drive through the redwoods, just a few miles from the sea, my car radio picks up a signal from KZYX&Z, Mendocino County's community radio station.

An earnest host is advising a caller on soy-based diets when she's interrupted with breaking news: A bag of Christmas presents has been found on the highway in nearby Navarro. "It's a big plastic bag, and there are a lot of presents in there," the announcer says. "If they're yours, please call 707/895 ... "

It's enough to boost the most flagging holiday spirits. Not just that someone's Christmas will likely be saved, but that there's a place where this loss merits attention. In the city, we'd see the bag and shrug.

Here, it gets an APB. We've come to Mendocino to unwind for a couple of days in advance of the holiday crush, and now I know we've come to the right place.

Getting there
Mendocino is 155 miles north of San Francisco. Take U.S. 101 north to Cloverdale and turn west onto State 128. When you reach the coast, head north on State 1 for 10 miles.

Where to stay
Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages: A rustic compound with terrific ocean views. From $139, including breakfast; closed Nov 27-30; 800/780-7905.

Brewery Gulch Inn: Set in the woods with ocean views and some of the best breakfasts around. From $170, including breakfast and evening wine tasting with hors d'oeuvres; 800/578-4454.

Packard House: A clapboard cottage in town with plenty of luxurious touches. From $225, including breakfast; closed Dec 22-27; 888/453-2677.

Where to eat
MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant: Homey and elegant, with a menu inspired by local ingredients. $$$$; 45020 Albion St.; 800/609-0492.

Mendo Bistro: Specializing in bistro favorites and pastas. $$$; 301 N. Main St., Fort Bragg; 707/964-4974.

The Moosse Café: Seasonal North Coast cuisine in a refurbished New England-style house. $$$; closed Dec 1-14; 390 Kasten St.; 707/937-4323.

Sharon's by the Sea: Dig into superlative tacos or fried-fish baskets. $$$; 32096 N. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg; 707/962-0680.

Where to shop

The Apple Farm: Maker of popular apple vinegars, jams, and ciders. 18501 Greenwood Rd., Philo; 707/895-2333.

Gallery Bookshop: The kind of rambling, small-town bookstore we love. Main and Kasten Streets; 707/937-2665.

Golden Goose: Luxury bed and bath products. 45094 Main; 707/937-4655.

Mendocino Yarn Shop: Fine yarns and accessories. Closed Jan 1-5; 45066 Ukiah St.; 707/937-0921.

Sallie Mac: French country linens and bath and body products. 10540 Lansing St.; 707/937-5357.