Get Away to Little River Inn

A destination to Mendocino redwood trees and Pacific Ocean beauty.

Little River Inn, Mendocino, California
Little River Inn, Mendocino, California

By Mary Webb

Photography: Brian Camp

Up along the northern California coast in Mendocino is a cozy get away called the Little River Inn. The Little River Inn is a cool place to escape to where the forest meets the ocean and the rivers meet the sea.  Ideally located in a Mecca of outdoor activity and events, we discovered ocean Kayaking, bike riding along the Big River, and an array of sea life — all this surrounding the Victorian history, charm and hospitality at the Little River Inn.

Traveling along Highway 20 from Clear Lake, California, Mendocino is about two hours northwest. From another perspective, Mendocino is located right on the northern California coastline about 155 miles north of San Francisco.

In addition to enjoying the views around the western portion of Clear Lake, travelers can experience the Jackson State Forest that tucks you in along the darkened drive, sunlit patches showcase the Coast Redwood trees towering above the road side.

Arriving at the Little River Inn, it is enlightening to stop for a moment near the front office to embrace the extensive ocean views.  This is where you get to live for a couple days, so it’s ok to be excited. As the Inn is nestled on a cliff, guests have the opportunity to rediscover themselves in breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.  What is great about Little River Inn is that of the six series of rooms at the inn, all 65 have an ocean view:  Seaside Luxury, Garden Retreats, Oceanview Deluxe, Oceanview Fireplace, Traditional Oceanview, and the Victorian Gables.

Little River Inn, a historical retreat for modern times. Click to enlarge.
Little River Inn, a historical retreat for modern times. Click to enlarge.

As we checked in, we were graciously greeted by Cally Dym, the fifth generation innkeeper of the inn’s existence.  Situated on more than 225 acres, the Inn was originally a home built in 1863 by Cally’s great-great-grandfather, Silas Coombs. It was our good fortune that Ole and Cora Hervilla (Cally’s grandparents), decided upon turning the Victorian vintage home into an inn.

Immediately we discovered the integrity and charm of the inn as we were issued large metal room keys, a refreshing change from flat-plastic hotel keys with no personality or uniqueness.  On the way to the room, we discovered a pet station and exercise area. This is really exciting news for outdoor adventurers who may want to take their Labrador Retrievers for a few laps up and down the river.  The Little River Inn is open to having pets stay in some of their rooms, provided they use the pet exercise area and maintain the grounds properly.  In fact, Mendocino has many pet-friendly areas in the region; even a pet parade for the 4th of July!

A chilly April day called for a crackling fire upon entering the room; not only are there bundles of firewood outside the entrance, but a wood box nestled near the fireplace presented itself with fresh wood and newspaper.  It was the best of both worlds to relax by the fire and once again look out at the Pacific Ocean. It was particularly nice to see out to view the Van Damme Cove, where we would be meeting our guide, Craig Comen, from Kayak Mendocino.

Kayak Mendocino offers a variety of classes and tours. We were fortunate to participate in a guided Sea Cave Nature Tour.  Comen provided and fitted us with wet suits, life jackets and booties.  Once suited up, we waddled our way down to the shore for an overview tour of kayaking.  When it was time to head out, it was exhilarating the moment Comen pushed our kayaks out for an adventure at sea.

Ocean kayaking in waters off Mendocino. Click to enlarge.
Ocean kayaking in waters off Mendocino. Click to enlarge.

As an accomplished surfer with a degree in Marine Science, coupled with more than 12 years experience as a kayak guide, Comenshared the importance of being cognizant of the waves; steering with the waves as opposed to steering against them, perhaps a metaphor for life.  This became very important, especially as we entered the caves.  Paddling with the current of the water inside the cave, it was easy to traverse the opening and delightful to see the various sea stars that occupied the cave walls.

Venturing out along the open waters of the cove, we saw various plant and wild life.  Eelgrass adhered amid ocean rocks, and we even spotted some Cystoseirasea kelp floating in the open water.  Known to be packed with several vitamins, we tried a bite of the kelp and found it to be quite delicious!

Harbor seals are known to frequent the cove, and we were pleased to see one of them showing off for us under the sun-staged light. Overhead a Western Grebe competed for our attention. Western Grebe’s are black and white with a swan like neck. The Grebe is known to dive for crabs in north pacific waters.

Our paddling took us to our last stop south of the cove where we began to give our arms a little stretch in preparation to paddle against a south blowing wind as we made our way back to shore.  We were thankful for the perspective from the water to view the Little River Inn in its entirety, perched upon the cliff before us.  With our collective oars soaring above our heads, it was with a final rushing wave that we made our glide safely to shore.  We were thankful for Craig Comen’s positive energy and knowledge to make our afternoon a great success!

Redwood outrigger canoe on Big River of Mendocino.
Redwood outrigger canoe on Big River of Mendocino.

As the Grebes make their way back to their evening nests, couples young and old come out in the evenings and call on Kayak Mendocino for a moonlit Kayak tour.  Kayak Mendocino offers guided evening tours for couples, and the Little River Inn provides a gourmet dinner that folks enjoy under the evening moon and stars.

Speaking of dinner, we were anticipating the meal that lay ahead in the dining room at the Little River Inn.  Executive Chef, Marc Dym, was preparing a meal in the dining room you wouldn’t want to miss.

Sitting in the Little River Inn dining room, you feel a part of the garden as the views through surrounding windows come alive with a plethora of colors in plant life, both annuals and perennials.  It’s a perfect mix for a Victorian Inn, especially with botanical prints along the walls, bridging the interior and exterior.

We chose the Dungeness Crab Cakes to start.  Wow!  Now we can see why Chef Dym won the ProfessionalJudge and People’s Choice award in the annualMendocino Crab and Wine Days festival.  This year of 2011 was the first time anyone has ever won both awards for crab cakes.  Crab and Wine Days run every year throughout the month of January, and is a food-filled fun event for locals and travelers alike.

It is with this appreciation for culinary creativity and talent that we set upon our meal.  This writer chose salmon as the main dish for this meal. While not from the area, the salmon was farm raised, and cooked with a golden brown crust on the outside, yet flakey inside.  A nicely presented portion of creamed spinach was the perfect accompaniment, seasoned to perfection. We chose a dry 2008 Redwood Valley Lioco wine – there were a lot of fires up north that year, often adding a hint of smoke to the bouquet.

Big River bike trail on a pristine coastal day.
Big River bike trail on a pristine coastal day.

We also tried the beef, veal and pork meatballs; slow braised and served over pappardelle pasta with fennel marinara sauce.  The combination of meats and spice on the thick al dente pasta was an excellent hearty meal, especially for outdoor aficionados.

Ole’s Whale Watch Bar is a great place to enjoy a nice dessert wine after dinner; with views of the pacific, you can meet fellow guests and share some fish stories.  Oh, and before you make your way back to the room, don’t forget to put in an order for Fido.  Little River Inn has a pet menu that will blow their whiskers off!  Perhaps try Keke’s Bow Wow Burger or Lewis and Clark’s Kitty Tuna.

With a warm meal under our belt and another warm fire, it was time to get a good rest; we were rising early to catch a canoe.  Not really of course, we were going to “Catch a Canoe and Bicycles too” for a morning bike ride.

Catch a Canoe is a charming facility; colorful canoes and a row of bikes greet you before you make your quick decent to the check in counter and store.  Rick Hemmingsassisted us in determining the correct bike and trail ride that would best suit our needs.  He has created some beautiful maps with informative trail information. Hemmings maps were the basis for our decision to hop on a couple Cannondale Adventure II bikes to ride along the 10 mile stretch of the gorgeous Big River that joins forces with the ocean. We liked the internalgeared hub on the bikes we took out; with a simple turn of the knob, it was easy to switch to a lower gear to make our muscles burn up the hills.

Hemmings has conducted extensive research into the history of the Big River and the NorthCoast.  It is with a bit of this knowledge under our helmets that we set out on our bike ride along Big River. A parking lot is available near the trail head, making it easy to pluck our bikes from the truck bed and head out.  There were many animals along the trails like cottontail rabbits and a slew of birds. With all the sounds of nature, we didn’t need to plug into our iPods this day.  Feather grass comprised a good deal of landscape along sunny slopes, and large ferns took their place along shady banks.  Racing through the forest slowed our minds to the time of the beginning of the town of Mendocino.

Historical Bridge on Big River, Mendocino.
Historical Bridge on Big River, Mendocino.

The lumber industry in Mendocino began in 1849.  A scout discovered the redwood trees and the first lumber mill began on the Mendocino Headlands in town.  Remnants of the old buildings may still be seen south of Main Street.  The mill was used for a couple years and then moved to a new location along the Big River.  Much of the lumber was used to build San Francisco during the Gold Rush Era.  Historical standings of this lumber mill location along the Big River can be more readily viewed on the Big River in one of Catch a Canoe’s redwood outriggers.

So we said our farewells to Rick Hemmings, as it was time to check out the town of Mendocino.  Mendocino is a small quaint series of shops and cafés, all within eye shot of the Pacific Ocean.  As the cool ocean breeze carried off the culinary scents of Mendocino cuisine, it also set off a signalto our senses for a late lunch.  Cruising amongst the shops, we found a nice cafe named Cultured Affair.  A huge pot of soup; always on the stove with a daily special, a wonderful home-made sandwich and a blended mint and vanilla frozen yogurt for dessert made this a delightful place to digest our morning.

Our second stop was at the Blair House where “Murder She Wrote” was filmed.  The home was built in 1888, and now serves as a bed and breakfast.   The town is far from the flash of Hollywood however; the creative expression and artistic nature of the people were evident throughout the town.  In fact, after the passing of the lumber mill, Mendocino became a flourishing artist community in the 60’s. Bill and Jenny Zacha started the Mendocino Art Center, growing through the years to host several exhibits and classes for up and coming artists.

Fort Bragg is also an artist community; this is also where the famous “glass beach” resides and we thought we would take a quick trip up north to check it out.   In the early 20th century, home owners would throw their garbage over the cliff; cars, appliances and glass.  Over the years, waves have washed over the glass and smoothed them to a colorful array of smooth-like stones.  It is restricted for visitors to take the glass; many visitors were having a great time just scooping up handfuls in their hands and discovering various shapes and colors.

Third Court Salon and Day Spa at Little River Inn.
Third Court Salon and Day Spa at Little River Inn.

While venturing out in the Mendocino community was energizing and relaxing, the same can be said back at the Little River Inn.  Within the Inn are various choices for outdoor recreation and relaxation.  Such as the 18-hole golf course and golf shop. Ole spent quite a bit of time constructing the 5,458 yard golf course, as coastal golfing was not prevalent at the time. However, the golf course has become a success since it opened in 1957.  Day and evening Tennis are available, or even throwing the Frisbee out in the front grass area is very pleasant above ocean scenery.

After a long day out on the golf course, guests can relax at the Third Court Salon and Day Spa.  Escape with a massage or partake in a facial in one of the private relaxation rooms.  Wind and sun can take a toll on your hair, Little River Inn salon stylists are available to get weathered hair into ship shape.

With several nooks and garden areas around the Inn, it’s easy to slip away with a book or simply take a nap.  Intermittently, it was nice to hear the buoys ringing in the distance; however, these are not the only bells you will hear at the Inn, on other occasions there are wedding celebrations and ceremonies!

Little River Inn is open all year round, and often times during the year the love birds decide to build a nest and may elope atop the cliff near the Inn or book a grand wedding affair in the Inn’s Abalone room, fittingly named for the abundance of red abalone in the surrounding region.  Under the excellent choices of the Chef, the Little River Inn caters wedding events, in addition to providing adornments and decorations.  Wedding photos are always a hit; majestic views and fresh air are the perfect combination for a successful photo; not to mention the happy faces of the bride and groom.

When the Abalone room is not filled with dancing and dresses, guests hold business meetings and functions; mixing business with

 Endless views and time to think awaits in Mendocino.
Endless views and time to think awaits in Mendocino.


We couldn’t leave without visiting the Horse Feathers antique shop.  A tall wooden Native American greets you upon entering; and there we met Todd Elkins, resident woodcarver.  Immediately you can tell Todd is passionate about his work; re-using pieces of wood from old homes in Mendocino and the Inn to create pieces of art.  Signs, plaques, wall art and even walking sticks are a few of the creations that comprise the Horse Feathers antique shop.  Viewing Todd’s wall art, we really liked the “woman in a sea shell” that originally started out as a gun stalk; perhaps a metaphor here as well.

Leaving refreshed and inspired, we bid farewell to Mendocino. Its that kind of place where, magically, the forest meets the ocean, rivers meet the sea, and old friends become new.


Little River Inn Website.  Discover the comforts and amenities of the rooms.

Kayak Mendocino.  Discover the various tours and classes

Catch a Canoe.  Visit their website for a listing of available bikes, trails and tours

Cultured Affair Cafe (707) 937-1430

One thought on “Get Away to Little River Inn

  1. Great piece, Mary, and compliments to your photographer for the majestic shots as well. Doesn’t seem like The Little Inn is the type of place typically found in California. Definitely on my list of places to check out next time I’m headed north on CA-1!!!

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