Do you ever change a family tradition and then cross your fingers? This past Thanksgiving, my family chose to spend the weekend at the Little River Inn near the quaint Northern California town of Mendocino instead of our usual trip to California’s Central Coast.
The verdict? We’ll visit Mendocino with kids again because the scenery is breathtaking, the wineries are family-friendly, adventure and outdoor activities are everywhere and it turns out that lots of families spend Thanksgiving at the Little River Inn.
Driving from San Francisco to Mendocino is a four hour road trip through California’s landscape highlights. Vineyards give way to shady redwood forests shimmering with strands of sunlight and when you think the kids, or you, can’t take any more winding roads the forest ends and you emerge to dramatic cliffs and coastline.
Thirty minutes later you come upon the postage stamp town of Little River and the 66-room Little River Inn, a white Victorian with panoramic ocean views that’s been a haven for weary travelers, city folks and families for 75 years.
Little River Inns feels comfortable. It’s kid-friendly and very dog-friendly; they’ll even set up a private dinner for you and Fido in the parlor. The Inn is run by fifth generation innkeepers who along with staff that has been there for years, make you feel like you’re “home” for a few days.
The rocking chairs that are lined up like toy soldiers outside the rooms are a beloved tradition at Little River Inn. They beckon guests to bring a book, open a bottle of Anderson Valley wine and scan the ocean for whales while the kids throw a baseball or football on the large lawn. As a parent, I appreciate the opportunity to sit back and relax yet still have the kids within view. The Inn sits on the highway, across the street from the ocean, but there’s no noise issue and the grassy lawns are set up from the road.
Our ocean view deluxe room was spacious with a fireplace, table and chairs, large bathroom and a private balcony — perfect for a family. After our stay, while I was already planning my return, I realized that I would be content in any of the rooms — watching the waves crash and getting a whiff of the sea air provides is wonderful. All but one room have ocean views.
The Inn is a well-known Mendocino dining spot. Our Thanksgiving dinner here was a special affair that left us all feeling too full and overall the portions are generous at breakfast and dinner;no lunch is served. The menu is a mix of comfort food and inventive entrees like pork osso bucco confit (delicious) and a unique clam chowder full of clams in their shells. Don’t miss anything with Dungeness Crab — the crab cakes are a specialty.
Breakfast is a big deal here and they’ll make smaller portions for kids. Ole’s Swedish pancakes is a signature item and folks even fly in for them. Really? Yes, I confirmed it with a friend that flies his small plane in from Sonoma every once in awhile for a day out.
Families that aren’t sure about the white tablecloth dining room can eat in adjacent Ole’s Whale Watch Bar that welcomes locals and tourists for front row whale watching and sports games. Say “hi” to the friendly bar manager, Sue, who has been taking care of Little River Inn patrons for 21 years.
On the grounds of Little River Inn there’s a nine hole golf course, two tennis courts, a walking path into Van Damme State Park and green space for running around or throwing a ball – the only kid-friendly amenity you’ll miss is a pool. Regardless of whether you golf or play tennis, check out the area which is a favorite of the deer early morning and at dusk.
The small spa sits in a simple building behind the Inn and after a day of touring the Anderson Valley wineries and attractions this is a welcome respite. My husband and I enjoyed the best massages we’ve had in years at reasonable prices.
As a first time visitor to Mendocino, the Little River Inn is a good base to explore the area and with so much to do the biggest challenge is remembering to take advantage of the relaxing ambiance at the Inn and not get caught up in trying to see and do it all.
During 2014, as the Little River Inn celebrates its 75th anniversary, there will be special events and activities each month to commemorate decades of family-friendly hospitality.
Click over to my full review of Little River Inn to check availability. When you request accommodations through Ciao Bambino’s planning service, one of our Family Vacation Consultants will follow up to ensure your needs are met. We also offer comprehensive trip consulting (including activities) for families who want help planning a complete vacation. Request assistance on My Vacation Planner.
Editorial Note: Kristi and her family received complimentary lodging and meals in order to review the property. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle unless otherwise noted.
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