MENDOCINO COAST A WINTER RETREAT; NORTH COAST OFFERS AN ABUNDANCE OF INNS AND B & BS, PERFECT FOR A WEEKEND GETAWAY

Winter in Mendocino has a bit of a split personality. The weekend my fiance and I were there, the sun rose enough to lure us into making plans for garden walks and beach strolls, then decided to nap under a blanket of gray fog.

Scuttling our plans didn’t faze us, not with a greenhouse spa, stocked fireplace and a herd of llamas to fall back on.

Although Stanford Inn calls itself a country inn, we’re talking the new West. Modern conveniences include a videotape library, cable TV and complimentary wine; the retreat also boasts a gym, Internet access and a small organic garden that supplies the on-site vegetarian restaurant.

The heartiness might be countrylike, but the menu includes entrees such as seapalm strudel with wasabi and ume plum sauces and citrus polenta with cashew nut sauces.

Sophisticated menu

The inn is named after its innkeepers, Joan and Jeff Stanford, who have crafted a Mendocino retreat in a land of retreats. The sophisticated approach to meal planning assures that vegans and the rabidly carnivorous, like my fianc , can coexist.

After we arrived late Friday afternoon, we headed past the reception area, gift shop, the inviting lobby with its fireplace and grand piano and went straight to the Ravens restaurant The carnivore opted for pasta with mushrooms while I couldn’t resist trying the local algae — seapalm strudel.

The Ravens, named after the birds who inhabit the environs, is also where breakfast is served, and that was an even better experience.

Although the fianc claimed to be suffering from meat withdrawal, he did concede his dish of eggs hollandaise was palatable and the raspberry peach scone mouthwatering.

Cycling is an excellent way to work off a meal, and the inn offers complimentary bicycles at Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, too! at its “livery.”

The boats, which also include kayaks, can be taken on an eight-mile course to the Big River estuary (16 miles round-trip; you can always cheat and ride the incoming tide out and the outgoing tide back into Mendocino Bay).

Stanford Inn is also minutes from Mendocino’s business district and the headlands, and another seven miles to Fort Bragg. The former has its preponderance of gift shops and artist galleries, while Fort Bragg has antique shops and the Skunk train, which trundles through a redwood forest to Willits.

The Mendocino Botanical Gardens offers yet another dose of nature, should you wish to supplement your survey of coastal bluffs and various beaches.

We had almost made it to the gardens when heavy fog rolled in and dampened our resolve. We could have resorted to massage therapists and yoga instructors, at hand to cater to your well-being, but headed instead to the tropical greenhouse, which held a pool, sauna, spa and showers.

Llama reveries

There’s also something to be said for the health benefits of llama meditation. My companion was quite hypnotized over his morning cup of organic coffee as he stared at the herd through the glass windows.

We took a walk to the inn’s garden, next to one of four llama areas. The one we saw disregarded us entirely, an attitude befitting these aloof Peruvian mammals. That suited me fine.

Almost better than llama meditations was pet ownership by proxy. Stanford Inn provides fellow canine and feline guests. The Stanfords are animal lovers, what with cats, ducks, horses and the llamas all on the premises — and that doesn’t include the visiting wildlife like deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums and songbirds.

Stay indoors

For the cocooner, the rooms range from singles to one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites to self-contained cottages with kitchens by the river. We stayed in the suite, perfumed with freshly picked roses and star jasmine and inordinately cozy with a pre-stocked fireplace crackling and a Humphrey Bogart movie playing.

The pine and redwood tones complement ocean views, visible through the balcony door. A massive sleigh bed nearly filled the bedroom, which also managed to accommodate a dresser, writing desk and a smaller color television.

IF YOU GO

The Stanford Inn by the Sea, Coast Highway and Comptche-Ukiah Road, P.O.. Box 487, Mendocino, CA 95460; 800-331-8884, www.stanfordinn.com. Daily rates $245-$720. Includes breakfast, complimentary afternoon organic snacks and juices, bicycles. Ravens Restaurant: For nonguests, breakfast is $5.50-$13 ,served 7-11 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 7 a.m.-noon Sundays; dinner $16.50-$27.95, 5:30-8:30 p.m. daily. Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, too!, 707-937-0273, $12-$40 hourly rates for solo- to six-person crafts, dog-accommodating canoes, daily rates available.

PLACES TO EAT: Good coffee at the Headlands Coffee Shop, 120 E. Laurel St., Fort Bragg, 707-964-1987, www.headlandscoffeehouse.com; the Route 66 Chili at North Coast Brewing Company, 444 N. Main St., Fort Bragg, 707-964-3400, www.ncoast-brewing.com; clam chowder at Carine’s Fish Grotto, Noyo Fishing Village, Noyo, 707-964-2429.

OTHER PLACES TO STAY: The California Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns, 831-462-9191, www.cabbi.com. A Times reader also recommends the Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, North Highway One, Little River, 800-731-5525, www.schoolhousecreek.com.

UPCOMING EVENTS: Candlelight Inn Tours, Tuesday through Thursday, 800-726-2780

Community Tree Lighting, Friday, 707-937-5791

Santa Train, Saturday and Dec. 15, 800-777-5865

Mendocino Crab & Wine Days, Jan. 25-Feb. 3, 800-726-2780

ONGOING EVENTS: Fort Bragg First Friday, late-night galleries hours, 707-964-0807

Second Saturday in Mendocino, art exhibit openings, receptions, 707-937-5818

FOR MORE DETAILS: Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, 800-726-2780, www.mendocinocoast.com. Other Web sites: www.mendocinoguide.com, www.gomendo.com, www.destinationmendocino.com.

GETTING THERE: Take Highway 101 and then Highway 128, near Cloverdale, to head to the coast. A short northerly detour on 101 before getting on 128 will take you to Hopland, where you can visit the Phoenix Bread Company (13325 Highway 101, 707-744-1944), which sells bread, French fougasse stuffed with crab or other savories, sticky buns, pizza and strudel.

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