Innkeepers Creighton and Cindi Smith like to remind people that “Fort Bragg doesn’t end at the Purple Rose,” referencing the Mexican restaurant at the north end of the fishing and former lumber town on the Northern California coast. If many visitors don’t make the 10-mile drive north from the popular village of Mendocino to the historic (and more work-a-day) Fort Bragg, fewer venture farther up Highway 1 through such tiny hamlets as Cleone, Inglenook, Westport, and Rockport, unless they’re headed for the Humboldt Redwoods, Eureka, or Crescent City. The Inn at Newport Ranch, which opened in September with the Smiths at the helm for founder Will Jackson, is a powerful magnet, drawing travelers another 10½ miles out of Fort Bragg by raising the bar on informal luxury accommodations in Mendocino County. Here are seven reasons why you should put staying there on your wish list.
1. You’ll Have 2,000 acres nearly to yourself (and the cows)
Partly because of the county’s strict building regulations, and partly because that’s the way Will Jackson wanted it, the inn has a small footprint on an astonishingly vast property. There are only four rooms (three in the main inn building, one on its own out back) and three suites (in the Redwood House), plus Jackson’s vacation rental home, the Sea Drum House, a bit down the coast. That means there’s no chance of encountering crowds as you walk, mountain bike, or take ATV rides around the headlands and bluffs or along the ridges in the hills—all part of the ranch’s holdings.
2. You can pack light for luxury living
Cape Mendocino is the westernmost point in California, and a frontier sensibility still informs the way of life. The inn is a working ranch, with cattle, quarry, and timber operations, so while you’ll be treated like kings and queens, standard attire is very casual. Leave your city duds at home and pack your jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts. You’ll need little more than good walking shoes, sneakers, or boots; a bathing suit for the hot tubs (one shared on the main inn’s rooftop deck, individual tubs in the suites) and sauna; and sweaters and jackets for when the marine layer blows in from the Pacific.
3. The panoramas will take over your Instagram feed
The temptation to take in the ocean vistas, the sunrises, sunsets, crashing waves, and wandering wildlife through camera and smart phone will be irresistible. Who wouldn’t want to capture and share these views? But bring along binoculars for more immediate immersion, or maybe your watercolors and pastels for even deeper engagement.
4. The design details will boggle your mind
Working with Vermont-based architects Dave Sellers and Jim Sanford, and local artisans, Will Jackson oversaw every element of building and design, creating an inn that has all the refinements of something brand-new but the feel of something 75 years old. The use of wood and stone alone will take days to appreciate, and the seamless integration of concrete, steel, glass, plaster, and eclectic furnishings is masterful.
5. You can read by the fire in a redwood grove, without leaving your suite The Newport, Birdhouse, and Grove suites in the Redwood House were built using two-dozen 25-foot-tall, bark-on redwood tree trunks as load-bearing columns. They soar sturdily from the basement conference center through the living and dining rooms, next to kitchens and breakfast nooks, through floors and ceilings to the roof. The effect is initially astonishing and a bit unsettling, but the ambience soon becomes surprisingly comforting and calming as the interior and exterior feel as one.
6. Hospitality and storytelling are inseparable
Will Jackson, a self-described Connecticut Yankee who made his fortune in finance, bought his first 850-acre parcel here in 1986, after seeing a postage stamp-size ad in the Wall Street Journal. After expanding his holdings, it took six years to secure all the necessary building permits, and four years of construction and fine-tuning to realize his dream. If he’s around, he can—and will—tell you the story behind every log, rock, lamp, painting, and photograph. Cindi and Creighton Smith and the ranch managers can fill in the gaps, and you’ll create your own narrative out of encounters with the people, the architecture, and nature.
7. Mendocino County’s sophisticated food and wine aesthetic is built-in
The nearby Anderson Valley produces some of California’s best wines, especially Pinot Noir, and they are poured every evening as part of the fireside appetizer hour(s). Creighton doubles as chef and puts out a gourmet breakfast spread every morning and will prepare dinners if ordered in advance. Mendocino and Fort Bragg abound with great restaurants, but you may never want to leave the ranch.
Derk Richardson A northern California native, I received my BA from UCLA and an MA in History from UC Berkeley. I’ve worked as a mountain resort handyman and cook, drugstore clerk, college instructor, child care provider, soda jerk, freelance writer (music, food, travel), music radio host (KPFA 94.1 FM Berkeley), and magazine editor–at Acoustic Guitar, Oakland and Alameda Magazines, and currently, AFAR.