Winter Getaway: How to Spend a Weekend On the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast

Need a reset? Skip the trip to Tahoe this winter and try a restorative weekend on the coast.

Need a reset? If you’re not a fan of snow, traffic, and crowds, skip the trip to Tahoe this winter and try a restorative weekend by the Pacific Ocean. My husband and I recently spent two nights split between the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts. It was everything we needed: a chance to unplug, relax, and spend quality time together. Here’s how we spent our weekend – click through the above gallery for photos. 


Friday afternoon

We called ahead and requested an early check-in at Timber Cove Resort in order to maximize daylight time. The weather couldn’t have been better: high 60s without a cloud in the December sky. 

[Enter our contest to win a weekend at Timber Cove Resort]

The oceanside resort, located in Jenner, was originally built in 1963 as a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired A-frame with redwood beams. In the early days, it was a shagadelic party pad that attracted all sorts of characters—including Hugh Hefner and his bunnies—but the place lost its luster over the years. In 2016, renovations were completed and the new Timber Cove has a cozy, modern hippy vibe with chic, mid-century accents.

After quickly settling into our suite, making note of the fireplace and soaking tub, we hurried out to catch the day’s remaining rays. The resort has roughly two miles of coastal trails to stroll, just steps from the lobby. During our excursion, we discovered a lover’s cove, where dozens of couples had carved their initials inside hearts in the bluff. I imagine at least a few proposals going down here. Back at home base, we hopped on the outdoor ping pong table (they also have billiards and foosball), battling back and forth until it was time to catch the sunset.

Our suite’s private deck looked straight out at the ocean, providing a perfect sunset viewing spot. Not all of Timber Cove’s rooms have an ocean view but, even though it will cost you more, I highly recommend splurging on booking one. After all, the view is the amenity here; it’s the reason for your visit. 

To set the sunset mood, we put some vinyl on the Crosley LP record player (every room has one) and picked a bottle of wine from our stash (the best part about a local getaway is that you can pack as much wine as you want in the car). Once the sun had disappeared into the ocean, we brought the rest of the bottle to the communal fire pit, a great place for chatting with resort guests and making new friends.

Friday evening

Unlike the coastal towns of Bodega Bay or Mendocino, there are no restaurants or bars or markets nearby Timber Cove. And that’s why I love it here. This is the ultimate staycation; a place that encourages you to sit back, relax, connect, and unplug.

Around 6 p.m., the once-empty lobby (officially named the Great Room) began to fill up, transforming into a lively gathering place for resort guests – a mix of families, couples, even a few well-behaved pups. Wanting to keep things casual, we opted for a seat at the bar instead of a table at the onsite restaurant Coast Kitchen. We were still able to pick from the full menu and we both ordered a burger and cocktail.

The Great Room has a myriad of small lounge areas, so after finishing our dinner we posted up for some old-fashioned fun with classic board games. From Backgammon to Chess to Battleship, everyone around us was busy playing games and it was truly refreshing to see people engaged in such a simple pleasure, instead of being attached to their phones.

Saturday morning

I woke up just in time to catch the 9 a.m. yoga class. Every Saturday through January 26 (it’s possible they will extend it), local company Unbeaten Yoga comes to teach a free class to resort guests. This wasn’t your average flow class: the instructor announced that we’d be doing Kundalini Yoga, which combines mantras, flow movements, intense breathing exercises, and sound therapy. I left feeling incredibly refreshed and energized.

Coast Kitchen serves breakfast, which you can order to your room, but we settled for a coffee on the deck after my yoga session and sadly bid adieu to our view.

Timber Cove offseason rates start at $239 mid-week and $299 on weekends. 

[Enter our contest to win a weekend at Timber Cove Resort]


Saturday afternoon

Back on the road and headed north to the Mendocino Coast, we were eager to reach our next destination: Harbor House Inn in Elk.

Harbor House was built in 1916. Once owned by the Goodyear company, who used the home to showcase their lumber, the inn has changed hands many times over the years. It was recently remodeled under current ownership and reopened last spring. Like Timber Cove, Harbor House is situated right on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. As a centerpiece of their panoramic view is a unique sea stack formation named Wharf Rock.

Our suite, the Oceansong, certainly lived up to its name. We could see the ocean from every room: the sitting room, the bedroom, even the bathroom, which had a window over the clawfoot tub. A pair of french doors opened onto a private terrace.

There was one thing noticeably missing from our room – a TV – and we had to dig through the welcome manual to locate the WiFi password. But that’s all part of what makes Harbor House a place for romance. 

Once again, we wanted to make the most of the daylight and so we set about exploring the inn’s grounds, which features gardens where the chef grows fresh produce, chickens, a hammock, and Adirondacks for taking in the view. My favorite feature, by far, was the private cove. Walking down several steep flights of steps, we reached a beach that was ours alone. We climbed through caves, hunted for abalone shells, and wrote our names in the sand.

Saturday evening

We took in another perfect sunset from another ocean-view deck. Afterwards, we got ready for dinner at the inn, which was the main reason we chose to stay here.

Mendocino County isn’t known for its fine dining. Most places are so casual you could wear sweatpants to dinner and no one would blink an eye. But Harbor House is changing that, and I’ll call it right now: I think they could nab Mendocino County’s first Michelin star.

I counted just eight tables in the ocean-view dining room and the first thing I noticed when we sat down was that there were chopsticks in place of traditional flatware. Before us was a 10-course tasting menu and we opted for the wine pairings, delighted to find that three of those pairings would be sake. We even got to pick our own locally-made ceramic cup to sip it from.  

The majority of courses featured seafood and rightly so (we’re on the coast, after all), running the gamut from albacore and Dungeness crab three ways—including a Dungeness crab tea—to sea urchin, abalone stew, and a toasted seaweed ice cream for dessert. There was one red meat course, Potter Valley lamb and lamb belly (one of my favorites), and several vegetarian dishes. It was not only one of the best meals we’ve ever had, but also the most creative.

Sunday morning

I was still full when I woke up on Sunday morning, but when the breakfast tray arrived to our room, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. We enjoyed our coffee with a colorful spread of pastries, a thick slice of prosciutto with cheese, and a phenomenal hot egg dish before another sad goodbye to a million-dollar ocean view. 

After two perfectly clear days, the drive home was gloomy and gray, matching how we felt about leaving the coast.

Harbor House offseason rates start at $339 mid-week and range up to $709 on weekends.