There’s no question about it: 2020 was an agonizing year for practically everyone on the planet. A global health crisis, lockdowns, a critical election, and all the uncertainty was enough to turn even ardent optimists into bonafide pessimists.

And while COVID-related restrictions relegated millions to working from home, those of us whose careers are dependent on travel were suddenly left without a job. The sting was sharp for travel writers like me. After all, the world at large is our livelihood—how we put food on the table; who are we if we can’t hop on a plane to practice our profession in Oslo, Ottawa, or Ouagadougou?

By the time month nine of pandemic confinement rolled around, the familiar sensation of itchy feet was morphing into a full-blown case of wanderlust for this Northern California-based travel journalist, and trips to the grocery store just weren’t filling the void.

Was there a place I could venture to, I wondered, that didn’t require an airplane ticket, that guaranteed access to vegan food, and where my travel partners of both the human and canine persuasion could join me to escape the woes of the world for a hot minute? The answer was yes: the Stanford Inn in scenic Mendocino, CA.

At the onset of the pandemic, this heavenly hideaway three hours north of San Francisco was quick to implement safety protocols—contactless check-in and check-out, take-out dining only, mandatory mask policy for staff and guests—ensuring a worry-free experience. Learning about their room-sterilization processes sealed the deal. Mini vacation, here we come!

If you’ve been craving a getaway but didn’t think it was possible during a global pandemic, I’m here to tell you it is. The reasons to pack your bags and head to the Stanford Inn are many, but I’ve narrowed it down to five of my favorites. 

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1. Breakfast, baby 
The Stanford Inn is renowned for its gourmet breakfasts. At check-in, you’ll be presented with a full menu featuring a mouthwatering selection of breakfast main courses and sides. The challenge is narrowing down the options. Will you choose the Savory Breakfast Crêpe stuffed with seasoned tofu and veggies and topped with a tangy kale-cilantro sauce, or will you settle on the Stanford Inn Florentine? If housemade English muffins topped with braised tempeh, spinach, and a lemony Hollandaise sauce sounds heavenly to you, you’re in luck! A side of country potatoes and a sweet muffin-of-the-day is exactly the kind of fuel you’ll need for a day of outdoor adventure at this coastal paradise. Once you place your order with a quick phone call to the Concierge Desk, the countdown commences. At the appointed time, you’ll receive a knock at the door, and voila! Breakfast magically appears.

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2. Dynamic decks

Every room and suite at the Stanford Inn comes with a million-dollar view, which guests get to experience from their very own private decks. We treated ours like a multipurpose open-air room extension, sipping coffee and relishing our hearty breakfasts each morning while soaking up the sea-and-garden views. We also discovered that by shifting the patio table and chairs around, the space could be transformed into an alfresco yoga studio (bring your own mat!). In the evenings, we savored sunsets with a glass of local wine in hand. Privacy is ensured thanks to visual barriers on either side of your deck, so if naked yoga is your jam, you’ll find your little outdoor oasis the perfect place to let it all hang out.

Sunset on the inn
3. Communing with critters
Nothing snaps you out of a pandemic-induced funk quite the way making eye contact with a harbor seal does. For me, one of the biggest draws to the Stanford Inn is its proximity to a marine conservation area teeming with not only seals, but otters, birdlife, and—as we encountered on this trip—skunks! From your room, it’s a five-minute walk to Catch A Canoe, where guests have access to mountain bikes (free), plus canoes and kayaks (for a fee) for exploring the scenic estuary and its bountiful natural beauty. One morning, we rode bikes (with masks on, of course) along the estuary’s pleasant coastal path, stopping to admire the vistas and read the interpretive displays that give insights into the area’s rich history; on another, we rented a canoe-for-two (three, if you count our canine companion), and paddled upstream, getting giddy with excitement at spotting adorable harbor seals sunning themselves on logs.

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4. Spa-aaaah time
Even on the warmest days, the Mendocino coast isn’t known for its sun, surf, and sand culture; to get your aquatic thrills, you’ll either need a very thick wetsuit and a fearless attitude or access to a heated indoor swimming pool. Thankfully, The Stanford Inn comes through with option #2. The pool room feels like an escape to the tropics, with towering foliage and a humid ambiance, thanks in part to a bubbling hot tub. There’s a sauna, too, which, due to local COVID-related country restrictions, isn’t currently available to guests, but the other amenities are all yours. In an exclusive pandemic-related twist, guests share the space with their pods, not the public at large, which requires scheduling in advance. We were able to schedule two glorious 45-minute sessions, and we maximized the luxury of the experience by repeating a cycle of swimming laps, then hopping into the steaming hot tub and letting the powerful water jets work their magic on our muscles.

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5. Quinoa for the win
Well, not just quinoa, but all the gorgeous edible delights growing at the Stanford Inn’s very own organic Garden of Eden. From kale and chard to onions and apples, the on-site potager (kitchen garden) changes with the seasons, and much of the bounty produced here makes its way into the meals served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A paved path bisects the garden and makes a pleasant short-cut on your way to Catch A Canoe, though you may opt to take a seat at the inviting bench nestled among the planter boxes and read a book, watch the birdlife careening through the fruit trees, or simply soak up the verdant ambiance perfumed with the faintest hint of the sea.

Former VegNews Travel + Beauty Editor Aurelia d’Andrea looks forward to a return trip to the Stanford Inn—for comparison’s sake, of course—when the pandemic is finally over.

Photo credit: The Stanford Inn

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