Little River Inn – Where Mendocino history and the Pacific Ocean meet
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Mendocino County, California, the historic Little River Inn has 65 rooms, and features a spa, a health club and a restaurant on site. People stay here for the ocean views and keep coming back because of the hospitality.
We sat on a balcony on rocking chairs, wine glasses in hand, gazing at the sunset, listening to the not-too-distant waves crashing onto Van Damme Beach below. This alone is one of the main attractions of Little River Inn, where history and the Pacific Ocean meet.
Located on the Mendocino coast in California, Little River Inn was built in 1857 by Silas Coombs and has remained in the family ever since. Fifth-generation owner, Cally Dym, is now running the show. Cally’s grandfather, Ole Hervilla, turned the original Coombs home into an inn some eight decades ago, making her the third-generation innkeeper.
Situated on 225 wooded acres, the old Coombs home is now surrounded by 65 ocean view rooms, a dining room and bar, nine-hole golf course with pro shop, and day spa. The inn and its amazingly friendly staff pride itself on making guests feel like family. From every interaction we experienced on our stay—from bus boys to waiters, housekeepers to groundskeepers or office staff — Therese and I were certainly made to feel like family, even with COVID restrictions in place in 2020. This certainly also speaks to the fact that nearly 70 percent of guests, we were told, are regulars and, as owner Cally told us, “They come for the view and come back for the staff.” We couldn’t agree more.
The grounds, too, are spectacular, with neat walkways and trim gardens, plus benches for sitting and soaking in the view – not luxurious but appropriately beautiful and quite perfect in the Pacific Coast setting. There is also a short little dirt path on the property running from the driveway base to Van Damme State Park next door. This allows a fantastic walk, run or hike into the park for as far or short as you’d like without darting around traffic on Highway 1. Do plan on a sunrise or sunset beach stroll!
The inn offers accommodations of all kinds
Despite COVID restrictions, the inn was quite busy when we were there in the fall so there was not the opportunity to see other types of lodging available – and there is a wide range from fully outfitted cottages to simple and nearly “motel-like” rooms. The original main house also has a few rooms behind its Victorian façade, while other rooms and cottages are scattered both behind that building and across the road. (Do refer to the property map for a better concept of the inn’s sprawling layout to help you choose a room.)
We stayed in the two-story north building (with rooms classed either as “traditional,” where we stayed, or “filtered view” in another section). There, the rooms are simple but comfortable with the highlight being a long balcony and two rocking chairs outside your door. The balcony and chairs face the Pacific Ocean for a magnificent ocean view. Our room was certainly comfy with a queen bed and a small table and chairs, presumably for eating, playing cards, working, or whatever else you might use a table for in a hotel room. Frankly, sitting on the balcony was more our style.
The bathroom was basic, with the nice touch of a small fridge under the counter. While everything was clean, the room felt a bit “well-loved,” i.e. worn around the edges. No doubt with the ocean air and folks traipsing in and out with hiking boots, tennis shoes (from the nearby tennis courts) and golf shoes, the furniture, carpets and the like do get a good working over. Nevertheless. we felt that from all we had read and heard about Little River Inn, the rooms (at least the type where we stayed) would have felt a bit more refined and not so motel-like.
While the view from the balcony is amazing, the downside with the long balconies in that building are very short thin partitions on the deck between rooms, put there, we assume, to allow a little privacy. But they are more décor, meaning you will see and hear any other guests who will also likely be outside enjoying the ocean views – sometimes not so quietly and sometimes later than you might prefer. The other thing to keep in mind is that the ocean view rooms also overlook Highway 1, the main route up and down the coast in Mendocino. During the day, traffic can be quite loud, though at night, thankfully, traffic mostly dies down so you can leave the sliding door open and let the sounds of the ocean lull you into sleep – assuming your neighbors aren’t having loud conversations as ours were one night.
That said, if you are staying in this north building, instead of the more well-appointed, newer cottages on the property, you’re not likely planning to spend much time in the room. We sure weren’t and didn’t, especially with Van Damme State Park and beach just a short 10-minute walk away, the Mendocino village and its history to explore, the village’s bluffs to walk and enjoy, rivers to paddle, railbikes to ride, not to mention restaurants, wineries and more.
Enjoy the property
Be sure to take the time to sit on Ole’s Bench, which was carved in the likeness of Cally’s grandfather, Ole, from the stump of a cypress tree that fell on the inn property in the winter storms of 2001.The bench has an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean and is certainly a popular Instagram spot – or photo opp for the family album.
There are no meals included with a stay. So, you will need to decide if you want to order breakfast (during our stay, delivered in boxed format to our room due to COVID) or head into town for a morning meal – Mendocino is a short five-minute drive away. We elected to order breakfast because, well, it was just more convenient and easier. Plus, eating our granola, fruit and sipping coffee on the balcony was delightful.
Dinner and drinks at the Little River Inn
Precautions due to COVID, while we were there, were quite strict, meaning the cozy, very local bar is shut. This is where Cally says she would come to sit at the bar to do her homework after the school bus dropped her off down the hill – helping to polish glasses in between. “I grew up in the restaurant,” she said, adding that her mother actually grew up in the main house.
One thing we will insist you do when you stay at Little River Inn is eat dinner at its restaurant! With COVID restrictions during our stay, diners were filtered via one-way traffic into the bar where you ordered your dinner and any drinks, then continued on the one-way path through the dining room outdoors. There, in the gardens, a huge, high-ceiling tent was set up (imagine a circus Big Top, really), where you sit among the trees and greenery, nestled next to heat lamps.
The executive chef was Cally’s husband, Marc Dym, who moved on to other duties in late 2020. New Chef de Cuisine is Jason Azevedo, who has broad Northern California experience, and he serves up amazing farm-to-fork meals that tantalize the taste buds – the local sole amandine and local king salmon were soooo delectable, and Michael simply swooned at the Butternut Squash Soup, while Therese really enjoyed the Baby Kale Caesar (very young and tender, not like some kale salads).
The entire experience is unsurpassed. Some locals we met later on our stay noted how much they liked the outdoor setting, and Cally said they were likely going to keep it – COVID or no – because it also utilizes so well the garden that was actually in the past quite under-used.
For Cally, taking over the inn was simply never a question. Her grandfather Ole used to say things to her like, “when you run this place….” And so she is. “This is my life,” she said as she strolled through the bar looking at old family photos. “I love it,… love taking care of people.”
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