Noyo Harbor Inn – Secluded historic escape in Fort Bragg
Tucked onto a bluff overlooking Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, California, the Noyo Harbor Inn offers a secluded escape with a surprisingly accessible location along Highway 1.
Serenaded by barking sea lions, we took in the twinkling lights of the historic Noyo Harbor below our hotel window. Fishing boats bobbed in their docks casting shimmering reflections in the water. It was peaceful, idyllic … and hard to imagine we were just a couple of minutes from Fort Bragg’s strip-mall, fast-food-populated highway with oblivious commuters and tourists on a mission. Indeed, at Noyo Harbor Inn, one feels whisked away to a remote sanctuary.
“We’re that hidden place people always want to find,” said manager Scott Schneider.
On California’s scenic North Coast, historic Noyo Harbor Inn has a story that goes back more than 150 years to a time when Highway 1 wasn’t a throughway, and the hills and bluffs were home to local Native Americans, a recent influx of infantry, and a smattering of lumber mills and gold-seeking pioneers.
The original building perched high on the bluff owns a view and location that can’t be beat among Fort Bragg hotels – and this boutique property takes advantage of that oasis well. The inn was originally a private home built by lumber baron Alexander Wentworth MacPherson, but after that it goes through a number of iterations – from homesteads and a boarding house, to an event center and restaurant or bar, to a bed and breakfast.
Recent transition to today’s Noyo Harbor Inn in Fort Bragg
It wasn’t until 2010 that the property – most recently a lodge that had been closed for a number of years – was purchased, meticulously renovated, and re-opened to become today’s Noyo Harbor Inn boutique hotel in Fort Bragg, located in Mendocino County, California. It took seven years and millions of dollars of careful work to restore its gorgeous Craftsman styling, furnishings, and redwood and cherrywood paneling, not to mention adding an expansive multi-level deck, multi-level outdoor gardens and fountains, and modern amenities.
The main, historic lodge houses eight rooms, five upstairs and three downstairs, including a pet-friendly room, a huge “bridal” suite, and an ADA accessible room. These are the ones with the beautiful Arts and Crafts styling and quaint touches (as in our cover photo). Two of the upstairs rooms have views over the harbor, but in pivoting to COVID-safe dining, a tent structure on the deck can partly block those views. At the time of our visit, the indoor tavern and HarborView restaurant areas remained closed to comply with safety protocols. Nevertheless, the expanded outdoor seating for the hotel’s HarborView restaurant and its emphasis on locally sourced, organic, fine dining remains popular with locals, too, who gravitate there for the creations of executive chef Executive Chef Fabrice Jean-Pierre Dubuc AND the safe dining experience – one of the best in the area.
A newer building from the 1980s faces west-southwest and overlooks the working Noyo River Harbor area with its seafood restaurants and other industrial buildings. These rooms (all queens) have views of the Noyo River and the Noyo River Bridge. Unlike the historic lodge, the look is more modern and crisper, with rooms that feature private decks but without the warm, historic paneling of the lodge. Still, some of the inn’s most popular rooms are there — spacious split-level affairs with a seating area that looks over the river and feature long wood desks.
All 15 rooms have coffee- and tea-making services and refrigerators. We loved that the inn avoided plastics — delivering filtered water in refillable glass bottles — and did not offer individual cup coffee machines (and their associated plastic and paper waste) but instead had ground coffee and a small French press in rooms. Also included are bathrobes and high-end toiletries (although we did miss some kind of bath add-in to put into the tub water).
Inn rooms a delightful getaway
No matter which of the 15 rooms you choose, you’ll discover, as we did, a perfect blend of high-end amenities and tranquility.
“We’re a quiet getaway with great views, an amazing restaurant and quality amenities,” said Schneider. In fact, during our February 2021 stay, the inn was wrapping up a Wi-Fi upgrade that puts this inn heads and shoulders above many where you may need to lean out a window or stand next to a door on one leg for reception.
We spent two nights in a King Bed Tub room (#5) in the main lodge that retains one of the better harbor views despite the “COVID tent.” With its large soaking tub, fluffy bathrobes, a gas-burning fireplace, and a supremely comfy king bed, the inclination to stay in our room was strong. The bathroom was sleek and bright, with an almost ridiculously large walk-in tiled shower complete with a ship’s portal window – in keeping with the harbor theme, naturally.
One thing to keep firmly in mind is that none of the rooms in the lodge or new building are air conditioned. Even with the windows open, we have been told things can get a bit hot and stuffy if it is hot outside – not a common occurrence with the marine breezes in Mendocino County, but it does happen (there are small fans in all the rooms in case of a hot spell). Also, since the restaurant and kitchen are in the main lodge, there will be the requisite noises in some rooms, from the dull roar of the cook vent (we could hear it in our room during meal services) to the sounds of music, clinking dishes and voices from the outdoor patio on the Noyo Harbor side of the building. Nothing crazy loud, but if you are sensitive and want to leave the windows open, perhaps re-consider booking a room facing or over the restaurant (i.e. #5 and #1 are upstairs, while #7 and #8 are downstairs closer to the deck). You will not need to think about kitchen and dining noises in the more modern separate building.
In addition, a couple of the rooms in the main lodge could be called a bit on the small size (i.e. #3 King Fireplace, no tub) – even our King Bed Tub room was not hugely spacious. And since a refrigerator takes up the lower part of an open closet, there is very limited hanging space for clothes and really no drawers or cabinets (in any rooms). For a short stay, this is really not an issue, but for a longer stay, consider a room in the modern building if that is important to you. Since the rooms in the historic main building of this Fort Bragg hotel are each so very different, we would in fact suggest calling to have the view, layout and size explained personally so you can choose what fits best.
Dining, exploring and cleanliness
With the pause on travel during the COVID pandemic, the owner and managers have continued to work on plans and upgrades: A spa was slated to open this year, but will remain shut until the pandemic is over, Schneider noted. Docks and more rooms are also in planning (we found a short stairway down to the water just up from the main lodge where a bench was still tucked into trees with the name of the old lodge on it, but what nice water access!).
No matter where we went, it was gratifying to see how seriously the inn’s management and staff took safety precautions and cleanliness. Everyone was wearing masks … correctly. There is no housekeeping, although you can ask for whatever you want. The main entrance to the lodge (and to the restaurant) had a toe-kick button for contact-less opening of the door and a foot-pump dispenser for hand sanitizer immediately inside. At the restaurant for dinner or brunch, small glass bottles of lavender-scented hand-sanitizing spray are handed out to each table (which are all appropriately spaced for social distancing and outside under a tent with plenty of heat lamps on the deck or lawn).
Though not included with the price of a room, brunch and dinner can be had at the Noyo HarborView Bistro and Bar. Formerly daily, hours have changed to accommodate less traffic during the pandemic – be sure to check on current hours. And, dare we say, the brunch is delicious (Therese highly recommends the unique Baked Polenta Cake, above, while Michael thought the traditional breakfast was also outstanding. And the dinner? Well, let’s just say the word delectable barely covers it.
The beauty of this secluded gem among Fort Bragg hotels is truly the location. You can trot down a back stairway and in a few seconds be down in the working Noyo Harbor fishing area – authentic with all of the history and grit one would expect. There, a nice stroll and access to superb restaurants awaits. Meaning if you are staying for more than a few nights, it is likely you’ll want to shake up the dining experience by heading down the street to the harbor. Within a few minutes’ walk from the inn, you can find patio picnic tables to eat wonderfully fresh take-out meals from a variety of seafood establishments. Plus, in less than a half-mile stroll you can cross Highway 1 to be on the new Coastal Trail with views that last forever and the opportunity to bike, walk or run for many, many miles if you so choose.
Princess Seafood: Owned by women who do the fishing from their own boat, the restaurant serves fresh fish caught daily for both outdoor dining and take-out. Aside from amazingly fresh seafood (we brought home some Dungeness crab that were just off the boat, into the steamer, and then cleaned for us while we waited), do not miss sampling their amazing crab red pepper bisque. Noyo River Grill: Located next to the much larger Silver’s at the Wharf, at the family-run Noyo River Grill, the seafood is fresh, the dishes creative, and seating quite cozy. If you are seeking cioppino, this is your place (Ask Therese) – just add tender homemade fettuccini. Michael had fresh crab, below, he said was amazing. And the ceviche? Yum!!!!
Princess Seafood: Owned by women who do the fishing from their own boat, the restaurant serves fresh fish caught daily for both outdoor dining and take-out. Aside from amazingly fresh seafood (we brought home some Dungeness crab that were just off the boat, into the steamer, and then cleaned for us while we waited), do not miss sampling their amazing crab red pepper bisque.
Noyo River Grill: Located next to the much larger Silver’s at the Wharf, at the family-run Noyo River Grill, the seafood is fresh, the dishes creative, and seating quite cozy. If you are seeking cioppino, this is your place (Ask Therese) – just add tender homemade fettuccini. Michael had fresh crab, below, he said was amazing. And the ceviche? Yum!!!!
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Looking for a fun activity + exercise?
On one of your days in Fort Bragg, and only a short drive from the Inn, you might enjoy railbiking on the historic Skunk Train tracks. Trips depart from the rail depot in town. Read California railbiking: pedaling Skunk Train railbikes in Mendocino to learn more.
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