At a magical spot north of Fort Bragg, visitors can rejoice in the landscape, whether they’re wandering alongside the ocean or deep in a fairytale forest.
For years, we passed the place: The Inn at Newport Ranch. With a gate on Highway 1 about 11 miles north of Fort Bragg, the property practically shouted its promise as we sailed on by, but we always were headed somewhere else. From the road, we could see a lodge house, some additional structures, a stately cypress, a pasture full of cows, and an expanse of grassy coastline bluffs with dramatic views. What a fabulous location, we would say to each other.
That is, apparently, what The Inn at Newport Ranch owner Will Jackson, now in his 90s, thought when he bought the land back in the mid-’80s. He very gradually purchased adjacent parcels, eventually securing 2,100 acres of coastline and forestland across the highway. With commitment to land preservation and sustainability, he set out to patiently create a luxury destination on the working cattle ranch. The inn opened in 2015.
This past March, my husband, Mike, and I finally spent two nights there. We stayed in the Grove Suite in the Redwood House, named for the 24 redwood trunks anchoring the building (which also includes two other suites and the spa). The Grove is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom space with a wall full of windows facing the water and a broad door to throw open to an oceanside deck and private hot tub to sink into beneath the stars. The suite also includes a small kitchen with an adorably diminutive (but perfectly functional) oven and dishwasher, a fireplace and those tree trunks populating the living room. We felt as though we lived in a forest by the sea—albeit with pillowtop mattresses, fluffy robes and walk-in showers. We could walk just beyond the building to the on-site organic garden and pick veggies to cook in the suite if we wished.
More guestrooms exist in the Main Inn, Barb’s Place and Ranch House buildings, for a total of nine, and all are different from one another. Jackson’s house, where he stays when he’s on-site, is available for full buyout when he’s not. Called Sea Drum, it’s a four-bedroom cliffside home that’s away from the primary compound and can sleep 10 people.
The Main Inn is the hub of operations, with three guestrooms (filled with hand-carved furnishings and artwork) and a great room/dining area—this beautiful room full of wood has a long window seat perfect for reading, and a stunning open fireplace large enough to stand inside. Another sitting room has cozy leather chairs, a fireplace, window tables for breakfast, and views of the ocean. On the rooftop: a hot tub.
Weather during our stay allowed us to explore in relative comfort on our first day. Chilly, for sure, and the brilliant late-afternoon sunshine illuminated some foreboding purplish clouds that hovered over the water. Some 20 miles of trails run throughout the property, including several miles that front the Pacific, and guests can proceed pretty much as they wish (as long as they don’t bug the cattle, leave any gates open or take any stupid risks). We happily tromped beside crashing waves, wind whipping our jackets and numbing our fingertips. We found waterfalls and viewed tiny, inaccessible beaches. We took little offshoot trails to picnic tables and benches tucked into bluff sides and imagined warmer days: We would bring a basket packed with snacks and sit at land’s edge, munching, deep breathing, admiring.
Then came the rain. The next day, we took a bone-drenching tour with historian Otis Brown. He grew up about 5 miles north in the tiny town of Westport (and still lives there with his wife, Felicia, a floral and botanical expert who tends Inn at Newport Ranch’s garden). He loads guests into his universal terrain vehicle—which has tackle-anything tires, a windshield, roof, doors, but no windows or wipers—and takes them out, rain or shine, along the coastline and into the woods, telling stories all the way. We bundled up in inn provided foulies—Columbia waterproof pants and jackets—and set out in the storm. As sideways rain splattered our cheeks, we trucked out along the bluffs, where we stopped at a lidded cauldron suspended from a massive metal tripod and surrounded by big stones. We had arrived at Council Bluffs. During more inviting weather, sunset cocktail hours and wedding ceremonies often happen in this scenic spot. We learned about epic parties on the ocean cliffs, some including wedding guests who consumed far too much alcohol and made poor choices about where to swim; and about migrating whales wandering so close to shore that bluff-walking guests could smell their breath.
Brown explained that this land had once belonged to Native Americans—primarily the Yuki tribe—and he showed us arrowheads that could still be found around the area. Then along came the settlers, and in the 1860s, the town of Newport was established. Some 2,000 people lived in the area, logging and farming. Across the highway from the inn, a cemetery up on the hill is home to residents gone before. Its white-washed fence is a landmarking beacon for mariners off shore, Brown said.
Halfway through our two-hour tour, we got an extra treat: Chef Patrick Meany, who had joined the inn’s team just a few weeks prior, donned his slicker pants and jacket and jumped into the UTV with us. Fresh off a several-year stint south of Mendocino at Michelin-starred Harbor House in Elk, Meany was ducking out of the kitchen during a break from babysitting his fermented sourdough (made from local grains). As the rain picked up, we crossed the highway and headed into the woods. Shrubbery turned to redwoods as we passed the mushroom farm—logs teeming with the edible fungi—and Meany pointed out plants that he would use in dinners at the inn and timber he would use for grilling over live fire. Shouting over the driving rain, rushing creek and the UTV motor, we discussed the inventive dinner Meany had created for inn guests the night before. It had included foods fermented on-site (like grilled and fermented daikon with sea vegetable vinaigrette) and sorrel gathered from these very woods. He was in the process of hiring his kitchen team and looked forward to ramping up his fermentation program even more. It’s now well underway and guests are enjoying specialties such as house-made kombucha spiced with Douglas fir needles and wild Newport honey.
Otis Brown doesn’t just run UTV tours and talk about the property’s history. He also looks after the cemetery and manages the forest preserve, maintains the mushroom farm, clears fallen trees and takes care of the redwood starts that guests can plant. Undaunted by the torrent, we climbed out of the vehicle and trudged among the dripping redwoods, imagining bears and deer in this fairytale place, where moss carpeted logs and lacy lichen swooped between the branches. Afterward, on the ride back to the inn, Brown climbed the UTV along the road high upon the ridge, which afforded us a breathtaking view of the coast that would’ve gone on forever on a sunny day.
The Inn at Newport Ranch, 31502 N. Highway 1, Fort Bragg; (707) 962-4818; www.theinnatnewportranch.com/. Rates start at $650 a night and include breakfast and happy hour; dinner and UTV tours and other guest experiences (including foraging) are additional. Call to inquire about the Whirlybird Special—helicopter transportation to the property, which includes a helipad.
While You’re in the Area—Head south to Fort Bragg and cruise into MACKER-RICHER STATE PARK and take the boardwalk trail at Laguna Point through the woods and wetlands out to various vantage decks overlooking the Pacific. Whales, seals and lots of birds are visible from the walkway and its lookouts. Another wonderful walkway: THE PUDDING CREEK TRESTLE, an antique railroad bridge constructed in 1916 and in use till 1949. It runs more than 500 feet, over Pudding Creek and the beach. In the city of Fort Bragg, explore its downtown streets—you’ll find boutiques, restaurants, souvenir shops, good coffee, used books and MENDOCINO CHOCOLATES. THE SKUNK TRAIN departs from the railroad depot and takes passengers on an excursion deep into the redwoods of the Noyo River Canyon. Railbike excursions also are available. Anymore, you won’t find much glass at GLASS BEACH, but it’s always worth looking for some tiny polished bits. Take a drive into NOYO NARBOR for some fish and chips. One of our favorite fish houses in town is fisherwomen-owned and -operated PRINCESS SEAFOOD, where you can get a rock cod hero or a shrimp po’boy (among other seafood dishes) and, on weekends, listen to live music on the deck overlooking the water. Another favorite stop: the grill outside HARVEST MARKET, where you can pick up a tri-tip, chicken or salmon sandwich (or burger or hot dog), grilled fresh while you wait. Just south of town, stop into the beautiful MENDOCINO BOTANICAL GARDENS, known for its tender species (and fragrant!) rhododendrons; also on-site are the perennial garden, a collection of heaths and heathers, lots of birds, and trails that wind through the forest and out to the windswept ocean bluffs.