It had been months since we had seen the ocean. This trip to retreat to the northern coast of California was our silver lining for months. It was a return to one of my favorite getaways on the Mendocino Coast, the Harbor House Inn, located in a small town called Elk. And we talked about this trip weekly until the time came to go.
There is something restorative about the ocean. Seeing it, hearing it, and feeling its rhythm — you experience it deep in your soul. But there is something different about the Mendocino Coast and its wide-open Pacific Ocean. It engulfs you in some way that you’re happy to let it do so. The sea breeze has undertones of redwoods and golden pastures. I’d bottle the fragrant air if I could.
The Harbor House Inn embraces all that is the Mendocino coastline. Their iconic location on the cliff’s edge gives you an unparalleled view out to a secluded cove sprinkled with rock croppings. Their restaurant focuses purely on what is (in their words) “this place at this time” in their cuisine. It’s also a Michelin one-starred restaurant, making it one of the most unique dining experiences on the Northern California coast.
So when I think about what is a retreat right now, for me, this is exactly it. A place to be secluded in nature, experience a destination through thoughtful food, and cozy up in an incredible hotel room. Here’s a look at what to expect at the Harbor House Inn in the town of Elk, California. Trust me, you’ll want to reserve a room.
The Harbor House Inn in Elk, California
Good to Know
A quick note about why I and my husband were very comfortable to stay at the Harbor House Inn amidst health and safety concerns. The inn is taking beyond measurable standards to ensure the health for guests and staff. A few components they’re doing:
- Enhanced cleaning protocols. Every room sits for 24 hours before another guest checks in.
- Common areas are closed and the remainder of the property is very open and allows for distancing.
- A boutique inn means fewer people, which for us is very important.
- All staff is wearing gloves and masks.
- No one enters your room during your stay, instead amenity baskets are dropped off.
Please find more about their health and safety protocol here.
Situated right on the ocean’s edge, the Harbor House Inn has a wonderful area to soak in the views. One little secret about the inn is that it has access to a secluded beach just below. It’s a private cove and makes for a wonderful spot to dip your toes in the ocean and go for a stroll.
At the top of the property, there are areas to kick back and enjoy the view. Perfect for a morning cup of coffee or a sunset drink. The gardens are also here, so you can stroll through the fragrant lavender and have a look at what is growing that season. You’ll also find there is a chicken coop as well, which you’ll get to taste the fresh eggs at breakfast during your stay.
The Harbor House Inn has a few different categories of rooms to choose from, plus their newest Madrone Cottage that opened up. There is the Main House as well as the ocean view cottages that are detached to the left. As part of your stay, all rooms come with a fresh, daily breakfast.
We stayed in the newest Madrone Cottage which is just right of the Main House and is a private building overlooking the gardens with a view of the ocean. The cottage is stunning and their most luxurious option on the property. A private deck is perfect for in-room dining (more on that below) and comes set with one bedroom (queen bed) and two baths (one tub). It even has a fireplace to warm up at night.
Inside the Madrone Cottage, there is a full dining room and kitchen, where you can cook your own food if you like. It’s set with everything you could need for a stay and I loved using the Ratio Coffee Machine with fresh coffee supplied by the inn each morning. Adjacent to the dining room is an additional sitting area if you want to relax and be indoors as well.
The Madrone Cottage was wonderfully done and felt like our own little home on the coast but with the welcomed amenities of a hotel room.
One of the most unique parts of staying at the Harbor House Inn is enjoying Chef Matthew Kammerer’s food. Awarded One Michelin Star last year for his innovative and seafood-focused menu, it’s a delightful meal to experience. There are a few ways to enjoy his cuisine throughout your stay. There is outdoor dining at the restaurant for the full 8-12 tasting menu or in-room dining which is another iteration of his food, and then the breakfast that is included during your stay.
We opted to do in-room dining during our stay and each meal was a wonderful surprise. He has a thoughtfulness in presentation and choosing ingredients that represent the Mendocino Coastline. There is a purity in the cuisine and you can find that through how each ingredient shines. The restaurant even harvests its own ocean water to create its own salt crystals for seasoning. And of course, you can’t replicate the freshness of growing your own produce, especially ten feet away from the kitchen.
For one meal, we enjoyed their bread service which is a pillowy sourdough served with cultured butter with sea lettuce. Next was halibut, set with wasabi greens and brushed in Harbor House hen egg yolk. It followed with Pacific Gold oysters with radish and kabosu. The main course was a wonderful black cod served over Mendocino rice and accompanied with garden greens and daikon. And to finish, local cheeses and a housemade bay nut ice cream with coffee oil. It was divine and a wonderful interpretation of how elegantly in-room dining can be done.
It’s a true joy to taste Chef Matthew’s food, I’d highly suggest booking one in-room experience and one dinner at the restaurant in advance.
In the Area
Elk, California is located just south of the town of Mendocino. Its location is a wonderful blend of coastal headlands and access to redwoods. There are plenty of ways to experience this area in nature, some of my favorite include:
- Walking the headlands above Greenwood State Beach and working your way down to the beach.
- Driving further south to Pelican Bluffs where you can find trails along the ocean all to yourself.
- Driving inland and hiking throughout Navarro River Redwoods State Park.
- Navarro Point Preserve and Van Damme State Park is another favorite for a coastal headland walk.
Nearby, you’re close to some other activities like:
- Kayaking up the Big River. You can rent canoes and outriggers at Catch a Canoe.
- Wine tasting in the Anderson Valley. Several wineries are open right now with distancing measures in place. Our favorites are Husch and Goldeneye.
- Mendocino is nearby, for a full weekend guide please refer here.
The Harbor House Inn
Address: 5600 CA-1, Elk, CA 95432
Phone: (707) 877-3203