Glamp it up at Mendocino Grove
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Glamping - you've probably heard the term, but may not know what it is. The name is a mash-up of camping and glamorous, adding a pleasant gay note to the idea of sleeping in a tent. My husband and I tried it out recently during a hosted weekend at Mendocino Grove in Mendocino, California.
The camping part translates into sleeping in a safari-style canvas tent. The glamorous angle is how Mendocino Grove tents outshine conventional tent cabins like those in Yosemite's Half Dome Village, formerly called Curry Village. I like those tent cabins, my husband tolerates them, and a friend recently declared, "Never again."
Teresa Raffo, head of camper relations and co-owner of Mendocino Grove since 2015, described it as LGBTQ-friendly and estimated that about one-third of its guests are LGBTQ. She, and co-owner and husband Chris Hougie, created a website that describes the grove as, "catering to every camper, from the seasoned to the novice alike, united by the desire to get away and enjoy the outdoors. You show up, we pitch the tent."
Our spacious tent was on an elevated wood platform and held a very comfortable queen-size bed with high-quality sheets and blankets, and most importantly, a heated mattress pad. The bright reading lights on the nightstands on either side of the bed have USB outlets for charging phones.
Inside was a comfortable chair and table; outside, a covered porch with two stylish leather butterfly chairs and another small table. We could stand up everywhere in the tent.
Rates start at $125 for two people, including continental breakfast. Higher rates apply for tents with "coastal views" or with multiple beds. Our tent had a coastal, or water, view and the ocean sounds were very pleasant as we fell asleep. Battery-operated lanterns are in each tent for visitor use.
And that was important because the tents do not have private bathrooms. However, campground bathrooms were well lit, immaculately clean, and had a quickly-replenished pile of fluffy towels. The hot (!) showers had organic soap and shampoo dispensers, but bring your own washcloth and other toiletries.
Tents are much farther apart than in Yosemite, but the campground is dark enough that you need a flashlight to get around after the sun goes down. The owners said chamber pots were available if you want to avoid walking to the bathroom at night.
Larger tents have a queen bed and two doubles, and one had a queen and two sets of youth-size bunk beds. There are a total of 58 tents and some are accessible. Ten of the tents can accommodate pets for an extra fee of $20 per day with a $150 refundable deposit.
Raffo pointed out that Mendocino County has many dog-friendly beaches, hiking trails, and restaurants. The grove's website lists the rules for pets, which include, "We ask that your furry friends be kept on a leash at all times, and they are never left unattended at your campsite."
While the owners wait for a commercial kitchen license, the breakfast includes a generous variety of teas and Thanksgiving coffees, fresh fruit, yogurt, and breakfast bars. When they get the license, Raffo said they hope to add fruit salads, pastries, and other prepared foods.
"Permit requests move very slowly in Mendocino County," Hougie observed.
The grove has its own nature trail named Fern Canyon, and its own resident naturalist named John Moran. We took the easy, 45-minute Fern Canyon hike and saw many examples of native Douglas iris and Miner's lettuce, as well as Adirondack chairs positioned to enjoy the ocean and village views.
The campground forbids loud noise after 10 p.m. and a camp host is on site 24 hours a day for emergencies.
The grove offers two sessions of yoga instruction on Saturday and Sunday morning for an additional $10. It will lend mats but encourages participants to bring their own.
The grove does not supply cookware or dinnerware and encourages campers to bring an ice chest, which can be kept in the tent cabins.
The company does rent what it calls a Camp Box, however, which includes a tablecloth, dishes, utensils, and minimal cookware, for $75 and up. Raffo advised reserving Camp Boxes in advance.
There are both communal gas grills and fire pits on the grounds. For those using the fire pits (firewood is available for purchase), they offer a S'more Box for $12, with graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. From 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday nights and catered by local restaurant Trillium, the grove offers a dinner of hearty soup, artisan breads, a glass of local wine, and dessert for $20.
Exploring around Mendocino Grove
The grove is just across Highway 1 from the town of Mendocino, which is easily walkable. The seaside village has attractive Victorian buildings, boutiques, and a multitude of art galleries and restaurants.
Our favorite shops in Mendocino were the Gallery Bookshop, a local independent bookstore, and two shops featuring handmade furniture. The most impressive was the Highlight Gallery on Main Street, which represents over 200 fine and decorative artists in a variety of media, including a large selection of gorgeous and, often pricey, custom furniture. More affordably-priced is Anderson's Alternatives Native Woods Gallery on Lansing Street, which is a native wood gallery and lumberyard, with a gallery of finished furniture in back.
The Mendocino Art Center on Little Lake Street has a large gallery and publishes a quarterly guide to local galleries, artists, and events. Also in the village, the Mendocino Theatre Company operates year-round and states its mission is to, "present plays of substance and excitement."
When you finish shopping, the Mendocino Headlands hike starts right in town and is a level 2.5 mile loop along the water. It is not accessible.
The grove sits on a hillside above a tidal estuary named Big River, at 8.3 miles the second-longest in California. The area around Big River Estuary was added to the Mendocino Headlands State Park in 2002. A long and nearly flat bike trail goes inland along Big River and connects with other trails. Friends praised it highly.
The estuary itself is very calm and the habitat of many creatures. Just below the grove is Catch A Canoe and Bicycles Too (http://www.catchacanoe.com), which rents single or double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and bikes, charging $35 for up to three hours.
In addition, it offers unusually stable redwood outrigger canoes built from re-purposed redwood barns. These seat from two to eight people; some are designed for guests with pets.
For those who want to explore Big River with less effort, one option would be Catch A Canoe's daily tours scheduled during summer months, featuring wind and solar electric power for effortless cruising and quiet electric motors. Rates start at $65 a person. All private tours allow pets.
We took this tour and, as we traveled upriver, enjoyed seeing many harbor seals, their cute pups, ospreys, blue herons, cormorants, and both native California Lilacs and native rhododendrons. Our guide claimed that in warm weather, if you go upriver about three or four miles, you can swim in fresh water.
Moran, the naturalist, promoted two nearby hikes. The Russian Gulch State Park offers a non-strenuous 3.25-mile hike to a beautiful waterfall, and the first 2.25 miles is a paved bike path and fully accessible. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve has the 2.5-mile (one-way) Ecological Staircase Trail, which ends in a pygmy forest.
Raffo said her favorite is the Spring Ranch hike, about three miles away. Ask at the grove for directions, as the trailhead is not marked. Bob Lorentzen's "The Hiker's Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast" has many more hiking ideas.
Fort Bragg is an easy 10-mile drive north, where you will find more beaches, hiking, and the not-to-be-missed Mendocino Botanical Gardens at 18220 North Highway 1. The gardens hold more than 1,000 rhododendrons, one of the nation's largest collections, including many hybridized right on the Mendocino Coast. For the best rhododendron show, one garden docent advocated visiting between mid-April and mid-May. California's largest "rhodie" show is held there on the first weekend in May.
Raffo recommended Harvest Market at Mendosa's in Mendocino for assembling meals and picnics. It was described by another local as the best market in town. Its culinary director, Margaret Fox, manages the take-away foods and is the former owner of the nearby Cafe Beaujolais. Raffo also suggested Corners of the Mouth, a local co-op market on Ukiah Street.
We had several meals at the very good Mendocino Cafe, a casual restaurant serving lunch and dinner that has outdoor seating and some Thai-inspired selections. Lunch (two courses, glass of wine) was about $30 per person (before tip); dinner was about $60.
Trillium Restaurant on Kasten Street prepared our finest meal and features "New American cuisine with a focus on seasonal and local ingredients." It serves lunch and dinner; a three-course dinner is about $115 per person (with wine, before tip). There's an outdoor deck with ocean and garden views and pets are allowed at those tables.
Nearly as good was our dinner at the Ravens at the Stanford Inn and it was all-vegan. It serves breakfast and dinner sourced mostly from its own certified organic farm. Pets are welcome in part of the restaurant. We paid about $65 per person (with wine, before tip).
Cafe Beaujolais is still around, still highly respected, and priced similarly to Trillium.
Nearby Anderson Valley is a major wine-growing region with over 30 tasting rooms to visit. Our favorite was Navarro Winery in tiny, but scenic, Philo, which has good prices by the case. For art lovers, the annual self-guided art tour called Anderson Valley Open Studios happens in early May.
Was our glamping experience truly glamorous? We thought so, and the grove certainly lived up to its motto, "Camping made comfy." And for Mendocino, the rates are relatively a bargain. If you must have a private bathroom, check out the nearby Stanford Inn (rates start at $315) or about 10 miles away, the Beachcomber in Fort Bragg (rates start at $169 per night).
Mendocino Grove is working to add Airstream trailers, so you may be able to try out another new and hip lodging option soon.
For more information, visit http://www.mendocinogrove.com.
Mendocino Grove is offering a promotion to B.A.R. readers. Book a stay of two or more consecutive weekday nights (Sunday-Thursday) and receive 20 percent off, now through October 31. Promo code: BAR20. Restrictions may apply.