Stays

The Harbor House Inn

Perched above a cove, a historical inn with a Michelin-starred restaurant provides a chance to reset.

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MENDOCINO STILL FEELS like an untouched part of Northern California. A bit farther than most tourists or Bay Area locals go for a quick trip, it offers some quiet. Just 25 miles south of Mendocino is the small town of Elk — population 208. There sits a charming boutique inn called the Harbor House.

With only 11 rooms divided between one house and detached cottages, this isn’t an easy reservation to snag, especially since the inn has its very own 2-Michelin-star restaurant.

After a two-and-a-half-hour drive down winding roads canopied by redwood trees, I arrive at the inn. Perched high above a pristine cove, the Harbor House is surrounded by vegetable gardens, a chicken coop, wild landscaping, and views from every angle. Built in 1916 by the Goodyear Redwood Company as a place to entertain and showcase its redwood empire, the Harbor House transports visitors to a simpler time. There are no televisions or cell service (Wi-Fi is optional throughout the inn), forcing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy simplicities that might otherwise be overlooked.

“While you’re on this property, it’s a farmhouse experience. So I think that's really important — that people understand that this is a time for them to recharge and recuperate,” says Chef Matthew Kammerer, whose cuisine is an integral part of the Harbor House experience.

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You can have a 2-Michelin-star experience with humble ingredients — like the asparagus that we picked this morning.

“I knew I wanted something not so close to a city, yet accessible. I was up in Washington, outside of Portland, and down in Santa Barbara before. I spent a year researching Elk and it was always my number one spot. Prior to even knowing Harbor House was here, I was just drawn to this area because it is easily the most beautiful place on the West Coast — the remoteness. It's still raw here. There are no tour buses. It didn't feel like anything else,” describes Kammerer.

The interior of the Harbor House is flanked in dark wood, softly lit by vintage sconces and lamps. A roaring fireplace in the common area is surrounded by bookshelves — the perfect spot to enjoy a book, beverage, or just be. The rooms are just as cozy; an ​​understated luxury manages to feel both pampering and homey. Shelves house books, anchor mementos, and shells from the nearby cove.

Before sunset, I venture down a flight of stairs for a quarter mile to the private cove below the inn. The path down passes a rushing waterfall before reaching the beach, where the sand is covered in varied seashells. The abalone are the most prevalent, alongside a dozen abandoned crabs being feasted on by pelicans. As the temperature drops, I work my way back up the stairs to take in the last bit of light from one of the many outdoor chairs lining the property. I’m just in time for dinner.

The culinary offerings at the Harbor House allow guests to experience the Mendocino coast through taste. In 2021 the restaurant received its second Michelin star along with a Michelin green clover for its sustainability efforts. The menu changes daily based on two factors: product availability and weather. All of the produce comes from either the on-site garden or their 320-acre farm located about 25 minutes south by car, and the team also forages in the nearby area. Fish is always sourced from the local harbor and meat only makes an appearance if it comes from a local farmer. The restaurant’s farm, which already supplies beef, plans to introduce goats and chickens later this year.


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If you’re a Bay Area resident, you’re no stranger to farm-to-table dining. Chef Kammerer, however, has taken the meaning of local to another level. He describes his mission: “We are truly serving only local food and showing people that you can have a 2-Michelin-star experience with humble ingredients — like the asparagus that we picked this morning, which is going to taste better than the one that spent time on a plane. Hopefully it inspires other chefs to take a different approach. You don't have to serve ingredients that come from across the world. Just do a little bit more research into what's around you.”

The dining room offers one seating for a 10–12 course dinner five days a week, and one seating for a three-course lunch four days a week. Seating only 18, the dining experience is just as intimate as the inn it's nestled in. A long wooden table topped with ceramic vases filled with dried local flowers is the dining room’s centerpiece. “All of the tables in the dining room are from one piece of wood 45 minutes north of here,” Chef Kammerer tells me. “There's a lot of thought that goes in there.” Abalone shells from the cove adorn the dark wooden walls above another fireplace.

With the dining room closed for updates during my stay, I have the pleasure of experiencing a 10-course meal from the comfort of my room. I enjoy it in a robe and slippers, lounging by the fireplace, the sound of the waves crashing outside the window. Each dish is served on a unique vessel that’s been sourced from a local artisan. The inn works with a number of artists to create one-of-a-kind pieces specific to the Harbor House, with the idea that plateware can elevate a dish.

My first course, Pacific Gold oysters with verjus, sits in a clear bowl filled with stones that remind me of the beach walk I took earlier in the day. The abalone is accompanied by a delicate custard served in a ceramic mug with a matching top. Next comes urchin and sushi rice accompanied by hedgehog mushrooms, followed by Knights Valley Wagyu plated with maitakes and jus to close out the entrees. After I finish my last morsel of the four-course dessert paired with a marigold-infused tea, I draw a warm bath full of Epsom salts in my clawfoot tub before retreating to bed.

The dining experience doesn’t end at dinner. A breakfast spread, also served in my room, includes an egg dish so special I prolong finishing it as long as humanly possible. Speaking again of the room, mine has a view of the ocean so stunning it makes me appreciate the lack of cell service — I can take it in without any screens to distract me. Chef Kammerer knows the feeling: “That’s the challenge for people — to get into that headspace. It’s okay to just look out the window. That’s why you're here. It’s not easy for the guests to be able to put themselves in that spot, to really take it, take it in.”

Even though it’s cold and raining, I can’t help but accept the weather and appreciate everything that comes along with it. The Harbor House feels like it moves with the season. Just like the food, the experience is based on everything around you in that very moment. I plan to stop by again this spring or summer, and look forward to enjoying warmer temperatures, a new menu, and all that a new season will bring to this beautiful, peaceful place.

The Most Scenic Spots Near Mendocino

Producer Elissa Polls shares her favorite weekend getaways from the Bay Area.

  • Sea Ranch Lodge

    A must for anyone traveling on Highway 1. The lodge is one of the oldest buildings in the town of Sea Ranch and is worth a stop for a great meal. Or simply have a glass of wine while enjoying ocean views and Sea Ranch’s iconic architecture.

  • Timber Cove

    If you’re making stops along Highway 1, this is another great hotel with fantastic views that houses a restaurant, Coast Kitchen, worth visiting — it’s located in the town of Jenner.

  • Dillon Beach

    This beach is a great place to stop for a stroll, or for people- and dog-watching. It’s one of my favorite dog beaches in Northern California.

  • Sea Ranch Chapel

    This nondenominational sanctuary is beautiful both inside and out. The chapel is situated along the loveliest walking path.

  • Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

    If you are seeking some zen on your way in or out of Mendocino, make sure to book an appointment at Osmosis Day Spa. I highly recommend the cedar bath.

  • Sea Ranch Lodge

    A must for anyone traveling on Highway 1. The lodge is one of the oldest buildings in the town of Sea Ranch and is worth a stop for a great meal. Or simply have a glass of wine while enjoying ocean views and Sea Ranch’s iconic architecture.

  • Sea Ranch Chapel

    This nondenominational sanctuary is beautiful both inside and out. The chapel is situated along the loveliest walking path.

  • Timber Cove

    If you’re making stops along Highway 1, this is another great hotel with fantastic views that houses a restaurant, Coast Kitchen, worth visiting — it’s located in the town of Jenner.

  • Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

    If you are seeking some zen on your way in or out of Mendocino, make sure to book an appointment at Osmosis Day Spa. I highly recommend the cedar bath.

  • Dillon Beach

    This beach is a great place to stop for a stroll, or for people- and dog-watching. It’s one of my favorite dog beaches in Northern California.

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Our Contributors

Elissa Polls Writer

Elissa Polls is the senior director of content production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Elissa has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.

Yoshihiro Makino Photographer

Yoshihiro Makino, born and raised in Tokyo, is an architectural and interior photographer based in Los Angeles. Makino is drawn to cultural co-influences in design seen between Japan and other countries. His work takes him around the world capturing spaces and portraits for a vast array of editorial, private, and commercial clients.

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