Little River CA: Bathe Among Giants, A No-Drive Weekend

By Mary Charlebois

Bathing Among Redwoods. Photos by Mary Charlebois.
Bathing Among Redwoods. Photos by Mary Charlebois.

Go behind the Redwood Curtain and bathe among giants on California’s Mendocino Coast

Forest bathing doesn’t require clothing removal. You don’t need soap. You won’t even get wet. However, after bathing, you’ll feel light, happy, and refreshed. Some folks say it also lowers their blood pressure.

Forest bathing is simple. Find a forest, go for a walk, take a seat,  get in touch with the natural world surrounding you. Listen to ravens calling; feel their wings beat as they move through the canopy; smell wildflowers, inhale the soil’s musk, feel the sea breeze, be silent.

Redwood and fern forest. Mendocino Coast California.
Redwood and fern forest. Mendocino Coast California.

Redwood trees are said to be the best for a forest immersion. Some say they heal us when we stand close. Is that where the term ‘tree-hugger’ comes from?

The magnificent Mendocino coastline is known for wildlife, waves, wilderness, and wine. Craggy headlands, secret beaches, coastal trails, grazing cattle, sheep ranches, and windswept vistas surprise you at each turn in the road, but redwoods are king.

Come to the coast and bathe amongst the giant trees in a no-drive weekend based in Little River California.





Little River Inn, Little River California
Little River Inn, Little River California


Set-up basecamp at Little River Inn, a coastal resort with a Mendocino casual-luxury vibe. Located on 225-wooded acres, there are 65 ocean view rooms, a restaurant, bar, day spa, 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, and pro shop.

Little River Inn garden resident.
Little River Inn garden resident.

Settle in your room, then take a walk around the property to take your first forest bath. The Inn’s property is beautifully landscaped with numerous gardens. Deer often graze at dawn and dusk. Maps are available at reception.

Have dinner in the Garden Room at the Inn where 5-star Chef Marc Dym’s menu reflects his CIA training and mastery of local and seasonal ingredients. There is an authentic taste of Mendocino in every dish. The Petrale Sole Almandine is heavenly, but the Bouillabaisse is transformative.

Gowan's Apple Cider at sunset. Ole's Whale Watching Bar, Little River Inn, Little River California.
Gowan’s Apple Cider at sunset. Ole’s Whale Watching Bar, Little River Inn, Little River California.

Enjoy a nightcap at Ole’s Whale Watch Bar after dinner. Try the drink special, whatever it might be. The Inn’s award-winning cocktails are made with in-house fusions, local produce; even sea vegetables foraged from tide pools across the road. The bar is a friendly place to chat with locals and other travelers.

Guarantee a deep sleep with a nice soak in your room’s jacuzzi. Light the fireplace, turn out the lights, dream.


For breakfast, have Ole’s Swedish Hot Cakes on your deck. Room service with an ocean view is a double treat. Locals gather to have breakfast at the Inn (that includes me). Ole’s hotcakes are the star. Personally, I dream about their breakfast sausage; best on the coast.

After breakfast, grab your day-pack and camera. Head across the road to the Little River Market & Deli. The small shop is well-stocked. They have local cheeses,  charcuterie, sandwiches, salads, hot dishes, and desserts. The selection of wine and beer is superior. Ocean view tables are handy for a quick snack or coffee. Grab picnic fixings for the morning’s forest bath.

Buy a postcard and stamp in the market and mail yourself a souvenir you’ll always treasure.

Fern Forest - Mendocino Coast California.
Fern Forest – Mendocino Coast California.

Discover a forest bath spot in the redwood and fern canyons of Van Damme State Park. The park is a thousand feet from Little River Inn. There is a private trail from the Inn to the park. This easy walk begins near the campgrounds and continues with a gently rolling path along Little River.

You’ll encounter massive redwoods, alders, wild berries, Douglas fir, masses of sword ferns, wildflowers, and moss. Wildlife is abundant, especially birds. Birdsong echoing through the woods is enchanting. Arched wooden bridges cross the river numerous times. You’ll encounter behemoth redwoods here. Sit or stand quietly to hear their whispers.

Van Damme State Park along CA HWY 1, Little River California.
Van Damme State Park along CA HWY 1, Little River California.

At the end of the trail, there’s a picnic area. Savor your picnic lunch of goodies from the market.

Ride the rails to the redwoods. Catch a local bus to Fort Bragg. There is an MTA bus stop in front of the Inn. Tell the driver you’re going to the Skunk Train. He’ll drop you one block of the train depot.



Skunk Train Rail Bikes going into the redwoods.
Skunk Train Rail Bikes going into the redwoods.

The historic train once hauled redwoods from the forest to the coast lumber mills. Today, the Skunk is an excursion train taking passengers into the redwood forest of the California Coastal Range. Take a leisurely vintage train ride, or ride the open air rail bikes along estuaries and forest. Make reservations at Skunk Train.

Dine at Wild Fish. Across the road from the Inn, and next to the market, is a tiny restaurant where they say, “a stunning view meets organic fare.” The food is organic, local, and exceptional. Service is perfect, and the view of Little River Cove is mesmerizing.

Sip the sun down on your deck with a bottle of local wine.


Sleep late. Try Sunday Mimosa Brunch, a coastal tradition at Little River Inn. If it’s whale watching season, ask for a window table, but get there early, the tables with an ocean view go fast.

If you’re traveling with your pet, ask for the pet-friendly dining room. Fido will have his own bowls and breakfast.

Beachcombing on the Mendocino Coast, Little River California.
Beachcombing on the Mendocino Coast, Little River California.

Go beachcombing and tide pooling at Van Damme. Follow the path from the Inn to the park. From there, cross HWY 1 to Van Damme Beach. Wander the shore, watch kayakers on sea cave tours, wade through tide pools, or sit and listen to waves and seagulls.

Head for home through Anderson Valley along HWY 128. You’ll drive through redwoods so tall, you almost need headlights at noon. There are plenty of places to pull over or enter parks if you feel the need for one last redwood bath.

Wine and cheese pairing at Pennyroyal Farm, Anderson Valley California.
Wine and cheese pairing at Pennyroyal Farm, Anderson Valley California.

In Anderson Valley, you’ll find wineries, breweries, cideries, creameries and farm stands. Anderson Valley is a laid-back agricultural area that is lovely to explore.

Getting there

While you won’t need to drive once you are in Little River, but you’ll need a car to get there.

From US Hwy 101, take either Hwy 128 or HWY 20 to cross the California Coastal Range and get to CA HWY 1.

Your home base, Little River Inn, is at 7901 HWY 1, Little River, CA 95456 (Two miles south of Mendocino Village.)

Reach the Inn toll-free at 888.INN.LOVE or visit their website – Little River Inn. For more information about the area, go to Visit Mendocino County.

In Little River California, you’ll find unspoiled nature, exceptional food, glorious libations, and a ‘slow-down and smell the redwoods’ atmosphere. All are perfect for bathing among giants and a no-drive weekend.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. No one writes like Mary Charlebois. Smooth, descriptive, every word precise.
    Plus amazing photography.
    One of my favorite writers.

    1. Phyl, you make me blush. Thank you. Your work fits that description also. 🙂

  2. labo1947 says:

    Great article, Mary. I love the coastal redwoods — from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border. I’ve done plenty of bathing amongst these gentle giants. Thanks for refreshing me.


    1. Thank you, Bob. I’m glad you have experienced life behind the Redwood Curtain. It is truly a special place to live. I’m a lucky gal. –MaryGo

  3. Emese Fromm says:

    What a great, descriptive article! I love forest bathing, but haven’t been around redwoods much. I’ll have to remedy that. 🙂 . Thank you for reminding me of this beauty, and for the tips of how to enjoy it.

    1. Thank you, Emese. The redwoods are unusual in so many ways. I feel at peace when I’m among them. They are fascinating trees with a circulatory system that pumps water up and down the trunks and branches. Most have an eco-system in their canopies. Some of the creatures that live there never go to ground, living their entire lives in the top of a redwood. You must come to visit us behind the redwood curtain. 🙂 –MaryGo

  4. Marsi says:

    So much inspiration for planning my next Mendocino County trip! Last year we spent a week forest bathing in the Redwoods parks of Northern California, and a couple of days in Mendocino County last year during a 4-month road trip. Mendocino and Anderson Valley are magical places (I’m finally getting around to blogging our time there). I cannot wait to get back, and hope to spend a week or two there in 2020.

  5. fswolfe says:

    Little River, and the inn, are going on my must-see list for my next trip to the West Coast!

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