Pacific Tapas infuses the compact cuisine of Spanish tapas with the zinging flavors of the Pacific Rim to create plates full of mix and match delicacies. The rotating menu bewilders noshers with hypnotic swirls and a plethora of choices, which may include the gambas con pancetta, composed of grilled prawns wrapped in spanish bacon and served with a side of sherry dipping sauce ($10.50). Carnivores and horribly confused sea turtles can enjoy the chuletas de cordero, which pairs lamb shoulder chops rubbed in a coating of garlic with cucumber slices and a heap of grilled peach and corn salsa ($10.50) or the empanada turnovers featuring swirling serrano ham and manchego cheese topped with roasted red pepper and sautéed onions ($10.50). While sipping on the two glasses of sangria ($8 value each), watch a breathtaking sunset over the Pacific Ocean or defiantly challenge the moon to a staring contest.
Set on the Northern California shoreline just south of Mendocino, the quiet town of Elk enjoys small-town charm and year-round moderate temperatures. Pastel cottages perch along the coastal ridge, and an artists' collective serves as home to 28 local artists, whose output spills onto a front lawn dotted with delicate bronze sculptures and weathered wood carvings. "We have such a geologically exciting landscape," says local plein air painter Deborah Nord, referring to the steep ocean cliffs that crop up so often in her canvases. The ocean-side bluffs also provide ideal lookouts for whale watching. "The easiest whale to see here on the coast is the California gray whale," says Tanya Smart, an instructor of environmental ethics at Point Cabrillo Light Station. The 50-foot-long leviathans journey southward in January, and upon their return in March, the area welcomes them back with a series of whale festivals and whale-size party hats.
In Point Arena, a coastal hamlet inhabited by about 450 people, New Age shops rub shoulders with old-fashioned family grocers on the tiny main street. Surfers and deep-sea divers share the wharf with fishermen unloading their daily catch of urchins and salmon. Endangered mountain beavers and giant salamanders round out the town's natural inhabitants. Point Arena lies within Mendocino County, known as "America's greenest wine region" for the eco-friendly methods area vintners use to create their celebrated pinot noirs and gewürztraminers. The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association is comprised of numerous vineyards easily accessible from the inn via car or pogo stick. Many wineries host year-round tastings and tours.From December through April, the Point Arena Lighthouse provides an ideal vantage point for whale watching. Near the grounds of the lighthouse, dozens of walking trails wind through a forest filled with towering redwoods, pines, and cypresses and, in spring, a dazzling palette of coastal wildflowers.
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Mammoth portions of sandwiches, comfort fare and classic breakfasts test table strength within the log-cabin interior of Lumberjacks Restaurant. After perusing the lengthy menu, patrons can gaze up at the towering façade of roasted turkey clubs ($8.99), whose three layers of toast house bacon, american cheese, lettuce and tomato. A chili burger ($8.99), topped with cheddar and onions, doffs its uppermost bun to chivalrously greet suiting mouths. A slow-braised post roast with vegetables and gravy ($12.99) assumes its honored position among dinner entrees, arriving at tables with a choice of a side as well as soup or a custom-made lettuce amalgamation from the salad bar.
Sea Ranch Golf Links takes after the old style of Scottish links-style course design, from the slender fairways and sandy dunes to the swirling saltwater mist that blows over the course with each ocean breeze. The latter may not have much to do with the creative genius of architect Robert Muir Graves, but the site selection alone elevates the experience above most inland courses.
The 18-hole layout flanks Gualala Point, making rocky shorelines and revenge-seeking seagulls as much hazards as the long, amoebic fairway bunkers, grassy dunes, and small, hard-to-read greens. If this all sounds otherworldly, you're not alone: writers from Travel & Leisure and the San Francisco Examiner have also been taken by the balance of rugged oceanside terrain and sleekly-shorn emerald fairways.