If you're considering visiting the Stanford Inn I thought it would be helpful to share what you can expect from the experience. After all, if you're like me you've likely never been to a "vegan" recreational property and might be wondering if it's going to be less vacation and more PETA sponsored indoctrination. Trust me it's a vacation, and even though most of the guests and even staff aren't vegan you'll arrive and quickly learn you've found your home away from home.
First up, before you go to the Stanford Inn it pays to explore the classes they offer online and book ahead if there is something you really want to do. We booked our two cooking classes ahead and while I think we could have done it upon arriving it did secure our spot. If you're wondering what room to book I can say that for a family of three the room with the queen bed, balcony and day bed was perfect for us. We had plenty of room, a nice large bathroom and deck as well as wood burning fireplace (which we did manage to stoke to the point where we set off the smoke alarm but what's life without at least one embarrassing moment!). The bed was super comfortable unlike most of the ones we'd slept on in motels on the drive down with high end bedding and comfy mattresses. Each day (and when you arrive) you'll be treated with cookies and a hand written welcome note from the owners Jeff and Joan. I don't think we met Joan but Jeff wandered the property and talked to guests frequently.
The actual resort is about 1km south of the town of Mendocino just over a bridge on the opposite side of Highway 1. When you drive in you immediately see animal pens and gardens. Drive through to the upper parking lot so you don't have to walk uphill, park and enter the lobby which will likely greet you with a wood burning fireplace and Murphy the resident dog. Murphy is super calm and relaxed and will happily let you pet him though won't pay you much other attention unless you have food. The staff are super friendly and helpful and actually walk you to your room in person to get you oriented. Our room happened to be on the second floor with an ocean view in the distance as well as a peekaboo view of Mendocino through the trees. If you don't want to stay in the main lodge they do have a cabin and barn with rooms in it I think best suited to larger families. They are somewhat separate from the main building though so you should keep that in mind.
We explored the property once settled and saw a nice swimming pool, hot tub and sauna in a large warm inviting building just on the other side of the parking lot from our room. They also have a small gym under the lobby which isn't great but did manage to provide me with one workout while there. There is a space for yoga and tai chi beside the gym and upstairs you'll find a small bar, breakfast room and the main Ravens restaurant. Each day at 3:30 is tea time (included with your room) where you'll get an amazing dessert (we never missed one while there) and a great selection of tea. This was the first time I'd been exposed to savoury teas and we loved them a lot (spinach cilantro and fennel were my favourites). It's usually the same staff there each day so you kind of get to know them and they are very nice. Breakfast is also included in the room and I recommend booking a time for each morning when you first arrive so you can get the time slot you want. We like to rise early and eat early so took the 8am slot throughout our stay. Even that was hard for me as I usually rise at 6:30 and head right for my morning oatmeal. There is no lunch at the restaurant so you'll have to use the fridge and microwave in your room or run into town.
Dinner is available but I'd recommend booking ahead. Remember everything in the resort is vegan so you can order anything off the menu. Oddly most guests aren't vegan but are either there to experience it or they just want to take advantage of the nicest hotel in the area. Our average dinner bill each night was about $115 for the three of us. We normally had a main for & shared two desserts in our successful effort to try all the sweets on the menu during our stay (the Pecan torte and carrot cake were my favourites) and my wife would often have a glass of wine. The food was always a thrill to eat and explore, many of the menu items were new to us and we enjoyed tasting everything we tried. In the end we dined there 4 of our 5 nights.
If you go into town you will find some vegan choices at Frankie's pizza and one other location (I can't recall the name, it was closed the night we went to go there) but most of the restaurants are typical tourist fare and meat-centric. Mendocino itself seems to draw a lot of people to visit but to be completely honest it wasn't really my thing. It's full of art galleries which I normally love but for whatever reason it wasn't ringing my bell on this visit. There are several tourist focused shops which I tend to avoid, bed & breakfasts and a nice little bookstore. The town itself is beautiful for a short walk as it only has one chain store (a Chevron) and is right on the ocean. I'd recommend strolling around to the various galleries and checking out the water towers. If you walk around the edge of town you'll find a road without buildings which takes you out for a nice view of to the ocean on top of a large bluff. I ran that route three times while there and found it quite nice (I took three Strava Segments while there so I challenge you to go and take them from me if you run, I'd love an excuse to go back and defend my title). There is also a decent beach you can get down to from a set of stairs (not terribly accessible for anyone with mobility difficulties) which would be a nice spot for lunch. To get to the town you'll either take the very short drive or walk over the bridge on highway 1. The bridge is a bit scary as you have a narrow shoulder and highway traffic blasting past you. Each time I ran over it in the early morning I contemplated having to jump to the river below if a car swerved too close. Also the sidewalks in Mendocino are terrible, uneven with huge step offs the the road, something I normally wouldn't note but they must be horrible for seniors, or anyone with trouble walking.
At the resort you can rent boats or take a bike out for a ride (the bikes are included in your stay). We wanted to use the bikes but never got around to it as the area is hilly and our daughter wasn't keen on it. I think if the area were flatter we'd have gone out. The side road off highway 1 to the Inn is twisty and cars drive fast so caution is warranted on a bike. If you like trail running there are a couple of really nice parks a short drive away, and you can also cross over the bridge to the other side of the highway where a trail runs along the beach on the other side of the river from the resort. We didn't visit it because we only found out on the last evening of our stay but there is apparently an amazing hot spring very close to the resort that you must book ahead as it is difficult to get into.
Other options for your entertainment at the resort are massages (my wife and I had a couples massage while there) and Ayurvedic massages. We really wanted to try an Ayurvedic massage but couldn't fit it in. We spent a fair amount of time in the pool and walking around the gardens. I did a lot of reading while there which was nice and you have your pick of locations, my favourites outside of my room where the main fireplace in the lobby and the garden. Often if you greet people you'll find them eager to chat and we met a few other couples while there. Most guests aren't vegan but it seems that is the typical topic of conversation and even if they aren't vegan they are often curious and conversational. Typically the talk centres around how good the food is at the resort. The lobby also has a large book selection of vegan themed reading for purchase in case you forgot to bring something. If gardening is your thing then you can book a class with the gardener (Clay, he's a super nice guy and happens to be from Canada) and even if you don't have a class I'd encourage you to walk around where they grow a lot of the food for the resort and chat with him. He inspired me to build a small container garden in my home.
Cooking classes were a huge hit for our family. Even our thirteen year old daughter loved them. Sadhana was our teacher and she is brilliant. Her enthusiasm for food was incredible and she gently guided us through preparing and plating some amazing dishes. When we left we just wanted to take her with us as she felt more friend than teacher. We took the basic cooking class as well as the gourmet class. Before our first class we did a nutrition consultation with Sid and found it very helpful. He didn't give us his typical talk as we'd been vegan for a while and eat pretty healthy, but answered a lot of questions we had around niggling little fears and uncertainties. He even inspired my wife to begin eating breakfasts, something she has done every day since our vacation. I think for our daughter to get a sense from outside her parents that the path we were on was the right one was incredibly helpful.
On the resort grounds you'll also find a donkey, three llamas and a horse. I'm uncertain if they are rescued animals or just pets of the resort (like Murphy and the black cat that wander around) but it's fun to go visit them and watch them. The entire resort is pet friendly and you'll see lots of guests with dogs, even in the breakfast room. We found that to be a welcome thing as we love dogs, but I suppose some people may not like it.
Should we return to the Stanford Inn we'll be sure to try an Ayurvedic massage, and maybe a gardening class. We didn't really get a chance to have a yoga class while there as it always conflicted with other plans which was a bit disappointing. They also have a Chinese medicine practitioner which had me curious. Lastly I'd book another cooking class, probably the one for desserts. We've discovered that there is a vegan cruise out there as well as several vegan bed and breakfasts so the world of plant based vacations have opened up for us. A return to the Stanford Inn is likely in our future as well. It's rare that I've come home from a vacation so completely rested and ready to return to everyday life.