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Walnut Creek Magazine

Mendocino Coast Magic: The Harbor House Inn & Restaurant

Sep 09, 2020 05:16PM ● By Fran Miller


Blink, and you might miss it entirely. The boutique Harbor House Inn & Restaurant fronts Highway 1, somewhat nondescriptly, in the tiny town of Elk, about a three hour drive from Walnut Creek. Beyond its shingled, Craftsman-style façade, guests find one of the most glorious views featured along the Mendocino Coast, a region known for its unspoiled beauty and fresh air. Harbor House is the perfect retreat for those desiring a change of shelter-in-place scenery. To stay here is to possess a beautiful secret, one to be shared with friends seeking room to roam, cool ocean breezes, and Michelin-starred meals. 


Re-opened in 2018 after an eight year restoration project, the luxury getaway features 11 sumptuously appointed guest rooms, each adorned with original artwork: six in the main historical building, four cottage suites on the bluff, and the new Madrone Guest Cottage featuring a king bedroom, two lavish full bathrooms, dining room, living room, and private kitchen fully outfitted with Heath dinnerware and a stylish Ratio coffee maker. The restaurant’s lauded Chef Matt Kammerer often cooks in this suite for private dinner parties, where guests enjoy their meal overlooking his manicured kitchen gardens and the Pacific.

Madrone Cottage dining room. Photo: Dan Miller

Madrone Cottage patio. Photo: Dan Miller

Redwood Room. 

Chef Matt Kammerer. Photo: Brendan McGuigan

Chef Matt, a 2020 James Beard Award semi-finalist and 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef, forages and harvests the ingredients for Harbor House’s Michelin-starred restaurant - the first and only such honored restaurant in the entire Mendocino County. His exquisite, up-to-12 course tasting menus are each a hyperlocal, coastal experience focused on seafood and vegetables. Ingredients are sourced from across Mendocino County, including live fish picked-up from local fisherman at the dock. He and his team even make their own crème fraiche, butter, vinegars, and naturally leavened breads. The property features its own chickens, and 15 raised vegetable beds, planted and cultivated by the kitchen crew. 

"We are making it extremely difficult on ourselves to find the best of the best,’’ says Chef Matt. “We’re on the hunt constantly. Nobody has websites here. There’s a secret (or closed) network. I have to track down people, talk to them, and they lead me to others.’’

His menus are further enhanced by pairings of both old-world wines and handcrafted, local, sustainable, small production varietals, or, for those seeking an alcohol-free beverage experience, the restaurant’s sommelier will (with proper notice) prepare creative, herb-driven pairings. The Inn’s complimentary breakfast is an equally indulgent affair with a choice of baked goods, fresh eggs, seasonal fruit, house made granola, juices, and local coffee.

Abalone dish. Photo: Brendan McGuigan

Breakfast spread. Photo: Fran Miller

Beyond the luxe accommodations and the gourmet cuisine, Harbor House offers a slow-paced haven, the focus of which is its stunning coastal view. Grab a good read and lounge in a hammock, or claim an Adirondack chair, perfectly poised toward the sparkling Pacific. It’s quiet here, the peace interrupted only by the sound of the wind, the crashing waves, bird calls, and maybe a clucking chicken from the on-site coop. A visit is not complete without a hike down to the Inn’s secluded black sand beach, sprinkled with shimmering abalone shells. The 272 stair climb back to the Inn gets the heart pumping, and makes every bite of your multi-course dinner that much more enjoyable.

Harbor House Beach. Photo: Dan Miller


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