In the 1978 motion picture, “Same Time, Next Year,” actors Ellen Burstyn and Allen Alda return each year to the Heritage House Resort on the Mendocino Coast, where the movie was shot.
For decades, they were not alone. Staying at the Heritage House Resort became an annual tradition for many of its guests. That’s because Lauren Dennen, who founded the resort in 1949, was reknowned for his attentive hospitality, and also because the inn’s spectacular location overlooking the blue Pacific provided the quintessential backdrop for a romantic getaway.
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Then, in 2008, Heritage House was closed for five years due to the financial and legal troubles of its third owner. Guests could no longer stay there, though many still showed up at the shuttered resort only to be turned away by a security guard who denied them even the chance to walk the grounds where they’d experienced so many fond memories.
Heritage House reopened last year under new ownership, with fresh interiors and a renewed commitment to four-star service, the kind Dennen had become famous for. Though, unlike the 500 California gray whales that migrate past Heritage House each week from January through March, many of the inn’s former regulars did not return. And, their absence has created opportunities for new guests to discover this idyllic retreat’s delights and establish their own traditions.
Set on a bluff overlooking a kelp-forested, blue-green cove that is ringed by sea caves and surf-washed outcroppings, the Heritage House Resort is a mix of architectural styles. Its reception building began as an 1877 New England-styled farm house surrounded by apple orchards. It now contains the resort’s lobby, a restaurant and lounge named after the resort’s address along North Highway 1 (5200), and picture windows and decks that look out toward the setting sun.
French chef Fabrice du Buc presents locally sourced farm-to-fork cuisine at 5200 with such tantalizing dishes as Lobster Mac & Cheese, the freshest catch from local harbors (often complemented by fresh local greens, Farmstead cheeses, mushrooms and Mendocino wine) or a smoked salmon breakfast omelet prepared with shitaki mushrooms, local cheese, mushrooms, spinach and sautéed onions.
A separate dining room is available for guests traveling with their dogs, with staff setting out a bowl of fresh water for Fido. Heritage House’s guest rooms and grounds are dog-friendly, too, with semi-private decks to contain the dogs and open space to let them run free should they respond to voice commands.
Heritage House’s guest rooms are in clusters of cottages and chocolate-brown contemporary buildings spread across the property. Forty-five of Heritage House’s 70 guest rooms have now been refurbished (the rest are scheduled for remodeling). The resort’s renovations have not yet reached the lobby and restaurant/lounge building, though a glass-walled fitness room has been completed and a spa with three treatment rooms is under construction.
The guest rooms feature Swedish Dux beds, 350-count Italian Frette linens, mahogany-colored armoirs, tables and desks, gas fireplaces, Malaysian bongo drum-shaped vanity sinks, walk-in rain showers, Swedish vinyl thatch floor coverings, heather-bronze taffeta curtains and dark brown slate, with interiors elegantly understated in neutral tones of grey, taupe, white, black, brown and tan.
Jim Hunter, the resort’s general manager, said its owner purposefully chose not to hang art inside the guest rooms as the real art is seen through sliding glass doors and picture windows that open out onto decks from which guests may watch the ever-entertaining Mendocino Coast. At night, indigo heavens, punctuated with points of light, are airbrushed by the Milky Way (its notorious fog is mostly a morning and midday visitor).
Heritage House’s carefully tended grounds mix native and exotic varieties. Bishop pine, eucalyptus and a landmark 40-foot-tall pittosporum meet grassy fields and colonies of lavender, rockrose, purple Pride of Madeira, gold ornamental grasses, rhododendron and California native plants.
A walking trail skirts a seaside bluff and leads to a white gazebo set out on a point. Along the trail, benches provide places for guests to sit and watch ocean swells as they crash upon the rocks. Hearts and initials carved into the seats of these weathered benches attest to the lovers who have courted upon them.
With such delights, it’s tempting not to leave Heritage House. Though, minutes north is picture-perfect Mendocino, a seaside village built by New England whalers that is filled with galleries, curio shops, restaurants and activity. Seven miles farther is one of California’s most spectacular gardens, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, with paths that pass through impressively colorful displays of perennial plants, heaths and heathers, dalias, fuschias, camellias and rhododendrons.
Another two miles is Fort Bragg where whale watching and sport fishing boats are docked and Mendocino County’s famous Skunk Train offers full and half day tours across the Coastal Range. Downtown Ft. Bragg’s most nostalgic dining experience is Mendo Bistro on the upper floor of the old Union Lumber Co. Store, where from 1886 to 1963 Union Lumber employees bought whatever they needed.
In 1999, owner/chef Nicholas Petty placed Mendo Bistro on the old department store’s upper floor and, a saloon called “Barbelow” on the ground floor. His fare features fresh products from Mendocino’s sustainable ranches, organic farms and fishing fleet, as well as homemade pastas, as-you-like free range chicken and steaks, and — like the rest of his menu — made-in-house desserts, including irresistible gelato.
A half hour southeast of Heritage House is the Anderson Valley and 22 tasting rooms. Among them, Navarro Vineyards was named California’s best winery at this year’s state fair. Their tasting experience is welcoming, approachable, free and knowledgeable. In addition to great wines, local cheese and meats are sold at the winery, whose pergola-shaded picnic area is draped with wisteria.
Numerous state beaches, state parks and coastal access points are passed along Highway 1 (the Coast Highway). The newest addition to the new California Coast National Monument is Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, where easy trails can be hiked to a spectacular coastline. Self-guided tours of the 1896 Fog Signal building include fascinating displays of a 1st order Fresnel lens and other lighthouse equipment. Guided tours climb a circular staircase to the top of the 115-foot tall lighthouse.
Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda sustained a 26-year affair that kept them coming back to Heritage House, same time, next year. Though, a visit need not be so sinful. As, it is now born again.
John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.