This article and photos are by Brendan McGuigan. It originally appeared in California Golf + Travel.
Historic Charm and Grand Views Reign at the Little River Inn
Traveling to the Little River Inn feels a bit like stepping out of the world. The scenic drive on Highway 128 takes you through towering redwood groves, past picturesque barns and fields, and into the world-famous Anderson Valley wine region. Near the end of your trip the thick, ancient redwood forest gives way to a sprawling view of the Pacific, unlike anything else in California. It’s on this stretch of dramatic coastline that you’ll find the Little River Inn, perched on a hill just south of the quaint village of Mendocino, with 180° views of the ocean from nearly every room – and from the majestic golf course that dominates the upper stretches of the hillside.
Located three hours north of San Francisco, Little River is a remote hamlet of 117 people with a history dating back to the redwood boom of the 1850s. It’s a destination unto itself, and the Little River Inn – still family owned and operated by the fifth generation descendants of settler Silas Coombs – remains largely unchanged from those early days.
Upon arrival, it’s hard not to fall in love with the family charm of the place. The employees are authentic and friendly, and historic photos adorn the walls. When you check in, you’re handed a room key – an honest-to-goodness metal key that speaks to the importance of history in this unique setting (though things have updated slightly since the 1930s, when city folk who insisted on locking their rooms were handed one of the ‘master keys’ that worked on every lock). Every room is unique, from the standard ocean view rooms, which feature a shared deck, to the small bungalows that dot the lower north side of the property, to the spacious deluxe ocean view rooms, to off-property luxury suites with hot tubs.
The golf course itself is stunning. It’s an Ole Hervilla designed course from 1957. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because Ole isn’t a renowned golf architect – he’s the founder of the Little River Inn, and the grandfather of the current general manager and owner. After watching Arnold Palmer on television one day in the 1950s, he decided his hotel needed a golf course to draw more visitors. And after receiving quotes from three pricey experts, he decided to do it himself – as he used to say, their high prices made a golf architect out of him.
The 5,458 yard course is surrounded by trees and nature on all sides, and features stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of only a handful of Audubon-certified courses in the country as well, so don’t be surprised to see blue herons, osprey, or deer calling the course home. The Audubon certification is reflective of the overall ethos of stewardship the family owners hold dear, and means the course adheres to best practices in the areas of wildlife habitat management, water quality, water conservation, chemical use reduction, and educational outreach.