THE ghost of Alfred Hitchcock chortled in the backseat of our Toyota Corolla. Location, location, location. After Vertigo landmarks had haunted our steps in San Francisco, now we were hurtling north towards the nightmare nesting ground of another of his movies, The Birds.
All we needed was a stop-off and shower at some run-down motel off the main highway – but that’s another story.
'Time for a detour along the Bohemian Highway – artisan cheese and sourdough, a bizarre retreat for Republican big wigs and our own full moon fire dance among the redwoods'
Our road-trip, up California’s switchback Highway One, had to pass through Bodega Bay, all bloodied beaks and feathers flying in the great director’s 1963 shocker.
You can get to this harbour town in just over an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge via Route 101, but we slipped off on to the scenic route, which took twice as long. The compensation, the mighty Pacific on our left, giant redwoods on our right and a succession of sleepy settlements to sweep through or dawdle in – Muir Beach, with its 16th century English style inn, The Pelican, and Stinson Beach for the surf dudes and nude bathers.
Beyond Port Reyes you hit the long narrow inlet of Tomales Bay, home to oysters in their millions and, appropriately enough, picnic grounds. We’d like to have kept on shucking, but the Birds called.
The Bay itself is instantly recognisable, though there are precious few physical remnants of the film. The Tides restaurant, where folk sheltered from the avian onslaught, has been substantially rebuilt and The Birds Cafe is simply trading on the myth.
The movie’s most iconic location is still around, but is actually seven miles up the road in the inland settlement of Bodega. The Potter Schoolhouse, now in private hands, looks eerily the same as when Tipi Hendren led her school charges to safety from the swooping feathered predators. She had similar problems with Hitchcock himself apparently – he had a penchant for preying upon his cool blonde leads, if we are to believe recent biopics.
It is a remarkably beautiful coastal town. The term 'hang loose' could have been invented for it. Old hippies and floral New Agers meet clapboard and cliffs. The Cannabis Medical Resource Center is along theroad from Virgil's Vittles – DIY Dog Biscuits.
Of course, somewhere so small scale visually perfect has its own film baggage. Those of you who look forward to mornings with ITV3 will recognise Mendocino moonlighting as Cabot Cove, Maine, in “Murder She Wrote”. Running originally between 1984 and 1996, the series starred (as super sleuth Jessica Fletcher) Angela Lansbury, Now 88, she gained a belated Damehood in the current New Year’s Honours List – for a career in which Murder is a mere enjoyable footnote.
Blair House B&B on LIttle Lake Street stood in as her screen home. The match is perfect The original owner, Elisha Blair, came here with many other settlers from the eastern seaboard, carrying their architectural preferences to this windswept logging outpost as far west as you can get.
Even today, Mendocino town’s year-round population is under 1,000, most of whom seem to be running quirky stores, deli/cafes and upmarket B&Bs – the most spectacular being the MacCallum House Inn. We arranged our own lodging via the home stay site, Airbnb.
tFor just over $100 a night we got the upstairs suite of the 1866 Lupe Gordon House. There were no cooking facilities, but the best restaurant in town was a two minute stroll away down leafy School Street. Cafe Beaujolais (right) offered excellent west coast bistro food. We only prised a late 9pm booking, but that was for the best after our enthusiastic participation earlier in a keynote event in Mendocino County’s Mushroom, Wine and Beer Festival. A vast array of morning-picked shrumps was set out in the Ford House Visitor Center, while local volunteers tempted us with fungivore canapes and local Pinot Noir.
There are lots of good places to eat in town, but few bars. We struck lucky with the historic Mendocino Hotel, which served us bottles of Lagunitas IPA from Santa Rosa in a plush, period lounge, even though we weren’t eating – or residents. Elsewhere, we had sat in on an impromptu trad Jewish music session in a folksy music and trinket store, whose gardens were alive with humming birds (right), and explored the town’s fabulous bookshop. We were also cajoled into buying some overpriced artisan chocolate by a pair of wizened bohos – Mendocino life’s rich tapestry (and I’m sure it is home to tapestry makers).
Traces of the recent Hallowe’en were everywhere; pumpkins still squatted on porches, the lingering russet leafscapes as spectacular as New England’s, as we strolled down Main Street’s boardwalks and out on to the ocean-pummeled cliffs, the town’s great glory. There’s a maze of easy paths to explore along the headland and in nearby state parks. Hardcore hikers can tackle the 130 mile Mendocino County Coastal Trail.
Powerful rivers swirl down from the mountains to enter the Pacific – among them the Navarro, south of Mendocino. Leaving Highway One, we took a left at Navarro Beach. The first stretch of the Anderson Valley is dense forest (along the way we stopped off to view the giant redwood trees at Hendy Woods State Park, then entered a landscape of sheep, orchards and, particularly around tiny Philo, vineyards – and, yes, tasting rooms! This is increasingly Pinot Noir country – the new frontier.
The wines of Jason and Molly Drew have drawn huge acclaim after only a decade here. Their ranch holdings are on a vertiginous, cool climate site above the ocean, but their accessible tasting room is just south of Philo on the 128. The real thing, well worth a visit. http://www.drewwines.com.
Wine (and craft beer) would dominate the final stage of our Californian odyssey, visiting the fabled Napa Valley and Sonoma. But, having ditched the ghost of Hitch we were now possessed by some hippy rambling vibe. Time for a detour along the Bohemian Highway – artisan cheese and sourdough, a bizarre retreat for Republican big wigs and our own full moon fire dance among the redwoods. Coming soon. Watch this space...
Also by travel editor Neil Sowerby: Houseboat Heaven In Sausalito and Ten Great Trip Tips For San Francisco.
Virgin from Manchester:
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from Manchester to San Francisco, via Heathrow, and is offering return Economy fares from £689.74 per person. For further information contact www.virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770. This fare is available for selected departures during 2013 and 2014. Prices given are correct as of today and are subject to change.
Airbnb, which sprang out of San Francisco, is perhaps the highest profile of the online private accommodation booking agency. https://www.airbnb.co.uk. We found it a fascinating way to travel on a budget and meet locals. Hoteliers are not so enamoured. In New York they are trying to get this consumer-friendly service banned.
Mendocino tourist information http://www.visitmendocino.com
The town’s history:
Visit the Ford House Visitor Centre, as well as the Kelley House Museum, which is among the oldest of the houses in the Mendocino Preservation District, and was owned by one of the original lumber mill owners. http://www.mendocinoheritage.org
For more about Bodega Bay links with Hitchcock visit this link.
Manchester Airport parking:
Neil Sowerby left his car park in T3 Long Stay. Here are all the options:
VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.
Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.
Multi-storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.
Long stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
JetParks – low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day.
Visit this link.
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