More travelers than ever want to make their trips as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. Not only do visitors want to leave less of a footprint on the environments they visit, but they’re also more interested than ever in submerging themselves in their destination’s authentic culture.
According to a recent report compiled by Booking.com, 74% of travelers are looking to support sustainable businesses, and many companies are making a quick pivot to offering more environmentally friendly options to guests. Ecotourism is already a $185bn business expected to grow another 15% by 2030.
But hotels, resorts, and Airbnb hosts worried about shifting their business need to look no further than The Standford Inn by the Sea & Resort if they want an example of how to do ecotourism right. Nestled in the heart of Mendocino, California, where rugged cliffs and breathtaking Pacific views meld with historical allure, the Inn shines as a testament to what sustainable, eco-friendly tourism can be.
There’s Something Mystical About Mendocino
The Stanford Inn feels more like a New England bed and breakfast than you imagine when you think of a “vegan resort.”
Mendocino itself is unique: a barely-populated bit of land hugging the Pacific Ocean, barely touched by modernization. The community is remote – a few hours north of San Francisco – and has a long history of attracting artists, hippies, and yuppies looking to go off the grid, if only for a weekend.
Artists started coming to the northern Californian community in the early 1960s. What started as a few painters – artists who Rolling Stone reports worked “in a symbiotic relationship” with antique shops, evolved into a thriving hippie haven. The Mendocino of today doesn’t have the same “freaky” vibe that the community had back in 1970. Still, something about the area draws you in.
“A line of earth energy runs through this property,” Jeff Stanford, one of the owners of Stanford Inn by the Sea, tells Nuvo Magazine. “It’s said to be the same line of energy [sometimes called a ley line] that runs through places like Stonehenge and St. Michael’s Mount.”
Whether or not you believe in ley lines, there is something more than fog and humidity in the air at the Stanford Inn. Pulling into the driveway feels like you’re passing through a vortex or into a protective bubble. For the length of your stay, nothing else matters but whatever you came here to do.
“The Inn/Resort is representative of what one can do, from land use to recreation,” Stanford explains, adding that the energy they discovered in Mendocino helps.
A Stay at The Stanford Inn Is a Stay With The Stanford Family
Besides the gentle, mysterious beauty of Mendcino’s coastline, part of The Stanford Inn’s allure is that you feel like you’re coming home for a visit. Of course, this was the Stanfords’ intention all along.
“Joan [Stanford] fell in love with the redwood forest reaching the cliffs above the Pacific,” Stanford explains, adding that his wife loves how the land is “buffered by cypress and bull pines twisted by onshore winds.”
The couple purchased what was known then as the Big River Lodge over 40 years ago. Expecting their first child at the time, they struggled but found help when they needed it the most. He explained that the previous landowners were looking for a family to take over the operation and were willing to give the growing Stanford family a loan for the down payment. The family still lives on the property today.
But it wasn’t just the original owners who helped. “Guests gave us gifts,” Stanford says, “thanking us for providing a place for them to recharge, rediscover each other; a place where they found renewed or new purpose; [and] for some a place of spirit.”
According to Jeff – often spotted sitting by the Inn’s fire in the lounge, a mug of black coffee in hand – they hadn’t been in the hospitality business long before taking on the Stanford Inn. Even compared to traditional bed-and-breakfasts, it’s hard to find a space and staff more welcoming than the Stanford Inn.
All The Comforts of Home
The main house on the property doubles as reception area and restaurant, with Ravens Restaurant tucked in the back corner of the building. Guests are welcomed with a crackling fire, a smiling face behind the front desk, and a purring cat or two, eager for scratches.
Breakfast is included with your stay, and the concierge takes care of your reservations when you arrive. If you’re also planning on having dinner at Ravens Restaurant, you can make your reservation at check-in — or call later from the phone in your room.
Once you walk through the warm glow of your room’s threshold, you regret ever agreeing you’d leave. Decorated in pine with redwood accents and antique furniture, the room feels more like a tiny cabin tucked in the woods than part of a larger building, let alone a hotel.
Guests enjoy views of the Inn’s many gardens and pastures of rescue animals. When the fog lifts, you can watch a sunset over the Pacific Ocean from your balcony and warm up in front of a wood-burning fire from the comfort of your room. Starter logs are waiting for you in your fireplace; you can find more at various connection points outside the rooms.
They can also soak away their stress in the property’s indoor, plant-surrounded saltwater pool (always heated to 82 degrees) and spa or sweat it out in the dry sauna.
But signs with reminders of how precious resource water is to Mendocino remind guests that where they’re staying is a real place – somewhere their presence leaves a lasting impact.
Ecotourism Is at The Heart of Stanford Inn’s Mission
For Jeff Stanford, “ecotourism” is a simple concept to understand, one he believes is similar to sensitivity training. “When I am insensitive, it is far easier to damage others, animals, the environment,” he explains.
“The greater sensitivity – or better word: awareness – the less damage I do.”
Part of the Inn’s mission is to educate guests to understand why being sensitive to your surroundings is important. This is true not only for the environment but also for northern California’s distinct culture.
“One of our major tasks is to expose not only our guests but our bussers, housekeepers, cooks, and other staff to [the idea of] “living more lightly” and finding joy in doing this,” Jeff says.
You can do this by hiking through the property’s 10 acres of land, canoeing on the Big River – canoes and bicycles are available for rent – or relaxing in an Adirondack chair in the fresh air, many of which are spread out on the Inn’s grounds.
Anyone who answers the phone at the front desk is happy to recommend a hiking trail if you can’t decide where to go or what to do.
You Won’t Miss Meat at Ravens Restaurant
Food is another crucial aspect of sustainable living that The Stanford Inn prioritizes. For that reason, you won’t find any steaks or even eggs on the menu at Raven’s Restaurant.
The Inn/Resort’s transition from vegetarian to vegan pre-pandemic was an ethical decision Stanford follows at home and at work. Tourism’s global carbon footprint increased between 2009 and 2019, making up 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions — four times higher than the number predicted.
However, choosing not to serve animal products isn’t just about animal treatment. A recent study shows vegan diets help reduce wildlife destruction by 66% and water use – a commodity already rare in Mendocino – by 54%.
“Our dietary choices have a big impact on the planet,” Professor Peter Scarborough of Oxford University, author of the study, explains to The Guardian. “Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint.”
A total plant-based meal may sound daunting, but after eating at Ravens, even the biggest meat eater will have a new appreciation for vegan cooking.
To help matters, the Inn has a fully-stocked bar with bottles of wine from local vineyards, many available in the lobby’s gift shop. “Being vegan isn’t about denying yourself things,” explains Sid Garza-Hillman, nutritional consultant and director of Stanford Inn’s Mendocino Center for Living Well. Veganism, at least for Hillman, is about making choices that benefit your total body wellness.
Eating Vegan Supports Wellness
Eating a plant-heavy diet can be beneficial for both mind and body. Scientists have known for years that many plants are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help repair damage and reduce inflammation.
A 2022 medical study found taking in arachidonic acid, a fat found in meat and eggs, leads to increased inflammation and other unnecessary immune responses. Once this inflammation reaches the brain, patients report, “feelings of anxiety, stress, hopelessness, and depression.”
But you’re not going to leave Stanford Inn converted to veganism. At least, that’s not their goal. “We are not selling supplements, special foods, [or] services beyond those we offer as experiences at the Inn. We are not saying ‘don’t eat French fries,’” the front of The Stanford Inn’s newsletter reads. “We are saying nothing other than seek in yourself greater awareness. We create our own vitality and joy and Nature is our refuge. There’s nothing else.”
According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutrition expert Walter Willett, you don’t need to convert to being vegan to reap the health benefits of a plant-based diet. “Diets with modest amounts of dairy and fish, and even some poultry and meat, can also be healthy as long as people steer clear of refined starches and sugar and focus on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains,” he said in a 2019 interview with NPR’s 1A.
Health benefits of plant-heavy and plant-based diets include reduced risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and “overall mortality.”
Stanford Inn by The Sea and Resort’s Full List of Amenities
However, you will leave Standford Inn for a better understanding of, appreciation for, and love of plant-based cooking. From the buckwheat waffles served for breakfast, complete with fresh berry compote, to the hemp and sunflower stuffed Ravens Ravioli, there isn’t a meal on the menu that’s a wrong choice.
Plus, the restaurant keeps in line with northern California’s farm-to-table tradition, with many dishes featuring ingredients grown in the Inn’s gardens. “Throughout our time here, we have south to protect the land, to steward it,” Stanford says. Farming is a long tradition on the Inn’s lands, one that dates back to the 1800s when Chinese farmers operated “China Gardens.”
If you need meat, Patterson’s Pub is less than five minutes away and is open later than Ravens.
The latest you can make a reservation for dinner at Ravens is 7 p.m.
Beyond a healthy, balanced menu, there is a long list of experiences and amenities available to guests at the Inn. These include:
A full-service Chinese Herbal dispensary
Massage and spa treatments
Guided nature walks and mushroom foraging
Access to a complete fitness room
Tai Chi Chuan
EV chargers for guests traveling by electric vehicle
Plus, the Stanford Inn is pet-friendly. Whether you’re on a Route 1 road trip with your four-legged friend or don’t want to leave your fur baby behind on your romantic weekend away, they can come along.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Nicole Tommasulo is a travel writer and editor based in Boston, Massachusetts. For almost a decade, Nicole has been covering the lifestyle beat, writing about mental health, physical health, nutrition, food, travel, and books.
She has an MFA in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design and has been previously published by The List, Explore, MSN, AP, Heels Down Magazine, Hello Giggles, xoJane, Femsplain, and more.
Besides working at Wealth of Geeks, Nicole founded a travel and food magazine, savor+roam. You can follow Nicole on Instagram (@nicoletommasulo or @savor_roam) for more.