Spa Hopping: Wellness by the Water

Learn how a bare-bones motel became an innovative mind-body center that expands the notion of wellness while serving its community.
Image courtesy of Mendocino Center for Living Well

To motorists making their way up California’s Highway 1, Stanford Inn’s Mendocino Center for Living Well seems little more than an appealing way station — a place to stop and enjoy the scenery and shake off stress. Just across the bay from Mendocino Village in Northern California, the woodsy, ocean-facing property is surrounded by gardens, with llamas and donkeys wandering about and a sign offering bicycles and canoes for rent.

But the simple exterior belies what waits inside: a 10-acre, 41-room, pet-friendly wellness resort with a day spa, yoga studio, acupuncture room, workout room, art studio, organic nurseries, vegan restaurant and workshops geared toward integrating mind, body and soul, with an eye on preserving and protecting the planet and its living creatures.

Mendocino is a natural match for a wellness destination. With its misty backdrop of dense redwood forests, fern-carpeted trails, sandy beaches, craggy coastal bluffs and sun-dappled fog, it boasts a rugged beauty that inspires inner peace and healing. At last count, the town’s population was less than 900, but it swells in peak season, when well-heeled tourists visit to experience its upscale dining, fine local wine and unbeatable scenery.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Love Generation flocked to the area, and today the community hangs on to vestiges of its hippie heritage with a laid-back attitude and a compact downtown dotted with herbalist practices, health-food stores, artists’ co-ops and bookstores. It’s the kind of place that inspires one to shake off city stress, try new things and embark on a fresh path.

Charmed by the beautiful region, Jeff and Joan Stanford bought their Mendocino property back in 1980, when it was a humble, 24-room motel called Big River Lodge. With no experience running a spa or wellness center, the couple learned as they went, following their hearts as they worked to build a sustainable community, enhance their guests’ experiences, protect the environment and respect animals.

Continue reading this story in our January digital edition!