Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wet, Windy Jenner

I spent a rainy and windy Sunday and night at the Jenner Inn last week on the Sonoma Coast but it was a wonderful experience because of the hospitality of Richard Murphy, the inn owner. Murphy assembled the property over the course of years by buying ramshackle logging cabins on the Russian River estuary and transforming them into a romantic collection of bed-and-breakfast-style rooms.
Being with a group of friends from the local chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers made the gray, wet skies enjoyable. For the first time, I understood why the adjective "forbidding" is used for this kind of weather. The storm was so harsh that driving was a challenge. Our plans for hiking and kayaking quickly changed. We couldn't kayak the estuary and see the wildlife, disappointing because harbor seal pups are born in March and April, also big birding season.
Still, we braved the storm during a short break and headed out toward Shell Beach, starting at Goat Rock and walking muddy paths lined with wildflowers. Randy Johnson of Getaway Adventures was our guide. The waves swirled and crashed on the rocks and sea stacks. The scenery, even in the misty gloom, was spectacular.
Murphy, who has owned Jenner Inn since the 1970s, recently hired a new chef for the restaurant, focusing on local, organic food. He is realistic about the potential for tourism for Jenner, population 170. He knows it's not a place you stay for a while, unless you love the outdoors. Lots of his guests are out-of-state vacationers driving the California coast on Highway 1, staying a night only.
For northern Californians looking for a weekend getaway, it's a romantic spot that's well situated for exploring the beaches of the Sonoma County coast and simply relaxing by a fire or on a deck overlooking the water.
The inn's historic bar, with its big fireplace and large windows overlooking the highway and estuary beyond, was part of an early 20th century building that was once the general store and post office. There's also a cozy library room stocked with books, comfy sofas and wood-burning stove.
The 21 rooms are spread over a wide area, including up the road a bit (a short walk) in remodeled cabins perched above the water. I stayed in Mystic Landing (see above) with a deck, fireplace, antique furniture and good views that stretched beyond the estuary to the Pacific. I'm already planning a return in better weather for that delayed kayak trip with WaterTreks, a local outfitter run by Suki Waters, a native of the Sonoma Coast (who is part Pomo Indian).