Wherever you decide to stay, a drive along the northern California coast is visually breathtaking, and if you find a comfortable inn to lay your head, and they serve fabulous food, so much the better. The Benbow Historic Inn is just such a place. It is also as interesting an auberge as you will find anywhere along the scenic Redwood Highway — and the food is great!
We reached exit 636 on highway 101 at 3pm and at the onset of a downpour. The Inn appeared within seconds of leaving the freeway. It was a welcome sight, sitting on a hillside surrounded by a crown of the deepest green trees. If we didn’t know we were in California, we could be convinced we were in England.
First open to the public in July 1926, this historic Tudor style hotel elicits old world charm inside and out.
In a place where private bi-planes parked to disembark the elite of Hollywood’s past there’s now an extensive parking area for guests and visitors to the Inn.
The list of Golden Age screen icons that frequented the Inn includes Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Charles Laughton, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Fontaine (honeymooned twice), and Basil Rathbone. Dignitaries included Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and more recently the King of Jordan, as well as entertainers Danny Glover, Matt Leblanc, and Cher.
There was an extensive renovation and improvement project completed in 2018, and all the changes have a sense of place and fit well into the original structure.
Note for those who have not visited the Benbow of late: Further to adding space and upgrades, the new addition has made the Inn ADA compliant. Also, an elevator has been installed – blissfully ending 9 decades of hand carrying luggage up several flights of stairs.
It’s easy to see why the old Hollywood crowd, and the motoring public traveling on the new Redwood Highway in 1926, enjoyed the Inn – the relaxation. Originally, 1290 acres of pristine wilderness provided opportunities to horseback ride, hike, bicycle, swim, boat, fish, lounge in a garden setting, and commune with nature. Almost 100 years later, much of the attraction remains.
There’s now a 9-hole golf course; the lake is gone, but the Eel River still flows gently along the Inn and under the old stone bridge. The scene is still peaceful and serene.
A cozy fireplace warms the upper lobby room, which is conducive to a friendly conversation, reading, game of chess, cards, or just relaxing.
The bar menu is inviting and Wayne’s special request for a grilled cheese sandwich and Caesar salad rendered an appetizing meal, artfully presented.
Judy delighted in a kale and farro salad embellished with, butternut squash, candied figs, caramelized onion, cotija cheese, toasted pepitas, and topped with a maple vinaigrette.
The Inn’s deep and diverse wine list of over 450 selections has earned the Inn several years of Wine Spectator Excellence Awards.
The dining room
“Delicious foods are enhanced by scene and spirits.” Surrounded by elegant wooden muntin framed windows, the dining room at the Benbow Historic Inn has a decidedly British panache that demonstrates the designer’s refined taste in old-world décor. The experience is like dining in a fashionable English country house.
Our morning meal consisted of eggs, delicious sausage, and the absolutely best crushed potatoes imaginable. The chef revealed, “The secret is to boil the full skin potatoes, fry them crisp, lightly pepper and gently crush.” Delightful!
A country lodging
If you enjoy being in a place with history, step across the threshold of time to a golden age where luxury was expected, and attention to fine dining and personal details was always the order of the day.
The erstwhile glamour and sophistication are still there in the northern California forest – at the Benbow Inn. In 1983, the Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places – kudos to the selection committee.
Other things to consider
In 2018, Historic Hotels of America bestowed the Best Small Historic Inns Award (under 75 guestrooms) on the Benbow Inn.
The Inn is an excellent venue for a corporate retreat or wedding for up to 225 guests.
Electric car aficionados: In these parts, it’s a long way between charges, and Benbow Inn has charging stations!
In our fast-paced world, any opportunity to get away from it all, even for a short while, can do wonders to re-energize our lives. The Benbow Historic Inn offers its own special magic from another time and place.
So, choose from a range of guestroom types to suit your taste, soak in the refined ambiance, and enjoy a getaway at the Inn.
For more information
The Benbow Historic Inn has an excellent website that provides everything you need to know.
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The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.
Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff – Vintage photos courtesy of Benbow Historic Inn. Fake ghost image by Wayne Bayliff