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A West Coast Wonder

Article by Brianna Melanson

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Franklin Lifestyle

Northern California is home to many stunning lodging options, but nothing as rare as The Stanford Inn by the Sea. Jeff and Joan Stanford own and operate the 4-star resort overlooking Mendocino Bay.

42 years ago when they bought the property, it was just a motel with the furniture bolted to the floors. Eventually, they were able to double their square footage and own the land all the way down to the ocean. They’re honored to be the only luxury vegan resort in North America and strive to reduce their carbon footprint with their sustainable programs.

Being a vegan resort was not Jeff’s original intention. In 1985, when he was being cooked chicken for dinner, something changed within him that made him realize he could never hurt a chicken. His family followed his lead. He extensively studied the science of nutrition and how what you put in your body matters.

Rather than traditional landscaping, they decided to build a certified organic vegetable garden that provides the produce for their fine dining restaurant, Ravens. The successful biointensive gardening technique they used was based on a book by John Jeavons, who they eventually partnered with to teach it to farmers around the globe.

Guests are able to experience fresh cuisine all day that they won’t believe is plant-based. Everything is made-to-order and they don’t fry anything or add oil to bring up the richness. Jeff says, “We can add nut cheese to our evening enchilada, but you don’t need it since there’s so much flavor in what we do.”

To complement the meal, order from the thoughtfully curated vegan wine list by their Director of Wine, Brendan McGuigan. The majority of the wines come from vineyards in the region and are free from any harmful chemicals.

The Sea Palm & Root Vegetable Strudel is one of the most popular items on the menu, a recipe that hasn’t changed for 22 years, and has been featured on television and internationally. Jeff says, “We make a umi plum raspberry sauce and true wasabi to go with it, but we keep it mild and serve it with stir-braised vegetables. I like how we’re able to present locally harvested sea palm. It turns out that sea vegetables are some of the best things for humans to eat.” In the morning, savor a homemade scone or the Portobello Benedict.

Guests will love the variety of activities and spa treatments offered at the wellness center. They can take gardening and yoga classes or one of Joan’s therapeutic art classes. Jeff exclaims, “They get an hour and a half to play with art and come out looking radiant.”

Bikes are available to ride into the historic town or redwood outrigger canoes will take visitors up the Big River. Jeff says, “This is one of the last undeveloped estuaries along the coast of California or anywhere else.”

When the winter rain arrives, guests can make their way to the greenhouse and enjoy the sauna or take a dip in the heated saltwater pool. The serenity of the area leaves a lasting impression. Jeff says, “We want them to come here and have an experience that adds to their lives.”

Dog owners themselves, Jeff and Joan welcome pets to the 10-acre resort, so the whole family can enjoy a vacation. And if road tripping in an electric vehicle, visitors can take advantage of the nine EV chargers on the property. Reconnect with nature and
your loved ones at The Stanford Inn.


Owners Jeff and Joan Stanford moved to California from Kansas City with the dream to build a meaningful life with their family on the west coast. In September 1980, they bought what was once the Big River Lodge on a beautiful hill in Mendocino County. Together they created the now Stanford Inn & Resort, renowned for their sustainable practices and being the only vegan resort in North America. Jeff, whose background is in anthropology, is a Reverend and vegan head chef for the Inn’s Ravens Restaurant. Joan is a registered Art Therapist who now conducts art classes for guests.

  • Jeff and Joan Stanford