We’ve always been drawn to the edge of places, so were delighted to find Shelter Cove, one of the most secluded spots on the West Coast.
It seemed fitting that there’s a granite memorial there, facing out to sea, honoring veterans.
The marker is in a windswept park, and is rather solitary in a community that has less than 1,000 residents.
It’s close to the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, which is a long way from its original home. The lighthouse was an essential beacon in Mendocino, further south, in the late 1800s, but fell into disrepair. It was rescued by history buffs who had it taken apart, and reassembled in a place where it would be protected — on a bluff at the edge of this California cove. The light was transported by helicopter in 1998.
Shelter Cove is so inaccessible that guests are advised to fly here, to a small airstrip that slices through town. (Overhead photos show just how close it is to the edge of the continent.)
“oQ5” is called an airport, but that’s being generous.
We drove hours through redwood forests instead, stunned by the emerald wonderland around us. It was a long, slow trip because one slow vehicle on the winding, two-way road from Highway 101 slows everyone, from the Fedex delivery van to families in SUVs.
Yet the low-speed drive through the King Range National Conservation Area is a good introduction to California’s Lost Coast. There is no reason to hurry in this place, and every reason to linger and appreciate the place where Douglas fir forests meet the ocean.
Yes, there are clear-cuts and burned areas, but they’re quickly forgotten amid giant evergreens and fern-choked forests.
Tourism promoters boast that Shelter Cove is a great place for abalone diving, mushroom hunting, and surfing. We were too weary of urban life (and the long drive) to attempt anything so muscular.
We opened a bottle of California chardonnay, toasted the Pacific from our balcony at ocean’s edge, and watched seals play among the rocks below. Walking along the rocky beach later, we marveled at colorful anemones in tide pools, but didn’t see the deer or elk that innkeepers assured us were common.
It was October, and there were reports of approaching snow.
We lingered at the veterans’ memorial, and decided it was perfectly situated for a quiet moment, to give Americans a place to pause and be grateful for the sacrifice of generations of men and women in far too many wars.
We wished that more veterans and active-duty service members could see the sunset we were enjoying, in peace.
STAY: The Tides Inn has one of the best locations on the entire West Coast, perched at the edge of the Pacific. We slept soundly to the roar of the crashing surf below. We had a basic room with microwave, mini-fridge and basket of snacks provided by the innkeeper. Suites are more modern, with fireplaces. Every room has a spectacular ocean view.
Tides Inn, 59 Surf St., Shelter Cove; 707.986.7900; current rates, $165-$215 (top-floor suite); sheltercoveroceanfrontinn.com.
EAT: Don’t expect fine dining in a place at the edge of the continent. Instead, be grateful for the spectacular view of the Pacific at the Cove Restaurant, and the camaraderie of a neighborhood hangout. A large party celebrating a 60+ birthday was boisterous and friendly, and took the edge off the silence we had enjoyed most of the day. The seafood is mostly deep-fried but the artwork and warmth of the place make it a more likely spot for dinner than the local pizzeria.
Cove Restaurant, dinner only Thurs.-Sun.; 707.986.1197; sheltercoveoceanfrontinn.com.
PLAY: Brave the ocean spray to search tidepools along the edge of the cove, or go north a few miles to find a black sand beach that is unlikely to see bikinis — or anything less than a wetsuit. It’s a popular spot for surfers, especially in winter, when waves grow taller and more fierce.
Our hotel stay was sponsored by the Tides Inn.
Wherever you are on Nov. 11, please pause for a moment to think of war and peace, and all the women and men who sacrificed for our freedom. It’s traditional in countries from Australia to South Africa to have a moment of silence at the eleventh hour on 11.11, in honor of the end of WWI.