Mar Vista Cottages

at Anchor Bay

Mar Vista Cottages

Napa Valley Register

Family vacations minus the mental breakdown
Monday, May 16, 2005

Register Correspondent

The seagulls that occasionally circle overhead and the tidal rise and fall of the Napa River are daily reminders here of our proximity to one of the planet's most soul-satisfying destinations: the seacoast.

For most of my adult life weekends at the coast were all ooh-la-la romantic getaways. It took some heavy-duty grinding of gears in my noggin to get onboard with the coastal overnight experience with kids -- replacing low-lighting and cabernet at Cafe Beaujolais with preschoolers shouting the lyrics of "Miss Mary Mack" through mouths half-filled with yogurt.

Is it possible to head for the seaside with little ones and not feel ground to sand by the time you return? As it turns out, yes.

Mar Vista Cottages

Anchor Bay is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it village a few miles north of Gualala, which is to say it's about 40 minutes south of Mendocino and light years from the racket and crankiness of everyday life.

Mar Vista, set back from Highway 1 in Anchor Bay, is made up of 12 butter-yellow 1930s-era cottages arranged in a horseshoe. In the center is an abundant organic garden. As a guest, the garden is all yours and it's a grazer's paradise.

On our first evening we dug purple potatoes from humid earth and hay, pulled a fat leek and snipped spicy greens for a salad. Back in our two-bedroom cottage we chopped, diced and threw the fresh ingredients in a hot pan with chicken sausage. Combine that with the tasty garden foliage and we had a rustic feast. Fresh strawberries made a lip-smacking dessert. For the kids, the big bonus in all this had been getting their hands dirty in the garden and unearthing a few thick, hale worms in the process (which did not make it to the table).

Before dinner though, the kids had experienced a moment of disorientation looking around the cottage: "Mommy, where's the TV?"

Katy pretended to look around and then pointed out the window, overlooking the garden, and said, "It's right here. It's on the Garden Channel now." This became a theme throughout our stay. We discovered the Frog Channel in a nearby pond and the Pygmy Goat Channel in a pen 20 feet behind our cottage. We trekked across the road and down the long wooden steps to the beach and found the Ocean Channel. Later Katy and I were quite pleased to discover the Drinking-Cheap-Spanish-Wine-Under-the-Stars-After-the-Kids-are-Asleep Channel.

Simple, serene, uncluttered and dog friendly, Mar Vista is precisely how I've always pictured heaven.

Our three nights there gave two weary parents a chance to relax away from computers and phones, and to see our children with fresh eyes.

It was good to be reminded that our kids are not cartoon creatures, who only want to beat each other up with plastic bats. They're pint-sized people with loads of curiosity about the natural world, who live to climb rocks and pretend to be explorers, and have hearts full of love for goats, chickens, rabbits and all the other critters who live at Mar Vista.

In the end it was much harder to return to the world of cell phones and e-mail than it had been to leave it all behind.

One bedrooms are $140-$205 per night. Two bedrooms run $200-$230. Both have kitchens.For more information, visit