Stanford Inn By The Sea: An Innovative Resort for Relaxation

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Stanford Inn By The Sea
Stanford Inn By The Sea is an innovative resort and spa that overlooks California’s splendid Mendocino Bay and holds the distinction of being the only vegan resort in the country.



Stanford Inn By The Sea is an innovative resort and spa that overlooks California’s splendid Mendocino Bay and holds the distinction of being the only vegan resort in the country. Popular with tourists who are exploring the wonders of the U.S. West Coast, Stanford Inn By The Sea is a vegan eco-resort that proudly works tirelessly to reduce its carbon footprint. Guests love the gorgeous property and the resort is a popular venue for weddings and corporate retreats. The resort offers complimentary mountain bikes to explore the nearby trails and canoes to travel up the Big River. The Ravens Restaurant serves acclaimed vegan cuisine including a complimentary plant-based breakfast daily. Rustic wood-burning fireplaces and private balconies with spectacular views are standard features in many of the rooms. There is both an organic garden and a saltwater solarium pool on the grounds. Activities include a massage in the forest and an array of “Art Play” workshops, cooking, and gardening classes via The Mendocino Center for Living Well which is onsite.

Founder Jeff Stanford recently discussed the inn via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in vegan lifestyles and what led you to start your own resort?

Jeff Stanford (JS): Somewhat of a long story: We began the inn through a purchase of a redwood motel – Big River Lodge. Our desire was to create a business much like an iconic family farm, where we lived, worked, raised our children and that would form the basis of our relationships within a small community. Nearly five years in, I injured my hip. I could only sit and used a chair as a walker. Joan had our two young children, 4 and 2 years old, and me to take care of. One evening, while she was preparing chicken tarragon, I was thinking about the chicken and realized that I would never kill a chicken to eat it and understanding fully that to ask someone to do something that I would never do (as opposed to would do if capable or trained) was unethical, I made a decision to no longer eat animals.

That same year, we decided to discontinue the use of pesticides and herbicides and re-create a farm that had been on the land during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The farm was locally known as the China Gardens because they were maintained by Chinese immigrants who lived in Mendocino Village. The farm was comprised of several small truck gardens near a source of water – a spring that had been dammed, forming a pond. Surface water is rare along the Coast and this property had abundant water.

Following the establishment of our farm, we began selling produce and applied for and was granted the status of California Certified Organic. We continued to improve the inn and selected sustainable lumber, paints, and other materials for our improvement efforts.

MM: Had you had any experience with your hospitality field before establishing Stanford?

JS: We had been given the opportunity to operate a small motel in Carmel in 1975 during a growing economic crisis. We wanted to live on the West Coast of North America, which this opportunity provided. The motel needed work, and we began paneling and painting it’s ten rooms, re-establishing the gardens, and other improvements from the cash flow. We became an owner through a partnership. With the help of other Carmel innkeepers, we established a continental breakfast and then had the idea, novel at the time, to provide decanted wine to each room as well as in the small reception area (to make the wine available to anyone off the street so that it was not a “condition of sale” and did not violate the liquor law. In the meantime, we were discovered by the author of “Country Inns and Back Roads” who was expanding coverage to the West Coast. At that time there were only 10 bed and breakfast inns in the State. The publicity was enormously helpful. The partnership fell apart and we moved on.

MM: How did you raise awareness of the resort and build up a clientele?

Stanford Inn By The SeaJS: Our guests became involved in our lives. For our first eight years we lived in two units in the center of the original building, where we expanded onto the walkway to create a reception and buffet breakfast area. We would not have been able to afford the purchase of this property if it had not been for our willingness to live and work in a total of 700 square feet and the help of the former owners who loaned us part of the down payment because they believed in us (and we were willing to pay their asking price), and our family and friends with major help with the remainder of the down payment.

Guests saw us continually as well as Alex who was born 6 months after we took over the Inn and Kate 22 months later. They got to know us and we them. We were constantly improving the property and each time a guest returned we provided them more experiences and enhanced amenities. Guests also loved the property. We first began landscaping around the building and then farming the remainder of the land rather than landscaping.

Our first year we sent out a Christmas Card to our guests. We have continued to do so, however, most are by email. The card featured original art by Alex and Kate which we collected and now we will be switching to our grand kids’ art. We believe that our guests talked about their experiences here because we tracked guest sources and most were either returning or friends of those who had recommended us.

MM: This venue is pet-friendly, so what are some of the most memorable animals you’ve housed?

JS: The day we took over, we accepted pets. Most remarkable are tortoises, iguanas, rabbits, hairless cats, a horse in one of our small pastures, and parrots.

MM: You offer an array of art classes and are a certified art therapist! How did you get into that and what do people take away from these classes?

JS: I’ll let Joan answer this one!

Joan: What I offer guests are “Creative Playshops” – opportunities to play with art materials without judgement or at least recognizing when self-criticism gets in the way. Through this creative experience, I help (re)connect them to the playful child who is curious and excited (i.e. before they begin to compare and self-criticize). I got into this as a way of expressing myself with visual images rather than just words. What I want people to discover is that they have inborn ability to create. As one participant just wrote me, “I found myself smiling and feeling so free. I love the openness of expression, the color – the purple really spoke to me. The color makes me happy. It is lovely to feel alive and young.”

MM: You also offer unique services like massages in the forest. How did you come up with that idea?

JS: We offer massage, creating Massage in the Forest, when a Thai sociologist and massage therapist came to us in 1990 to suggest that she provide in-room massage. We had not thought of massage for guests of a bed and breakfast inn. We gave her idea a try and guests loved it. Eventually we had to build a studio by combining outbuildings. Our first therapist and originator of the program retired 20 year later and we have continued her work by contracting with other therapists.

MM: You are near the mountains, three forest, and a large river, and you also have a beautiful garden. What kinds of wildlife can guests expect to see?

JS: Commonly seen are deer, raccoons, wild ducks, ravens (lots of them), a variety of songbirds – some rare and last week our first sighting of a small flock of Eurasian pigeons. Less often seen, but smelled, are skunks. There are also ground squirrels and silver fox who raise their kits here. On rare occasion we have bears visit trash. Those who go up the Big River Estuary see harbor seals, kingfishers, great blue herons, river otters, Canadian geese, a variety of wild ducks.

MM: You’re the only vegan resort in America. How important is the culinary aspect to your services and can you tell us a bit about the cooking classes that you offer?

JS: Vegan is a philosophy, an ethic, that guides our decisions. Vegan does not mean eating well and is not necessarily healthy. I, Jeff, was a vegan hotdog, Coconut Bliss vegan which was not healthy. When I realized that we evolved on predominately whole plants – their leaves, tubers, fruits, and flowers, I recognized that we needed to change the menu in our restaurant to predominately whole plants and personally, rather than ersatz meats, cheeses, and other vegan processed food, whole plant foods as well. Today our menus are centered on whole food entrees – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Plant-based diets are a powerful force. A recently published title of a study says it all: Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century. If you read it, you’ll notice that its principle authors are associated with Impossible Foods. PLOS explicitly provides a record of peer reviews and revisions. 

We call ourselves an eco-lodge or eco-resort not on the basis of materials used as described above, but solely on the impact of our plant-based menu. Here’s a summary of some of the benefits

  • 9% to 12% of the energy that a cow consumes is turned to methane and nitrous oxide that he or she releases either through flatulence or burping. Methane traps up to 25 times more heat and nitrous oxide 290 times more than CO2. Animal production accounts for 9% of our COemissions, 37% of our methane and 65% of our nitrous oxide. Methane alone is expected to contribute between 15 and 17% to global warming over the next half century. In the last 200 years CO2has increased by 30% while methane has increased 100%. According to the EPA, 20% of methane emissions are from intestinal fermentation and another 7% from manure.
  • 70% of the United States and 30% of the planet’s total grain production is allocated to cattle feed and nearly 1.25 billion cattle occupy 24% of the planet’s land mass.  Land animals raised for food account for 20% of the entire animal biomass on the planet
  • We can reclaim 85% of our forest lands by converting to plant-based food economy
  • A 60,000-chicken egg-factory produces 82 tons of manure per week; 2,000 pigs create 27 tons of manure and 32 tons of urine per week. Male chicks are simply destroyed which would end.
  • Animals produced for consumption in the US produce ten times more manure than that produced by the earth’s entire human population – 2,000,000,000 tons. Much of this is washed into rivers.
  • The oceans can recover from drag netting which kills millions of fish and mammals not used for food and damages coral reefs
  • Our cooking classes are fun and provide tasting opportunities and can turn into lunch or an early dinner. There are four basic themes:
  • Beginning Plant Based Cooking – Basics of whole plant-based cooking including knife skills, cooking techniques, and plant substitutions. Classes includes printed recipes for everyday meals
  • Plant-based Cheese – What you can do with a bit of seaweed and nuts.
  • Plant based Sauces, Dips & Dressings – Turn any meal into a culinary experience with sauces, dips and dressings bursting with flavor.
  • Entrees to Soup – Create an entrée from the raw materials to plating or, perhaps, a soup. Guided experience in cooking

MM: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten about your resort?

Stanford Inn By The SeaJS: Joan and I agree that one of the first responses we had from a guest was “Thank you for providing this space. We felt something here – we felt at home and cared for. We felt a purpose in our lives.” We can hardly take credit for this or similar comments. But they are describing is what we discovered here – hard to define, but purpose and affirmative. Other comments we discussed are ones you may have heard before:

This is our home away from home. Thank you for all you do.

“Thank you. We know that you have put your hearts and souls into the Inn. We can feel it.”

“We love the gardens; they welcome us.”

“Thank you for what you do for us and your community. Don’t stop!”

That’s five. These and others are significant for us and deeply appreciated.

MM: What’s the best part about working in the hotel industry?

JS: Being of service to our guests. We love hearing that they have taken something home with them – a feeling, a deeper appreciation, sometimes simply greater understanding of one another. Small miracles happen here.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

JS: We would like to increase the participation in our field school for a sustainable mindset which we have operated for about ten years. We hold sessions during the summer for undergraduates and students in graduate programs. We would like to open a Stanford Inn south of San Francisco – although it will not necessarily be situated along a river as is this Inn which provides canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding. Part of today’s Inn is providing outdoor activities including kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, hands on garden classes – get your hands in the dirt!