California Bear

Swingers and Sunsets: Sonoma Coast’s Timber Cove Is a Lodge With a Storied Past

First, the location. It’s up there. Not as far as Mendocino, but at least a couple hours drive north of San Francisco. Not that distance has ever deterred us from choosing a proper destination … in fact, the more secluded and off the beaten path the better … but I can see why the less patient traveler might be prematurely distracted by the sparklier and somewhat easier to reach wine retreats of Sonoma and Napa. Technically, this is Sonoma County—the coastal part north of the small town of Jenner near where the Russian River spills out into the sea—but given it’s wedged location between the Pacific and a whole lot of rolling hills and countryside, you might never uncover it between blurry chardonnay and pinot tastings.

Then there’s the (allegedly) salacious past. Though we have no actual witness to these said happenings other than some fireside gossip, the lodge itself was quite the swinging pad in the ’60s and ’70s. Shag carpet, a roaring fireplace, fondue, some frisky locals … you get the picture. Oh to be a fly on that avocado-hued, floral wallpaper back then.

The good news? The shag carpet has mercifully been removed. Even better? Timber Cove has been lovingly renovated to new glory, adding a slew of modern touches while preserving some of its groovy roots. Think Joni Mitchell on a turntable while sipping a progressive bourbon cocktail. There’s still a fireplace, but it’s probably seen hotter times. Now it provides a backdrop for a handsome lobby bar with an equally handsome bartender with tidy scruff. Again, not complaining.

The building itself has a noteworthy pedigree. Architect and original owner Richard Clements Jr., who found inspiration in Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style, built it in 1963. The A-frame structure incorporated redwood and stone materials to help blend in with the natural surroundings. The area, and lodge itself, was frequented by other local luminaries of the day, including photographer Ansel Adams. I wonder if he burned the negatives.

Despite the design overhaul, the vast majority of the property looks much like it did when it was first built. The rooms are spacious and elegantly rustic, like the best overnight camp ever. Many overlook the ocean, much like the giant obelisk “Peace Statue Monument,” that hovers over the cliffs like a towering beacon. Apparently the artist, Beniamino Bufano, was none too happy that the “hand” at the perch was lowered on to the statue facing the wrong direction. Talk about a slap in the face.

These “flaws” actually add to the charm of Timber Cove. It’s not trying too hard, and that’s what we love about it. Yes, the in-house restaurant, Coast Kitchen, was designed by hot, trendy designers the Novogratzes, yet all with subdued simplicity that takes a backseat to the very tasty, locally inspired menu offerings (Dungeness crab beignets, buttermilk brined quail and fresh house made Cavatelli pasta are all epic). And yes, that’s a vintage Life magazine on the coffee table next to a pair of binoculars for leisurely guest use. I’m sure they’re meant to observe the flora and fauna outside the balcony window. But if all those rumors of the lodge’s salty past are true, let’s hope they’re used, on occasion, to spy on guests in neighboring rooms. A little innocent voyeurism seems natural here.


RATES: $250-$740 for a standard room.


WHEN TO GO: For the best weather, aim for summer and fall. The off-season can be iffy on the sunshine, but you can bet on good rates.

BEST AIRPORT: You can fly into Santa Rosa for a quick commute, or OAK or SFO with a few hours drive up the coast. We recommend renting a car or driving in to maximize the experience.

WHAT’S NEARBY: Jenner has some great cliffside restaurants, like River’s End right on Highway 1. If you’re in a tasting mood, head up the hill to Fort Ross Vineyards, a secluded spot with forest views and some delicious estate wines.

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