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History of Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove is located 40 miles north of Mendocino and 250 miles north of San Francisco and an hour's drive west of Garberville, CA. (although it is just 25 miles of winding road). It is so worth the time it takes to drive here. The views are truly breathtaking as far as your eyes can see both north and south.

The Cove Restaurant.

The Cove Restaurant was a “bohemian” kind of restaurant, I must say. It was appealing in its ambiance and delectable dishes, which is fortunate, because often it was the only place to go out for dinner. Since it was the only place to dine, it was also crowded. We went once, I recall, and had to wait an hour just to be served our drinks and have our order taken. Well, where else did we have to go on that rainy evening? We were in no hurry, but you are sort of at their mercy. The restaurant is an A-frame shape with a winding staircase inside. They provide fresh seafood and live music (on the weekends).

Since there were only one (or sometimes two, depending on the season) restaurants operating at any one time in Shelter Cove, we used to pack much of our own food and bring it with us. We also shopped at the (very) small general store in town. The market sells yummy hoagies and potato salad, coleslaw, etc along with T-shirts, postcards and some jewelry. For fun, we pinned one of our business cards up on the bulletin board outside the door to the market. When we came back about 8 months later, sure enough the business card was still there, faded and curled, but still there. Shelter Cove has at least two pay phones, believe it or not. Cell phone use here is somewhat limited because of its remote location.


I have witnessed much of the extreme weather conditions that Shelter Cove has to offer. True enough, there can be warm, sunny days. We have also experienced ghastly weather, blowing, storming, drenching us to the bone, being typical of northern California coastal climates during the winter months.

The history of the Shelter Cove area.

I think one of the reasons the area has remained fairly small and unspoiled is the fact it is work to get to. There is basically one way in and one way out by road. The route into Shelter Cove is through the bustling burg of Garberville, off of 101. This is a scenic winding road that takes you down through Whitethorn. We once had a car and drove through the roads here. It is a beautiful drive with giant redwood trees on either side of the narrow two lane highway. The fragrant scent of pine trees reaches your nostrils and I couldn't help but think of Christmas trees while taking in deep breaths of fresh, cool air.

The big plane crash.

The town of Shelter Cove is an area, which had planned, we were told, to undergo a major development operation back in the 1960's. The developers and architects had come in with their maps and plans, laid the roadways and sewer system for housing developments, even began building second getaway homes for the wealthy and retired, when it all came to a sudden end. Tragically, in 1971, something went very wrong during their take-off and at the end of the runway, their DC-3 crashed into the ocean and killed 17 people on board. When we drove around one evening, it struck me as very eerie to see street after street and cul-de-sacs leading nowhere, empty except for the weeds and overgrowth now popping through the asphalt, now reclaiming the land that had once been sought for home development.

The fishing village.

We watched, fascinated as old and young salty dogs cleaned the fish they had caught that day with skilled hands that made it look so easy. Near the boat launch ramp, is an old repair garage. Behind that are a couple of rusty tractors and several small ancient boats that I doubt will ever be seaworthy again. (You can also hire boats to go out with an experienced fisherman.)

The nature and the beaches.

One of our absolute favorite things to do when we spend time in Shelter Cove is to take long walks. We always bring our camera too. Wildlife abounds here. The beaches have black sand. You can always count on seeing seals, walruses, and we even witnessed deer walking along the runway at dusk more than once. We also liked renting bikes to explore the area.

There are many large homes that stand empty for months during the year, because they function as second homes for their owners. The last time we visited, Shelter Cove still retained that small town charm, to be sure, but there had been changes since the first time I'd visited back way in 1991. There is now a small coffee shop (a Starbucks clone) that rents DVD's and videos; more real estate offices are popping up as well. The town pulled together recently and renovated the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse too, which is very pretty. The changes that are taking place are positive ones, and although I am glad for the local folks, I can’t help but be a little sad because that sleepy little town is now a busier place. Maybe all of those empty streets will one day be filled with new homes too.

Mario Machi.

First Man of Shelter Cove. Mario Machi and his two brothers came to Shelter Cove in the 1930's when they were eager young fishermen. They promoted business here because they rented out rooms and fishing boats. We had the pleasure to meet Mario a few times before he passed away in 1998. He was always out and about and always had a friendly greeting and smile for everyone. You'd swear he remembered you too. He even wrote a short book about the area he loved so much (“The Gem of the Lost Coast”) and we bought a copy.

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