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Coastal Mendocino: Gualala and Point Arena

By Heather Irwin

At the far southern reaches of Mendocino’s rocky coastline, quiet outposts like Gualala and Point Arena, California are a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Curl up with a good book in front of a roaring fire, snuggle up under the blankets and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing outside.

For hundreds of years, the jagged coastline of Mendocino was all but ignored by European ships traveling to points north and south. The boulder and rock-strewn beaches were less than welcoming and tiny coves—called dog holes because they were so narrow and treacherous—had little appeal. That is, until the mid-century California Gold Rush changed everything. Though little gold was found in Mendocino’s the coastal areas, virgin redwood forests that stretched for miles from inland to coast became nearly as valuable, with thousands of acres felled to build booming California towns like San Francisco.

Point Arena, Mendocino County, CAToday, what remains of the forests are, in part, being preserved as natural recreation areas. Towns like Point Arena and Gualala (pronounced wa-La-la by locals) that once bustled with fishermen and loggers are now quieter, quainter Victorian villages catering to tourists and day-trippers looking for a remote coastal retreat. Along Route 1, the coastal highway that runs the length of California, you’ll find some of Mendocino county’s best restaurants and inns in the otherwise sleepy towns that dot the coastline.

STAY/EAT: Saint Orres: With soaring onion domes and European styled rooms, this timbered coastal sanctuary is a reflection of the Russian heritage of the area. The Saint Orres compound features a small hotel, eight small cottages and a renowned restaurant featuring Northern California-style cuisine with a focus on fresh, local foods (pheasant, duck, lamb, seafood) and creativity (yam pancakes, porcini fettuccini, orange-jalapeño glaze) from long-time chef Rosemary Campiformio. 36601 Coast Highway One, Gualala, California, 707.884.3303.

Oz Farm: A combination organic farm and retreat, Oz Farm sits on 240 acres of land in the Mendocino valley—far from the hew and cry of daily life elsewhere. Visitors stay in cabins, yurts or geodesic domes—with nightly prices that can be under $100—and can cook, exercise or just hang out in the communal barn. Visitors provide their own cooks and food, but fresh, organic produce is often available from the farm. 41601 Mountain View Road, Point Arena, California, 415.626.8880 for reservations.

EAT: Pangaea Café: Lusty, zaftig, soulful food. This quirky café is owned by a young couple who traveled the world and finally landed in Gualala, determined to open a café that expressed their interest in unpretentious, simple food. Prices range from the mid-$20 range for entrees, so this isn’t a quick-bite sort of stop. Take time to savor items like lavender duck breast or local salmon—though the menu changes often and you won’t likely find the same thing twice. 39165 S. Highway One, Gualala, California, 707.884.9669

DO: Arena Theater: A newly restored Art Deco Theater in Point Arena, the venue shows both first-run movies and hosts live music and other events. 214 Main Street, Point Arena, California, 707.882.FILM (3456) Point Arena Lighthouse: One of the first steel-reinforced lighthouses (the original lighthouse nearly collapsed after the 1906 earthquake), tours of the lighthouse are now available and visitors can stay in one of the lighthouse keepers’ houses. 5500 Lighthouse Road, Point Arena, California, 877.725.4448.

CITYART: A local art gallery featuring primarily local artists from the North Bay. Point Arena, California, 707.882.3616 Bowling Ball Beach: Large boulders have been worn into nearly perfect round “balls” all along this beach. Point Arena, California. If you go: Point Arena and Gualala are coastal towns about 2 hours North of San Francisco. From Santa Rosa (about an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 101), take the River Road exit, about 4 miles north of downtown Santa Rosa. Go west through Guerneville to Jenner. At Jenner, proceed north on Highway 1.

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