California Coastal City of Point Arena
Mouth of the Garcia River from Lighthouse Trail
California Coastal City of Point Arena
Sinkhole with arch, Island Trail
Point Arena-Stornetta Unit, Mendocino County, California
Story by Donna B. Ulrich
Photos by Larry Ulrich
Point Arena is a quiet town that does not pretend to be anything more than what it is. What you find in this sleepy northern California town are beautiful ocean views and people who love it the way it is. Here, historic and quaint is what you get. No box stores, no huge groceries full of fancy food; just mom and pop stores and hometown service.
The beauty of the Point Arena landscape centers on the ocean. Take a hike! As photographers, one of our favorite places is Bowling Ball Beach, where, during a low tide, incredible sandstone concretions bigger than beach balls are lined up as though in a bowling alley. To find the trail, look for the trailhead sign for Schooner Gulch and a sign that says “Park facing south only” about 3 miles south of town; it is a short hike from there. Manchester Beach State Park has 760 acres of beach, sand dunes and grasslands along with a campground.
If walking the beach, touring the lighthouse or discovering the California Coastal National Monument gets to be tiring, go back to town and check out the farmer’s market from June to October. Browse the eclectic shops and galleries, check out the Arena Theater. Or go to the south end of town, right off Highway 1, and visit the Point Arena Tileworks. Owner and artist Matt Matijczyk will show you his hand made tiles, ranging from 4 or 6 inch tiles to entire murals and 3D shells.
Staying in Point Arena means immersing yourself in history. The old Coast Guard Historic Inn and the Wharf Masters Inn are both unassuming but well maintained—and with ocean views. Other accommodations are all snuggled in town with comfort in mind. Perhaps the most interesting lodging can be found at the Point Arena Lighthouse, originally built in1870! Accommodations feature four keeper homes & one keeper’s room, all pet friendly. We haven’t stayed there but the reviews state that rooms are “homey, magical and well maintained.” Even if you don’t stay there, the tour to the top of the lighthouse is one of the best views on the coast.
Of course a visit to the coast is incomplete without seafood. Wander down to the pier and find The Pier Chowder House and Tap Room, where beer lovers can get satisfied. Home-style comfort food prepared by a mother-daughter duo is the Rollerville Café, located at the turn to the lighthouse and Pt. Arena/Stornetta lands. Because Point Arena is the westernmost point of populated California, the sign there says ‘Last café till Hawaii.’ The Pacific Plate is a gluten free, locally sourced restaurant that had opened recently. Cozy diners, coffee houses and pizza joints round out the fare. Since Point Arena is not a big town, these places are easy to find.
Although Point Arena is the closest town to the new National Monument, several other communities hug the scenic Highway 1 nearby. Within 20 miles are accommodations and eateries equally appealing as those in Point Arena. Gualala, to the south, and Elk, to the north (and several others in between!) have enough coastal charm to satisfy any traveler’s needs. From the fun and funky to the exclusive and classy, there is something for everyone. Gualala, the largest of these towns, is nestled along the mouth of the river by the same name. Full service markets, hardware stores and numerous galleries line the main streets.
The town of Elk, though smaller than Point Arena (it takes less than two minutes to drive through) has a four fine B & B’s with ocean views of the stunning seastacks just offshore. Greenwood Cove, south of Elk, has easy public access and is strewn with driftwood tossed ashore by forceful winter storms.
The scenic, culinary and comfortable attractions surrounding the new California Coastal Monument are well worth the windy roads that access them. This is a perfect place to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and just want to get-aways.
Read more about the efforts to preserve this area!