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Gualala - Little Pacific Coast Village

The town of Gualala hugs the coastline on Sonoma County's northern border.

Nestled into craggy bluffs at the junction of the Gualala River and the Pacific Ocean in Northern California, the town of Gualala offers gorgeous ocean views and sunsets. Osprey, herons. and shorebirds abound. Whales travel up and down the coast so close to shore that there’s a spit of land known by locals as Whale Watch Point. 

For a little village smack in the middle of nowhere, Gualala — once the West Coast’s lumber capital — has an amazing amount of good things going on. 

And the Gualala River doesn’t just flow out to meet the ocean the way other rivers do. No sir.

Just before this river hits the Pacific it takes a very sharp right-hand turn and continues merrily on, defying reason by flowing south to north, until it joins the sea a quarter-mile or so later.

If you’re here in summer, when a sand spit forms at the river’s mouth, you’ll be able to walk right up to the meeting point of river and sea. 

Gualala Point Regional Park (42401 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2377), with its vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, allows you an opportunity to stroll beside the river as it travels seaward. As you walk you can construct driftwood castles, run up and down sand dunes, hunt for sea glass, collect shells, try your hand at fishing (depending on the season), enjoy the views, or just sit and daydream. 

You might also enjoy walking up-river to the freshwater marsh (or beyond to the redwood grove populated by bristling sword ferns and rhododendrons). 

Gualala also offers a vibrant art scene. The region is thick with talented artists of all types – painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, photographers, and writers. Many have left cities to pursue artistic careers in an environment they consider to be far more amenable to creativity. 

A good place to learn about the art scene here is the Gualala Arts Center (46501 Gualala Road, Gualala, 707-884-1138). It always has an art exhibit going on (usually free), and hosts frequent, genre-crossing musical performances. 

There is also, of course, tremendous access to outdoor fun and recreation here. Go sport fishing, tide pooling, or surfing. Play golf, hop a horse, fly a kite. Rent a kayak and paddle down the river. Take a hike along the Bluff Trail (see photo), with sensational views overlooking the river estuary and extending forever across the ocean. Pack a picnic and find a secluded cove in which to enjoy it. 

As you’d expect, the Gualala area offers plenty of great dining, from venues with elegant surroundings and imaginative cuisine to simple grills and eat-hearty chowder houses. 

And be sure to try locally-produced wines from family-owned Annapolis Winery (26055 Soda Springs Road, Annapolis, 707-886-5460) while you’re here, or visit the winery itself. It’s tucked away off a remote road about three miles from the ocean, and resembles a real-life Thomas Kincaid cottage. 

One more thing about the Gualala coast that’s pretty irresistible: it’s usually sunny here, because the area lies within a “Banana Belt” in which ocean winds tend to stay offshore, preventing the fog from creeping in.