Perched just outside of the northern-most edge of the Sonoma County coast in Mendocino and nestled into craggy bluffs at the mouth of the Gualala River, the peaceful village of Gualala has a uniquely mild micro-climate.
Ocean winds tend to keep the fog offshore, so on days when other coastal areas might be foggy, Gualala often offers sunny skies. That’s why it’s known locally as “the banana belt.”
This part of the world is definitely geared to those who love the outdoors. Pursuits include sport fishing, golf, horseback riding, hiking, flying a kite, wildlife watching, camping, or just sitting on a beautiful beach watching the day unfold or the sun set. In a place this great, you just can’t go wrong.
Here are five fun things to do in Gualala:
Stand Taller than a Redwood Tree
One of the world’s coastal wonders, the Pygmy forest in Salt Point State Park features stands of mature but miniature Bishop pine, Bolander pine, Mendocino cypress — and even petite redwood trees (normally the world’s tallest living things).
Some trees are more than a century old, but they are only a few feet tall. Their stunted growth is caused by the inhospitable combination of highly acidic, nutrient-free soil and a hardpan layer that prevents drainage.
The 3.8-mile Pygmy Forest Trail loop takes you through a mixed evergreen forest, grassy prairies, and (in season) lots of mushrooms and wildflowers on your way to the miniature trees. You can download the park brochure, which includes a park map.
Salt Point State Park, 25050 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-847-3221
Explore the Arts
The Gualala region teems with excellent artists — painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, photographers, writers, glass workers, jewelry makers, potters, and more. Many are former city folks who are happier pursuing art in an environment that fuels creativity.
You can enjoy their work through changing monthly exhibits at the Gualala Arts Center and its Dolphin Gallery. The Center also hosts performances throughout the year that include a chamber music series, jazz, lectures, and theater, as well as five yearly festivals (Whale & Jazz Festival in April/May; the Fine Arts Festival, May; Art in the Redwoods, August; Studio Discovery Tour, September; and the Holiday Festival of Trees in November). Many other events take place at the Center — some are free — so check the calendar to see what’s happening during your visit.
Gualala Arts Center, 46501 Old State Highway, Gualala, 707-884-1138
Gualala also offers several art galleries that are fun to explore.
Hike the Dunes and Coastal Bluffs
With its vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, Gualala Point Regional Park offers the opportunity to stroll beside the Gualala 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.
The park’s Bluff Trail meanders along the cliff edge, affording wonderful views; stop a while at Whale Watch Point to check for passing gray whales. It’s also pleasant walking up-river to the freshwater marsh (or beyond to the redwood grove populated by bristling sword ferns and rhododendrons). You can download the park map.
Gualala Point Regional Park, 42401 Coast Highway 1, Gualala, 707-785-2377
Go Golfing in Scottish Style
Immediately south of Gualala is the world-famous Sea Ranch Golf Links, an 18-hole, 6,649-yard, par 72 Scottish links-style course designed by Robert Muir Graves. He designed two nine-hole courses at the same time, but they were built 22 years apart, which gives the feel of playing two different but equally exciting courses.
Considered one of the premier courses in California, Sea Ranch is both challenging and beautiful. On site are a pro shop, driving range, and putting green; instruction and rental clubs are available, as are pull and electric carts.
Sea Ranch Golf Links, 42000 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2468
Choose your vessel, single/tandem kayak or canoe, and Gualala’s Adventure Rents will shuttle you upriver, help you stow your gear, give you any lessons needed, and then set you free to mosey on downstream at your own speed.
Bring a picnic lunch, because at some point you’ll enjoy pulling onto a gravel bar and kicking back to watch the river move lazily along. Bring a camera, too, because you’ll see lots of birds and other wildlife, not to mention all those happy-looking people doing just what you’re doing.
Adventure Rents, 45450 Pacific Woods Road, Gualala, 888-881-4386
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.