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January 18, 2021
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Get away to the Mendocino Coast

  • Point Arena Light House Photo by Patrick Norton

By: Patrick Norton
November 27, 2020

Once in a while it’s healthy to put everyday reality in the rear-view mirror. Get some separation between yourself and the daily stressors of life. Although, what’s the best way to go about it? The mere thought of air travel spikes the blood pressure. Travel bans, security checks, recycled air; kind of a tough sell right now. Enter the staycation stage left. Staycation officially entered the American lexicon in 2009 and according to Wikipedia is defined as follows. “A staycation, or holistay, is a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within day trip distance of their home and does not require overnight accommodation.” I admit a day trip might not give you enough time to enjoy the sites in Point Arena. So, give yourself a few days to create an extended period of leisure and recreation. Need to unwind? Why not wind-up Highway One and refresh your spirit on the Mendocino coast. 

The drive-up Highway One should drop you right into the present moment. Stunning views from the moment you hit the coast. If the views aren’t enough, something else pleasant happens as you continue northward. Traffic thins out, and things start to feel more spacious as soon as you cross the Mendocino County line. Twenty minutes past the county line you will encounter the small seaside town of Point Arena. Point Arena is a sleepy little town, but that’s exactly the point.  Steeped in history and shrouded in mysterious fog, there are a myriad of beaches and hiking trails to explore. Not only is Point Arena perfect for hiking, diving, sea kayaking, and strolling on the beach, it also serves as a great home base for adventures into the surrounding area. 

The Bokeya Pomo are the indigenous peoples of the area. Originally, their village was located at the mouth of the Garcia River, tucked behind the rocky point that extends nearly a half a mile into the Pacific Ocean. This location allowed them access to hunting, fishing and tidal foraging opportunities. It wasn’t until 1542 that Europeans first arrived. Spanish explorers initially named the point Cabo de Fortunas or Cape of Fortune. The Point was renamed more than once before finally settling into Point Arena, which translates from Spanish to Sand Point.  The point, just South of Manchester State Beach became a natural waypoint for sailors.  The first wooden wharf was built in 1866 and quickly bustled with lumber and agricultural products being loaded onto ships bound for San Francisco. With the increased ship traffic came an uptick in shipwrecks on the coastline prompting the construction of the Point Arena lighthouse in 1870. A beacon of solace for captains and crews, the lighthouse was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and operated until 1977 when newer technology was installed to assist mariners navigating the treacherous point. The lighthouse still stands and is being maintained by a non-profit group, The Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers. Point Arena has had its share of hardships. Surviving not only the 1906 earthquake, but also a devastating fire in 1927 and losing the local pier to storm surges in 1983. Point Arena residents have rebuilt after each natural disaster and take pride in their resiliency. 

The natural beauty of Point Arena is undeniable. The beaches and trails are second to none. On the south side of town, you will encounter Schooner Gulch State Beach, a fine-grained sandy beach with rock outcroppings. Schooner Gulch is a great fishing beach and an excellent place to relax. Adjacent to Schooner Gulch and a short beach comb to the north you will find Bowling Ball Beach. At low tide there is a unique rock formation that looks like bowling balls lined up and ready to roll. The Moat Creek trail, the Pelican bluffs hiking trails and the trails of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands all traverse the gorgeous coastline. Giving hikers a chance to inhale some of the breathtaking landscapes. Sea arches, rock pinnacles, kelp beds, islands and exposed reefs all bear witness as the marine and terrestrial worlds collide in dramatic fashion. Dressing in layers on your outdoor excursions is always a good idea. You never know when the fog will burn off or roll back in for that matter. Don’t forget your camera because photo opportunities are abundant yet fleeting as the light dances in the fog and the sea. 

Point Arena is sprinkled with good eateries. One noteworthy restaurant is Point Arena Pizza. The pizzeria is located at the end of Port Road across from the Point Arena Fishing Pier. Hours have been reduced, so call before you go. Also, know that currently they are offering take out only. That said there are two picnic tables on a rise above the beach just across the parking lot to the south. These are the best seats in the house. There’s something special about stuffing your face with warm gourmet pizza while whales spout in front of the advancing fog line on their annual southward migration. 

You can lose yourself in the unique natural beauty of the place and at some point, you might feel like you need a little structure in your day. No shame in that, but let’s keep this structure as exotic as possible. Remember, this is a staycation. Serendipitously, B Bryan Preserve rests on a small hill above Point Arena. B Bryan Preserve is a private preserve that is focused solely on the breeding and preservation of African hoof stock. The preserve features zebras, giraffes and antelope all of which are either endangered or critically endangered. The preserve offers self-driven car tours, VIP Tours and Guided Tours. The VIP and guided tours will give you the most intimate look at the animals and a chance to have all your questions answered. Oh, and you will also be able to feed a giraffe. That doesn’t happen every day.  

Now that you have sufficiently decompressed, it’s time to face reentry. Leverage your return by giving yourself plenty of time to stop at all the beaches you have always wanted to check out but have never given yourself the chance. Tip, if you can afford to give yourself a post trip day at home before resuming your routine, you will be able to revel in the afterglow of your visit to Point Arena that much longer. One last thing to remember is to bring your mask, hand sanitizer and be respectful of all the businesses and people you encounter during your trip.