Don’t get me wrong, I love Mendocino’s dollhouses and rugged coastline. But when I want to get away from the crowds, I follow Highway 1 south from the community made famous by Murder She Wrote and explore the southern coastline of Mendocino County.
The southern part of the county begins with Elk (though it is also confusingly called Greenwood). Here you’ll find a few chic B&Bs, my favorite is Griffin House Inn for its refined and homey atmosphere as well as the onsite brewpub. The heart of town features the locally favored Queenie’s Roadhouse Café, where butch Queenie slings organic breakfasts and lunches punctuated by strong coffee and a crackling fireplace. After your meal, cross the highway and travel down the path to Greenwood State Beach, where you’ll find seaweed harvesters working on a lovely remote stretch of coast.
Farther south, at mile marker 17, head west to explore the Stornetta Public Lands (which houses a wealth of endangered species, hiking trails, and 2-miles of beaches) and the Point Area Lighthouse (a great place to spot whales.
Continue traveling south on CA-1 and then west on Iverson Ave and drive until you reach at sea. Here you’ll find Arena Cove, popular with abalone divers, tidepools, a pier (you don’t need a license to cast your line here), and the enchanting Coast Guard House—an Arts and Crafts-movement decorated B&B.
Travel inland and you’ll approach the commercial area of Point Arena, which has seen better days, but is still quite cute for a short stroll. Pop into Franny’s Cup and Saucer for pastries and coffee. If you are sleeping in the area, check the listings at the Arena Theater, which is the only theater for miles, and shows art house films and hosts live music.
Back on CA-1, travel south to mile marker 11; here you’ll find the striking Bowling Ball Beach. Hike the half-mile trail to the beach during low tide to spot huge boulders that look like bowling balls—hence the name. Alternatively, if you happen to arrive at high tide, take the trail to Schooner Gulch State Beach to do some whale watching (December-March), surf or just frolic in the sand.
CA-1 continues south, passing Anchor Bay. Just before you arrive in Gualala, you may notice a Russian-inspired castle, complete with minarets and domes; that’s St. Orres, an institution in the area, not only for its lovely cottages, but also for the unlikely creations that come out of the kitchen in the lofty dining room. While the menu changes seasonally, on any day, the chef may add up to ten specials ranging in style from garlic flan to blueberry waffles with venison. Go big. You won’t be disappointed.
As you end your tour of the southern stretch of CA-1, you will arrive in the town of Gualala that in any other area might look like a hiccup, but here is it feels like you just arrived in a city. Cypress trees and boulder covered beaches inspire families, who bed down at the revamped Surf Motel Gualala, and stroll in and out of the few shops lining CA-1. This isn’t the classiest town on the coast, but it sure is fun.