s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

IF YOU GO

Stay
Gualala Country Inn, 47955 Center St., Gualala, 707-884-4343. Sprawling yellow country inn featuring rooms with views of river and ocean. Some rooms have gas fireplaces. Robust continental breakfast served in the sitting room.

The Breakers Inn, 39300 Highway 1, Gualala, 707-884-3200. Condo-like hotel featuring 28 themed rooms with balconies that overlook the Pacific. Most have fireplaces and spas.

The Surf Motel, 39170 Highway 1, Gualala, 707-884-3571. Comfortable, basic lodge-style rooms on the ocean side of the highway. An overnight stay comes with full breakfast.

Gualala Point Regional Park campground, 42401 Highway 1, Gualala. 707-785-2377. Ask your bus driver to drop you at the campground. For those camping without a car, it’s $5/per person per/night, and several sites are left open for first-come-first-served. Campsites 1-5 are next to the river. All sites are shaded by massive old-growth redwoods. There are also several walk-in sites with more privacy.

Eat
Trinks,Café, 39140 Highway 1, Gualala 707-884-1713. Family-owned fixture of local diners and visitors alike, offering fresh, tasty breakfast, lunch and gourmet dinners, and featuring mouth-watering desserts. Reservations advised during summer.

Cove Azul Bar & Grill, 39102 Ocean Drive, Gualala, 707-884-1835. Dinner entrees feature pasta, seafood, steaks and salads. Beer on tap.

Upper Crust Pizzeria, 39331 Highway 1, Gualala, 707 884-1324. Local pizza lovers’ favorite place. Small and comfortable with a friendly atmosphere and reputation for great pizza and calzones. Build your own or order one of the specialty pizzas. Beer, wine and soft drinks.

Travel
MTA Bus Schedules and Routes
This trip used two bus routes: The MTA 95 and 75. In Gualala, both buses drop and pick you up at the Sundstrom Mall across Center Street from the Gualala Country Inn. Total round-trip cost for Route 95 Santa Rosa to Gualala and back: $16.50/per person; $8.20/per peson for ages 62 and up. Total Route 75 round-trip cost from Gualala to Point Arena and back: $4.50/per person; $2.20/per person for ages 62 and up. Bikes ride free.

The section of the Northern California coastline that stretches from Bodega Bay’s commercial fishing hub north to historic Point Arena is a masterpiece of serenity. North of the Russian River at Jenner, the tourists thin out, the fog rolls in and seagazing can be uninterrupted by anything but the sights and sounds of nature.

The United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development — a designation that emphasizes responsible, eco-friendly tourism as a passport to prosperity. What better way to celebrate the north coast’s untrammeled nature than by getting there without a car? It turns out to be remarkably easy to do, by bus and on foot — and you can make it as comfortable or adventurous as you like.

In fact, there’s a route and timetable perfectly suited to a weekend trip from Santa Rosa to Gualala and Point Arena. Best of all — with summer gas prices doing their thing —it’s worth noting that the total cost of public transportation for the 166-mile round-trip adds up to $20.80 per person ($10.20 for those over age 62).

Here’s the scenario.

Pack everything you need into a rucksack, wear your hiking boots, and start your adventure at the downtown Santa Rosa transit mall on First Street. Catch the 4:15 p.m. coach-size MTA Route 95 bus to Gualala), the southernmost town in Mendocino County and adjacent to Gualala Point Regional Park with its starburst of coastal trails. Bring a bike if you like.

Over the next 2.5 hours, the bus travels west on Route 12 through Sebastopol to Bodega Bay harbor, and from there turns and heads north up coastal Highway 1 to Gualala. The coast highway is a serpentine thread that connects the beaches, bluffs and hamlets strung along the edge of the sea. Driving it can be a white-knuckle affair, so it’s nice to be free to look out the window and watch the scenery roll by while someone experienced takes the wheel. This is the Hippie Highway that sparked songs filled with superlatives such as “California Dreamin’ and “Mendocino,” and several of the buildings in towns like Jenner, Anchor Bay and Point Arena retain a laid-back vibe of the ’60s and ’70s in tune with today’s ripped designer jeans.

After the first hour of travel, you will arrive in Jenner, and the bus will stop for a biffy break long enough for you to cross the street and visit Café Aquatica, a fragrant bakery and specialty coffee shop. From here on north over the next hour and a half, you’ll enjoy world-class coastal scenery and occasional stops to drop off and pick up passengers. You’ll also roll past the coast’s man-made attractions: restored Fort Ross; the commanding 93-foot-tall “Madonna of Peace” obelisk at bluff-top Timber Cove resort; and the Sea Ranch Chapel, a free-flowing architectural masterpiece designed by James Hubbell and built in 1985 of locally sourced materials.

You’ll pass Gualala Point Regional Park just before you cross the bridge over the Gualala River into Mendocino County and arrive at the Gualala Country Inn, your destination, at 6:45 p.m.

Your driver will drop you off at your hotel if asked. I chose the Country Inn because it is just across the bridge from the park and trails. However, all three hotels in Gualala are within two blocks of one another and are in the same summer price range of $115 to $145 per night. The room at Country Inn was clean and cozy with a gas fireplace and view over the river. Owners Mike and Linda Bradbrook are helpful and have trail lists and maps.

There’s just enough time to check in for a two-night stay, drop your bags in your room and head to dinner at Trinks Cafe, an upscale restaurant tucked into a small shopping mall two blocks up the street and brimming with a mix of locals and tourists.

Like most restaurants in town, Trinks stops taking orders at 8 p.m., so don’t delay. Choose from a half-dozen well-prepared entrees including burgers, fresh seafood and salads with a fine selection of wines and superb service to top it off. Trinks’ fridge is stocked with yummy food and desserts to go, which you might consider for your picnic lunch tomorrow.

Gualala is a bustling town of 2,000, where Sea Ranch and coast residents to the north stock up on groceries and catch up with one another. A historic lumber and railroad town, it is now known more for its broad sand beach, its park and campground, and fine art featured in galleries and the Gualala Art Center. “Downtown” is three blocks long, and everything is within an easy stroll of your hotel.

You can spend the entire weekend exploring the trails at Gualala Point Regional Park or do what I did: Save the park for Sunday and spend Saturday in Point Arena. You hop the 7:45 a.m. MTA Route 75 bus on Saturday morning, and Point Arena is 20 minutes up the road.

Point Arena is an underappreciated gem of a “city” with a population of 450 and, as my bus driver put it fondly, “a long and tarnished history.” From its earliest permanent settlement by gold rush entrepreneurs in the mid-1800s, Point Arena was a boom-and-bust party town, where booze flowed and brothels glowed. A major shipping port for lumber and mining supplies, it voted itself a home-rule city during Prohibition in order to sell liquor in a dry state. Nowadays, its quiet cove and wharf host a small commercial fishery and good surfing.

Ask the driver to drop you off at the Rollerville Café. It’s just north of Point Arena where the Stornetta Public Lands and trails begin.

Stornetta is named for the pioneering Italian dairy ranchers who still farm here, and its 1,665 acres are the most recent addition to the California Coastal National Monument. In her on-site dedication of the land in 2013, U. S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called it a “world-class destination for outdoor recreation.”

This is the place to go to experience the immensity and timelessness of sky, ocean and ancient trees. You’ve got all day to do so, but first enjoy a healthy breakfast at Rollerville Café — and if you don’t already have lunch, ask them to pack one for your hike. Then cross Lighthouse Way behind the café and find the trailhead that leads to the bluffs, ocean and historic Point Arena Lighthouse.

From the bluffs, humpback and gray whales pass so close to the cliffs that even without binoculars you can see their mottled backs rise above the water. Spend the entire day wandering the colorful bluffs and tidepools, napping in the grass and visiting the lighthouse before catching the southbound MTA Route 75 bus at Rollerville at 5:15 p.m., arriving back at your hotel in Gualala before 6 p.m.

It’s been a full day and you’ve worked up an appetite. Celebrate by dining out at Cove Azul Bar & Grill, an Italian-inspired eatery offering fresh seafood and pasta just a 10-minute walk from the Country Inn. Or, simply duck across the street from the hotel and get a gourmet pizza at Upper Crust Pizzeria.

On Sunday, pack your bags so they are ready to go, enjoy the Country Inn’s hearty continental breakfast, and hurry across the bridge to Gualala Point Regional Park for a last commune with sky, sand and sea before returning to the hotel to check out and catch the 10:30 a.m. MTA Route 95 bus that arrives back in Santa Rosa at 1 p.m. There is no later bus. On the ride back, savor the views and your weekend nature retreat that felt days longer than it actually was.

Suzanne Pletcher has written articles on business and efficient transportation topics for publications including the Denver Post, Reno Gazette Journal and Las Vegas Sun. She works part time for the Mendocino Transit Authority.

Show Comment