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Gualala, the isolated Mendocino Coast town with a name that leaves most visitors tongue-tied, is on a new list of the 50 best places to live in the United States.

Men's Journal magazine describes Gualala as an "outpost of adventure lifestyle" in its latest edition, which goes on sale today.

The magazine describes Gualala (pronounced wa-LA-la by locals) as one of the "below-the-radar places to a make a move on before the word gets out." There were five such cities. The others were Homer, Alaska; Newport, Vt.; Logan, Utah; and Walla Walla, Wash.

Rolling Stone magazine's Jann Wenner publishes Men's Journal, which has a paid circulation of about 620,000.

Gualala joined three other California communities on the magazine's list: Santa Cruz, Mammoth Lakes and Bishop.

"We were looking for places that combined affordability, proximity to outdoor adventure and a generally undiscovered quality of life," said Erica Kestenbaum, a spokeswoman for Men's Journal.

Kestenbaum said isolation played a factor.

"In Northern California, it's particularly difficult to find a beautiful coastal setting that isn't entirely overrun," she said.

Gualala residents Monday were largely unaware of the magazine listing or the attention it could bring to the old logging town turned tourist center.

A few coastal residents chuckled about any notion of affordability, given an influx of newcomers who've driven the median housing price to $580,000 compared to the median family income of $47,778.

Others recalled an era when the Gualala region was better known for the logging of ancient redwoods, marijuana growing and boisterous beer drinking at the historic Gualala Hotel.

Still there was a certain pride to the magazine's designation.

Yvette White, a 25-year resident who works at the Gualala Sport & Tackle shop, said she's proud her town made it on the list.

"It's so beautiful, and it's a great place to live and work," White said.

Gualala is an unincorporated coastal hamlet of about 2,000, just north of the Sonoma County line. The Gualala River separates the two counties.

A few miles south along Highway 1 in Sonoma County is the swank seaside community of Sea Ranch. Gualala's recent growth is largely due to its evolution from lumber town to a commercial hub for Sea Ranch and Mendocino's south coast.

There's still no library or movie theater, but there is a growing number of restaurants, ocean-front accommodations and the nationally recognized Gualala Arts Center. The community is also known for its generally fog-free status in a 5-mile strip of coastline running north to Anchor Bay.

The so-called "Banana Belt" attracts thousands of tourists, including a few visitors who decide to stay.

Justin Parrish arrived three weeks ago from Boston to visit a friend and ended up bartending at the Gualala Hotel.

"I figure I'm here for six months or so, but it's a very cool place," Parrish said.

Jan Harris is a 30-year Gualala resident who fled Marin County to enjoy a life by the sea. It hasn't been easy.

Harris said she and her husband have had to find a multitude of ways to earn enough money to live on the coast, including serving as part-time director of the local chamber of commerce, renting canoes, doing carpentry work and serving as a wedding and events coordinator.

Harris was one of the first to know the magazine was planning to include Gualala on its list because of a call from staff fact checkers.

"They wanted to know who the mayor was. I told them we didn't have one, but they could call me the queen," she said.

Gualala didn't make the top of the magazine's list, called the "Best of the Bests." Those winners were Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; San Diego; Burlington, Vt.; and Boulder, Colo.

The five have an "ideal mix" of outdoor activities, culture, affordable housing and good nightlife, according to Men's Journal.

You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or mgeniella@pressdemocrat.com.

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