Beaches & the Mendocino Banana Belt
Gualala sits at the dramatic convergence of rolling coastal hills, the Pacific Ocean and the Gualala River. The southern coastal gateway to Mendocino County, Gualala is a delightful resort area and a favorite whalewatching spot. Its name comes from the Pomo Indian name for the river, “ah kha wa la lee,” which means “where the water flows down.” People from out of town usually call it GWAla-la, but locals pronounce it wa-LA-la. Once a logging town, Gualala’s primary economic activity is now tourism. It also serves as a commercial center for the surrounding area. Gualala is an ideal spot for viewing the elusive “green flash” that can sometimes be seen for a second or two as the sun sinks into the ocean.
Mendocino’s “banana belt” stretches south from Anchor Bay through Gualala and down to Sea Ranch, just across the county line in Sonoma County. Visitors to this area often enjoy warm and sunny weather while the rest of the coast is shrouded in chilly fog. The warmer weather and more frequent sunshine can be attributed to Point Arena: the protrusion of land into the ocean there, less than 20 miles north of Gualala, provides both fog-break and protective shelter for the coastline to the south.
Located on the coast of southern Mendocino County about 130 miles north of San Francisco, Point Arena is one of the smallest incorporated cities in the state of California, with a population under 500, and also one of the most beautiful. Surrounded by the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a unit of the California National Coastal Monument; the Point Arena Lighthouse, the tallest on the West Coast of the United States; and the Point Arena Public Fishing Pier in Point Arena Cove, the city and its surrounding area offer incredible natural beauty and a wide range of recreational activities. These latter include fishing, surfing, tide-pooling, whale-watching, sightseeing, fine dining and lodging, enjoying music and film, and taking jaunts to well-preserved historical structures. The Point itself is a land mass jutting out into the ocean, and the spot closest to Hawaii in the contiguous 48 states. For food, fun and live entertainment on the Mendocino Coast, the Garcia River Casino is a short scenic drive on Windy Hollow Road in Point Arena.
As you travel north from Gualala, you’ll find the beautiful and secluded village of Anchor Bay. It has a rich and colorful history. Prior to the mid-19th century, the Pomo Indians were the only inhabitants of the area. Settlers began trickling in after 1844, when the Mexican government made a large land grant to a man named Rafael Garcia. Garcia brought in cattle, and the area became used for ranching. Loggers came to the area in 1870, and a wharf was constructed and used for lumber products, fishing and occasionally rum-running during the Prohibition days. Today, visitors enjoy Anchor Bay for its privacy and pristine beaches. Services available in Anchor Bay include a small shopping village, restaurants, lodging and a campground nestled amid redwoods and ferns. Anchor Bay offers relaxation, natural beauty and a peaceful, tranquil environment for spending vacation time along Mendocino’s South Coast.
The Village of Elk, previously known as Greenwood, is a charming stop along the Northern California Coast. In this little town you’ll encounter stunning views of the shoreline and Pacific Ocean in a mesmerizing meeting of land, sea and sky, punctuated by waves breaking against picturesque off-shore rock formations known as sea stacks. On a coast celebrated for its scenic beauty, Elk is truly exceptional. In the 1800s trappers and hunters found their way to the area in search of game. Britton Greenwood, the son of the noted tracker-explorer Caleb Greenwood, was the first to establish a ranch there, which he named the Elk Ranch. A community grew up around the ranches and dairy farms, and soon small mills were established to process the spectacular old-growth redwood. In 1883 local businessman Lorenzo White purchased most of the land around Elk, establishing a large mill and building a railroad to support it. At one point Elk supported a population of almost 1,000. At the turn of the century Elk was alive with hotels, dance halls, saloons and general stores. Probably because of its vibrancy, Jack London found Elk a perfect place to write. According to local legend, in February of 1902 he wrote his masterpiece, The Call of the Wild, while staying in the old White boarding house, today known as the Hospital House, across from Li Foo Gulch. This claim has been questioned. Manchester is a beautiful, tiny village with a population of about 200. Situated in an area of rich grazing land about 13 miles south of Elk, flocks of sheep and herds of cattle can be seen, adding a pastoral note to some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world. Nearby Manchester Beach State Park offers a beach, sand dunes, flat grasslands and 5 miles of shoreline.
Manchester State Park, with nearly 18,000 feet of ocean shoreline, offers a beach with an abundance of driftwood, sand dunes and rich grasslands. A beautiful sandy beach runs southward for about 5 miles towards Point Arena. Among its many attractions is the excellent steelhead fishing in its two streams, Brush Creek and Alder Creek. Please check with the Department of Fish and Wildlife at 530-225-2300 for seasonal closures and restrictions.