A&A Travel Review of Gualala | Coastal Northern California
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
End of Week #56
Gualala River Redwood Park, Gualala CA
Miles traveled since last week's post = 0
Total miles traveled to date = 7,955 with trailer
We have successfully completed our first official week of "real work" and the campground has been open for almost a week now too. We have been bustling around, busier than ever, filling up all of the spots we have to offer and welcoming families into the Redwoods. Many have been here before and have not been able to contain their excitement to return again, and some families have even been coming here for over 30-40 years! We welcome in large groups, those traveling the coast looking for a place to stay, and those that are looking to get out of the heat, or out of their homes after being confined for so long. A&A are learning the ropes quickly around here and fully immersing ourselves in life on the coast and in running a popular travel destination campground in the Redwoods.
For this week's post I want to take you on a journey in reviewing our coastal community of Gualala and the surrounding areas of Mendocino and Sonoma county. It is an outstanding place in the Pacific Northwest that has so much to offer and explore. Things are opening up, restaurants are filling up, and we are coming back to life here in northern California!
Travel Review of Gualala | Coastal Northern California
Highway 1 - Is a major north–south state highway that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California. At a total of just over 656 miles, it is the longest state route in California. It is also the highway that has made me car sick for basically the first time in my life, as the major twists and turns make my head spin and give me extreme nausea.
Our "home" for the summer; a small coastal community of about 2,000 people, and situated about 4 hours north of San Francisco. Some people pronounce this with a 'G' and some pronounce it with a 'W'... essentially just depending on if you are a local and if you are confident in your pronounciation or not. The name Gualala, means 'where the water flows down', which makes sense with the Gualala river running through town and budding up with the ocean where whales are frequently spotted stopping for their own sort of lunch. This is a very unique coastal community with amazing views like you've never seen before in California and we feel lucky and special to get to spend an extended amount of time here. If it wasn't for our workamping job this might be a town we never would have found and a part of northern California we would never have experienced.
Here are some awesome places to check out while in Gualala.
Restaurants & businesses
Cove Azul - A cute, small bar and restaurant 'downtown' that offers a seafood focused menu. We have now ate here two times, both indoor dining as the covid restrictions have started to lift. The prices are reasonable and they have windows and a small patio facing the ocean, while being perched on a hill, which offers nice views of the town and the coast. So far this appears to be one of the only places that has a bar, so this will probably be our most common town hangout all summer.
Trinks Cafe - Another place added to my quest to find a donut on the coast. While I did not find any donuts here either, I did have a cheesecake scone, which wasn't really like a scone in my opinion, but it was good nonetheless. Their menu seems a bit pricey compared to a lot of other places in town, so we probably won't frequent here as much.
Saint Orres - A Russian style restaurant and building on the hill in north Gualala, and apparently known for their basil martinis. We have been advised that it is a good place to drink, although the drinks may be spendy, but it is not the best place to eat. I have no doubt that we will be checking this place out soon and drawing our own conclusions.
Gualala Seafood Shack - Another place we keep trying to eat at but they apparently are closed certain days of the week and close early other days. We keep missing their schedule but have been told we have to get the fish and chips here, as the serving is generous and delicious.
Gualala Pizza and Bakery - A strange combination of basically all my favorite foods, but they oddly never seem to be offering them all at the same time. They too have strange hours that have been hard to keep up with, but we have tried a variety of their food items. I also went here to search for a donut, but ended up with an almond pastry of some sort. We ordered a very large pizza here one night, and it was definitely better than the frozen Costco pizzas we have been getting. Recently we went here for burritos the size of your face, which I would get again, and they also have a pretty good taco bowl salad!
Grocery stores, post office, hardware stores - All located in town, with limited items and services. There is one pretty organic friendly grocery store called the Surf Market, but items in there are so ridiculously priced we still don't shop there. They do apparently have good sandwiches to go from their deli though, so some day we will check those out. The Surf Market also does barbecue cookouts on weekends, with ribs and chicken and everytime we drive past the smell drives Adam wild.
There is also a Cannabis shop in a town, a mystical woo-woo store that I can't wait to check out, vacation rentals, and a few other places to eat too.
Cooks Beach - The only local beach in the town of Gualala, a bit smaller than some of the other nearby ones, but a great place to get out of the trees and hang out at the ocean. This was the first beach we got to explore while we have been staying here, as it was one of the first ones to open back up after covid restrictions started to lift.
Gualala River Redwood Park, Gualala River, Canoeing, Kayaking - The only campground in town, and the place we call home, situated right on the Gualala River. The river runs into the ocean, which is just a mile away from the GRRP campground. This is a wonderful place to canoe, kayak, jump into the river, hike the river, and indulge in all your favorite outdoor activities, while still enjoying the canopy of redwood trees, and the coast.
Gualala Arts Center - Our next door neighbors, and one of the few places we have yet to explore. The arts center has been mostly closed since we have arrived and they are not currently offering their typical events, but one day soon I know we will go see what they are all about.
The next town directly north of Gualala is a another small coastal community called Point Arena. It is a another vibrant coastal community with a small town charm, and doesn't really appear to be that much different in size from Gualala. The population here is a lot less than Gualala but they do have a school, a casino and other points of interest not found in our other little coastal town just 12 miles south of here.
Here are some great places to check out in Point Arena.
Schooner Gulch State Beach - Also known as 'Bowling Ball Beach' area, and an expansive beach area with coastal trails to explore.
Point Arena Lighthouse & Museum - The Point Arena=Stornetta Lands of the California Coastal National Monument provide miles of hiking along the coastal bluffs. The Point Arena Lighthouse provides spectacular views of the coastal landscape.
Casino - Tucked back away from the coast, it appears to be a red barn in the middle of nowhere, but it is a local casino! Currently not open due to covid, but potentially opening up by the end of summer. This iconic 115 foot tall lighthouse is the tallest on the Pacific coast, and they just recently reopened their doors for weekend visits.
B. Bryan Preserve - We did not know this was here until yesterday when we randomly came across some zebra chilling in the grass and soon found out it was an animal conservation park!
Navarro Beach - A beautiful area where another river meets the ocean, in a huge valley and area marked with tsunami warnings. We stopped here on our way to Fort Bragg and it was extremely windy the day we went there, so we hope to come back again sometime later in the summer. The beach is quite expensive to explore, and soak up the sun.
Van Dam State Park/Beach - My absolute favorite beach to date, with a special cove area where the water was calm and turquoise and the beach was white and pretty. We can't wait to go back here and spend a whole entire day here relaxing oceanside. In fact, we were supposed to go this week on our day off but the temperatures keep changing and dropping, and when it's only a high of 60 degrees it can be pretty cold to lay on the coast. This place was just stunning and almost made me forget I was in northern California.
Another "larger" city along highway 1, just south of Fort Bragg, known for its cliffside trails and beaches at Mendocino Headlands State Park - which we have yet to visit. However we have driven through this area on our way north to Fort Bragg. Mendocino is one of a handful of 'larger' coastal towns, compared to the small towns such as Gualala and Point Arena.
Fort Bragg was founded in 1857, prior to the American Civil War, and offers very picturesque views of the Pacific coastline. Here are some things to check out while you are there.
Glass Beach - Within MacKerricher State Park, there is abundant sea glass from years of dumping garbage into an area of coastline north of here. It's a sad, but beautiful mix of how nature responds to human disaster. Here we saw seals and birds and found lots of crabs hiding in little pools of water on the rocks. It was a popular place with a lot of families having picnics and a place that I could see us venturing back to. The only downside is that the glass here looked a lot more interesting in photos than it did in real life, but I'm going to consider that a blessing right now.
Seafood - An abundance of seafood options here, and we had our first taste of sushi in over a year at Taka's Grill. It was good, but not as good as I remember good ole Akita Sushi being in Woodbury, MN.
Ice cream - Apparently they have some of the best ice cream around, at Cowlick's Ice Cream, but we haven't yet tried it ourselves. We are saving that for our next trip up.
California Western Railroad - Skunk Train / Pedal Bike - A world famous magical ride through the Redwood forest, operating since 1885. This trail offers pristine views that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. They also offer a railbike service through the Redwoods, that we are actually considering for my birthday in July! My aunt recently posted about it on Facebook too, and it looks like another incredible way to experience the tallest trees in the world.
Sonoma County - south of Mendocino County
Gualala Point Regional Park - The only beach access park we have encountered that you have to pay to explore. We spent some time walking on the beach (on another super windy day of course) and walking the coast. It's a beautiful place, but with the amount of other beautiful beaches nearby that are free, we probably won't return much. There is also a campground located in this park and areas to have picnics.
Walk on Beach - Directly south of GPRP is another expansive beach with coastal cliffs and connected to the Sea Ranch Access Trails - a system of trails that stretch about 45 miles north from the mouth of the Russian River, following along California State Highway One.
Shell Beach - Honestly, we thought we would find a lot of really cool shells here, and we didn't see any at all. Another beautiful place, but it seemed to be a big hang out for the younger crowds and it was filled with a lot of rocks in the water - making it not super ideal to try to swim.
Pebble Beach - A small quaint beach with a lot of little pebbles and the place where we found an Abalone shell.
Black Point Beach - This is probably one of my more favorite beaches near us on the coast right now, as I love the dramatic staircase to enter the expansive beach with sheer cliffs and bluffs all around. I would definitely go back here again soon!
A bit of a touristy area on this coast, an a popular vacation destination for those in the Bay area or inland cities of California. It is a combination of private homes and rentals available for those to visit. There is access to miles of coastal bluff trails and beaches, and other private amenities for those that call this area home. The Sea Ranch is internationally known for its distinctive architecture, the sensitivity of its land planning and community-based stewardship of the natural environment.
Two Fish Baking - Stewarts Point Store and FOOD - So far this has been my favorite place to get food from, as we have had the BEST sticky buns and calzones here. We first went here continuing on in our long search for an actual donut on the coast, but they (just like everywhere else) did not have one, and they had these insane cinnamon roll/sticky buns instead. They were quite possibly one of the best baked goods I'd ever had so we came here again another time to try their sandwiches, but found out they had calzones and got those instead. I even got a vegan calzone and it was absolutely amazing. I basically can't wait to go back here and eat something else, or maybe have another sticky bun!
Originally called Fortress Ross, this is a Russian establishment and the hub of the southernmost Russian settles from 1812 - 1842. It is very close to the Russian River and other Russian like towns along the river and coast. It is a historic area with a lot of parks to check out too, but currently it is all still closed down due to covid.
This is a river that flows through Mendocino and Sonoma County and is a lot more abundant than the Gualala river in terms of how much water it has and how warm it gets in this area. This river winds through lush 'wine country', and offers a spectacular view to drive alongside. This is always an exciting place to drive through on our way to Santa Rosa for groceries, as people are out tubing and enjoying the weather. We frequently stop at the area where the river meets the ocean as the views are hard to beat and there are usually some seals sunbathing on the shoreline too. The Russian River is another popular vacation destination for Californians and we are excited to stop and check out some breweries, cafes, and other restaurants on our future trips inland.
Even more to explore inland too...
Leggett - Home of the 'drive through tree', and Avenue of the Giants, which are super high on my list to check out within the coming weeks. The Redwoods here are said to be larger than where we are now and include a 30+ mile road through the beautiful giant trees.
Redwoods National Park & Redwoods State Park - Home to the tallest trees on earth, and a National Park and State Park that I must check off my list before we leave this part of the northern coast. They also house the oldest and tallest Redwoods in the world, which are hidden and protected to prevent vandalism on them. (Such a sad thing that we even have to do, as it should just be human nature to admire but not destroy.)
Anderson Valley - 'wine country' - A well known region in California, known for its wine, lush greenery, and fun places to explore. We drove through northern wine country on the way back to Gualala from Ukiah and I could not stop staring out the window at all the beauty around us. I would love to go back and do a wine hop from various places to try their wine and see what they have to offer. This is another one of those areas that you have to experience in person to truly understand how beautiful it is.
The Upper Russian River Valley
Ukiah - Technically the largest city in all of Mendocino County, this is where we first ventured to go to Costco and get bulk groceries. The only thing that sucks about Ukiah is that it is quite the windy drive to get here, no matter which way you go, and they do not have a Trader Joe's, our other favorite grocery store. The drive is beautiful but it does make me feel sick, and for now it makes more sense for us to drive to Santa Rosa instead.
Lake Mendocino Recreational Area - Located in 'wine country' near the gateway to the Redwoods, this lake was created by a dam in 1958. We drove by here on our trip to Ukiah once and it is located within rolling lush hills of California, a place I would love to spend more time at.
Basically the largest city that is the closest to us out here in Gualala. It takes us about 2 hours one way to get there, and we go there about every 3 weeks for groceries from Costco and Trader Joe's. Unfortunately a lot of our most used food items are insanely expensive in Gualala, so we prefer to buy in bulk from Santa Rosa when we can stock up. One example is a carton of eggs - priced at just under $10 in Gualala, but we can get 2 dozen for that price from Santa Rosa. The city itself doesn't necessarily seem that big, but it has all your staple businesses you would need. There is a PetsMart, Ulta Beauty, fast food, Walmart, Target, various grocery stores, Joint Chiropractic, European Wax Center, and more. We aren't used to 'living' so far away from all the big name businesses, so the coastal trips down to Santa Rosa can be exhausting. Not to mention I usually get pretty car sick traveling through the windy roads of highway 1 and 116 to get there, but we make the best of it each time.
No matter where you travel to on the northern coast of California, you will find gorgeous views, incredible beaches, lush greenery, and the tallest trees in the world. This is truly a special area of the United States, and even the state of California, as it looks and feels so much different than central or southern Cali too. I feel very fortunate to spend the entire summer here, soaking up all there is to offer and eating my way through the coast!
Since we have now been full-time RVing for over a year, I want to reflect on things we would do differently in our whole process if we were to start all over again. The thing is, you don't know what you don't know until you do know it, and we have no regrets in life, but at the same time the road has taught us a lot of lessons in just one years time. Next week we will dive into those lessons we have learned and how it has shaped how we will plan and experience the future of RV living too!
*Currently under construction and paused at this time.*
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