Scarcely more than 100 miles north of the Golden Gate is a wild, fog-drenched land where a roiling ocean and pristine views are calling for a weekend escape.
This secluded section of the North Coast, also called the Mendonoma Coast—situated bluffside between Jenner-by-the-Sea in Sonoma County and Point Arena in Mendocino County—has food, architecture and adventure, whether you're a bona fide weekend warrior or just looking to chill and enjoy the beauty of the Pacific. Let our weekend itinerary do the planning for you.
Friday: Hit the Road for Sea Ranch
Dinner of locally foraged produce and wild game awaits in the lovely dining room at St. Orres.
(Courtesy of St. Orres)
You know the picturesque planned community at the tippy-top of the Sonoma Coast—but have you stayed there? Known for its bare, midcentury modern architecture that rises in perfect harmony from the coastal landscape as though it had been built by Howard Roark himself, the village is surrounded by Monterey Cyprus and rocky bluffs. On its southern side sits the Sea Ranch Lodge(rooms starting at $271/night; 60 Sea Walk Dr.), where dog-friendly guest rooms are 1970s-chic and have picture windows looking onto the ocean; some have gas fireplaces and cushy window seats so you can stay warm on foggy days without missing the view. At the lodge's restaurant, Black Point Grill, new chef Rebecca Stewart is combining fresh seasonal ingredients with international flair. Consider staying in for dinner and a massage at the cozy two-room spa.
If you can sneak away from the Bay Area early in the day, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west from the 101 to hit the coast at Olema—the drive up north promises views of the Pacific Ocean at her most dramatic.
Evening: Dinner at St. Orres
About 15 minutes north of Sea Ranch Lodge, the magical St. Orres(Hwy. 1, Gualala), designed to reflect the Russian heritage of the area, welcomes guests for inspired dinners in the restaurant (for those with reservations). Dubbed North Coast cuisine, the menu highlights hyper-local fare including seafood, foraged mushrooms, and wild game. If you're not a planner, the adjacent tavern serves the full dinner menu as well oysters and small plates—think wild game paté or garlic flan with black chanterelles—to walk-ins.
Saturday: Get Outside
Bowling Ball Beach.
Early Morning: Stroll the Coastal Bluff Trails
Wake up and step right outside the Sea Ranch Lodge to find the start of an oceanside bluff-top trail that stretches all the way to Gualala. Pass the historic barn and shepherd's shack and walk north through groves of windswept trees and open grassy meadows. The trail is flat, but adventurers can explore the rocky outcroppings that dip into the Pacific below. In the spring and fall, you may catch sight of migrating whales or sea lions and seals at play.
Late Morning: Point Arena + the Lighthouse
The iconicPoint Arena Lighthouse (45500 Lighthouse Rd., Point Arena) was constructed in 1908 to replace an original version that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Standing 115 feet tall, the flashing light here once had to be hand-cranked by a lighthouse keeper every 75 minutes. Today the lighthouse is managed by the Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers who have restored the structure to its former glory and keep it and a small museum open to the public daily from 10am to 3:30pm ($5/person, $7.50/person with a tour).
There's beach time in your near future, so stock up on snacks on the historic Main Street in Point Arena. At Arena Market and Cafe(185 Main St.), you'll find a deli counter, lots of fresh organic fruits and veggies, and local beer and wine. If you're hankering for something sweet, stop in at Franny's Cup and Saucer(213 Main St.), an adorable bakery with cookies, confections, and home-baked breads galore. Need a pick-me up? Pop in to the Little Green Bean(240 Main St.) for freshly roasted coffee.
Afternoon: Bowling Ball Beach
Whether the weather is cooperating or not, you just can't come to the North Coast without setting foot on the beach. Bowling Ball Beach, about five miles south of Point Arena, is named for the curious section of sand where dozens of large, perfectly rounded rocks pop right out of the ocean tide. Check out these geological oddities then lay out your blanket for a picnic. Word to the wise: Wear layers.
To get there, look for the sign on Highway 1 that reads "Park Facing South," just north of Schooner Gulch River. Walk a few minutes down the trail toward the ocean, keeping right at the fork. Descend the wooden stairs to the beach and then continue north a few minutes to the bowling balls.
Dinner in Gualala
After you've freshened up and had some relaxation time on the seaward facing adirondack chairs back at the lodge or by the communal fireplace inside, hop back in the car and head to Gualala for some good no-frills dinner options including the Upper Crust Pizzeria(39331 S. Hwy 1) and Antonio's Tacos(38820 S. Hwy. 1). For something a little more special, check out the brand new Vue Kitchen(39300 S. Hwy. 1), on the south side of town, which serves elevated delights—think fried crab dim sum, mussel linguine, and pumpkin gnocchi—with an ocean view.
Sunday: Go Mushroom Hunting at Salt Point State Park
(Courtesy of Salt Point State Park/Yelp)
Morning: Sea Ranch Chapel
Before you head out, don't miss the Sea Ranch Chapel(Hwy. 1, Mile Marker 49.90), a tiny, non-denominational haven with a swooping wooden roof reminiscent of Gandalf's hat. Inside you'll find carved benches and long, stained-glass windows. It's all a little odd, but undeniably beautiful.
After lunch: Pick a little something to take home. Just south of Sea Ranch, 20 miles of hiking trails criss-crosses the pygmy forests and rocky promontories of Salt Point State Park(25050 Highway 1, Jenner). The foggy climate here is perfect for nurturing wild mushrooms such as the black trumpet and chanterelle. In fact, this is one of the few state parks in California where the public is permitted to gather edible fungi. You can collect up to three pounds of mushrooms per person per day, but be careful—mushroom hunting can be dangerous and a solid guidebook is essential. If you need some guidance, check out the Sonoma County Mycological Association's monthly forays, or take a foraging tour with Mendo Insider.
*Prefer to camp out? Check out Mendocino campgrounds from our partners at RoverPass.