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Gualala, California: Banana Belt

The North Coast hamlet of Gualala beckons travelers with a bit of art and sun, and plenty of quiet.

Seek coastal views in Gualala Point Regional Park.

Osaze Cuomo / Shutterstock

Fronted by ocean and backed by redwoods, Gualala, California, a former logging town, draws visitors who view nature as an opportunity for art and meditation. Only slow, winding roads lead to Gualala, which is a three-hour, 120-mile drive north from San Francisco. Gualala, usually pronounced wa-LA-la, is said to come from a Pomo Indian word meaning "where the water flows down." The village, with its arresting mustard-colored 1903 hotel, sits where the Gualala River empties into the Pacific Ocean in a banana belt—a several-mile stretch where the leaden coastal fogs usually burn off to reveal blue sky.

While other North Coast hamlets are crowded to the edge of the continent by timbered heights, this one has Gualala Point Regional Park nearby to open up the land for easy solitary walking or beachcombing on a wide sandbar. After you’ve discovered the surround-sound ocean, tide pools, shorebirds, sea lions, and maybe whales (migrating north in February), treat yourself to a river excursion. You can get a canoe or a kayak in town from Adventure Rents and float lazily on the Gualala, whose mouth forms a "lake" rimmed by chapel-like groves of redwoods.

The remoteness may have once slowed progress in Gualala—electricity didn’t arrive here until 1952—but today it’s a blessing for travelers who don’t want a designer destination. Lodgings include the comfortable Gualala Country Inn, stylish Breakers Inn, and quiet St. Orres cottages, set on a hillside.

Dining, though not cheap, can be good and varied. St. Orres has a prix fixe menu that often includes wild fish and boar. Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen serves a delicious medley of curries and stir fries; Upper Crust Pizzeria boasts specialty pizzas like the Gio with ground sirloin, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, onion, and siracha on top. For breakfast, try Trinks Cafe where you can get homemade granola. 

To view the work of artists inspired by this marine setting, visit the Gualala Arts Center and its retail outlet, the Dolphin Gallery & Shop. The Cypress Village building holds a cluster of boutiques with imaginative creations; noteworthy are the sculptures at Stewart-Kummer Gallery, ceramics at Henley’s Art & Interiors, and apparel, shoes, and gifts at Red Stella.

Stop by the visitor center in Gualala Point Regional Park to learn about the Pomo Indians, logging history, and local biology and geology.

This article was first published in January 2006 and lightly updated in January 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.