I’m gaga for Gualala (pronounced wa-LA-la), the charming town on California’s Coast Highway in Mendocino County. My husband and I just returned from a two-night getaway to Gualala and, as always, I want to share some gems of our visit.
Gualala would make a great Valentine’s Day destination if you’re looking for ocean views and walks on the beach. Located three hours north of San Francisco, the name Gualala comes from the Kashaya Pomo Indian phrase “ah kha wa la lee,” which means “Where the water flows down.” The Gualala River goes out to the ocean right across from the center of town, by a big sand bar where the whales stop for lunch every year.
A grandma recommended the Whale Watch Inn and I’m forever grateful. It’s one of the most romantic places we’ve ever stayed over the past 43 years. The Inn is perched on a cliff 90 feet above Anchor Bay, five miles north of Gualala. Each of the 18 rooms has a view of the ocean. There are no televisions, phones, clocks, or internet connections—just the magnificent ocean waves lulling you to sleep and a fireplace that burns real wood. In the morning, one of the staff delivers a gourmet breakfast in a big wicker basket that you can eat on the deck overlooking the beach below.
We ate lunch at the newly opened Sea Sprite Restaurant in Anchor Bay and their clam chowder was excellent. Then we set off on a hike through Gualala Point Regional Park. There’s a Visitor’s Center with some Native American artifacts and a tool exhibit from the turn of the century logging industry that thrived in the area. The 195-acre park has open meadows, coastal forest, spectacular beaches for walking and wave watching and enjoying whimsical driftwood sculptures.
We splurged for dinner at St. Orres, a hotel and restaurant that has been a landmark in Gualala for 33 years. An extraordinary Russian-style building, complete with two onion-domed towers, St. Orres was built in 1972 with century-old timbers salvaged from a nearby mill. The gourmet restaurant is in the main building of this 50-acre property. The menu included a wide variety of fish and seafood as well as game. Each dish we ordered was beautifully prepared.
The next day we explored the beach at Schooner Gulch and had lunch at Trinks Café in Gualala. They make everything from scratch including their roasted turkey sandwich with homemade cranberry sauce. We were advised to save room for gelati despite the tempting array of baked goodies.
In the front corner of Trinks, there’s a gelati counter hosted by Marco, the creator of Gelati Pazzo Marco. His mission is to “make the best Italian gelati in the universe!” Marco studied the art of gelati in Italy before opening his business. The bright red, wild berry sorbetto was made from three different berries including locally grown huckleberries.
I did not want to say goodbye to Gualala. It’s amazing what three days without technology can do for the soul. On the drive home the next day we stopped for lunch at Terrapin Creek Restaurant and Café in Bodega Bay. This charming cafe right off Highway 1 opened in 2008. The husband/wife owners, Andrew and Liya Truong are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. They’ve put together a great menu of raw and cooked entrees that use local and seasonal ingredients. I felt like a guest in their home and was completely enchanted by their eight-month old daughter, Ava, who bounced around on her mother’s back while she served us our crab cakes.
Driving home on the picturesque Bodega Highway towards Sebastapol, we had to make one final stop at Wildflower Bread Bakery on the old Bohemian Highway in Freestone. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon it was no surprise that the line for bread snaked out the door. They make all their organic sourdough breads, scones, and biscotti in a wood fired brick oven. They make over 900 loaves a day of a dozen different kinds and people come from miles to wait their turn to buy their beautiful loaves.
As we made our way back onto the freeway and the pace quickened, we vowed to return to Gualala for another retreat from technology.