The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Point Arena and Gualala
With only a few exceptions, the southernmost 40 miles of Mendocino coastline are almost totally undeveloped and virtually uninhabited, with green forests and coastal coves as far as the eye can see. The westernmost point here, Point Arena, is about five miles northwest of Hwy-1 via Lighthouse Road (the namesake lighthouse, built in 1870, stands 115 feet tall). Back on Hwy-1, the small town of Point Arena is worth a wander for nice cafés and bakeries; try the fluffy quiches or buttery croissants at le très Francophile Franny’s Cup & Saucer (213 Main St., 707/882-2500), across the street from the lively Arena Theater, which puts on new-run movies nightly and good live music.
Another 15 miles south, situated at the very southern edge of Mendocino County, the old logging port of Gualala (pop. 585) has one truly remarkable feature: the Russian Orthodox domes of St. Orres (36601 S. Hwy-1, 707/884-3303), now a B&B inn and $100-a-head gourmet restaurant glowing with polished wood and stained glass, above Hwy-1 on the north side of town.
If you prefer to hang out with locals rather than well-heeled tourists from San Francisco, head instead to local bakeries like Trinks Café (39140 S. Hwy-1, 707/884-1713) in the Seacliff Center shopping complex, or grab a BBQ brisket sandwich at Bones Roadhouse (39080 S. Hwy-1, 707/884-1188), just north. Great camping and an incredible coastal panorama can be yours at Gualala Point Regional Park (42401 S. Hwy-1, 707/785-2377, $7 day entrance, $32 camping), a mile south of town along the Gualala River.