GUALALA TO ELK (31 MILES) – 2 NIGHTS
Nestled into craggy bluffs along scenic Highway 1, this throwback village of artists and entrepreneurs holds a charm all its own. A walkabout delivers the eclectic Gualala Arts Center, quirky shops like Four Eyed Frog Books and Studio 391 along with a handful of colorful characters. Tamp off steam with a seashore hike at Gualala Point Regional Park or head north toward Anchor Bay to Bowling Ball Beach (Schooner Gulch State Beach). As the tide pulls out, a surreal setting unfolds like a lunar landscape with a mass of almost perfectly shaped spherical stones. Hidden like the Terracotta Army, the geological phenomena known as “concretions” are rare and picture-ready, formed by a natural process of sedimentary rock binding to minerals and/or stone. Check the tide charts for access.
In Point Arena, belly up at Franny’s Cup & Saucer for a traditional croque monsieur before visiting the African veldt via B. Bryan Preserve. On tap are Rothschild Giraffes, Greater Roan, Sable and Kudo Antelope and Grevy’s and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra via the new DIY self-driving Car Safari Tours. Budget travelers can overnight at the new Wildflower Motel or get another DIY fix at Mar Vista Cottages, with 12 stand-alone guest suites and a pick-your-own eggs and kale for breakfast.
Day two is a strap on the boots and pack the corkscrew outing, starting with a tour of Stornetta Lands National Monument with Unbeaten Path Tours followed by a jaunt to Point Arena Lighthouse before saddling up at Ross Ranch in the tiny enclave of Elk (pop. 208), for horseback ride tucked deep in the ancient redwoods. A short jaunt delivers the Elk Store, stocked cache of local products and lunch items such as homemade clam “chowdah,” or the 4 Mules Panini. Pack out for a picnic at Greenwood State Beach, local Chenin Blanc in tow.
Two nights at the Elk Cove Inn & Spa delivers a chill pill that’s easy on the eyes. The newly renovated ocean view suites sport contemporary décor and private decks with mind-numbing views. Daytime activities include hiking Navarro Beach or Navarro River Redwoods State Park, popping into wine country along Highway 128 or rest and romance. As the sun sizzles, snag a seat at the uber luxe Harbor House Inn, which debuted in 2018 with 11 guest rooms and a newly-minted Michelin star. Let chef Matt Kammerer take the reins with a twelve-course hyper-local tasting menu including vegetables bathed in sea mist and such delicacies as albacore smoked over a bed of chrysanthemum.