Back on Hwy. 1 heading north, you'll pass through Sea Ranch, a series of condominium beach developments, before you reach the small coastal community of Gualala (pronounced Wah-la-la). In the old days, Gualala was a vivacious logging town. A few real-life, suspender-wearing lumberjacks still end their day at the Gualala Hotel's saloon, but for the most part the town's chief function is to provide gas, groceries, and hardware for area residents. Several parks, hiking trails, and about 10 ideal sunbathing beaches lie just outside town.
The Gualala River, adjacent to the town of the same name, is suitable for canoeing, rafting, and kayaking, because powerboats and jet skis are forbidden. Along its banks you're likely to see ospreys, herons, egrets, and ducks; steelhead, salmon, and river otters make their homes in the waters. You can rent canoes and kayaks in Gualala for 2 hours, a half day, or a full day from Adventure Rents (tel. 888/881-4386 or 707/884-4386; www.adventurerents.com), in downtown Gualala on Hwy. 1 behind Century 21 Realty. Prices range from $35 for a couple of hours on a kayak to $90 for a full day on a tandem ocean kayak; canoes are available as well.
Point Arena is a few miles north of Gualala. Stop here for the view at the Point Arena Lighthouse & Museum (tel. 877/725-4448 or 707/882-2777; www.pointarenalighthouse.com), built in 1870 after 10 ships ran aground here one night in a storm. An $8-per-person fee ($1 for children 11 and under) covers parking, entrance to the lighthouse museum, and an interesting tour of the six-story, 145-step lighthouse (the view through the dazzling 6-ft.-wide, lead-crystal lens is worth the hike). The lighthouse is open daily 10am to 3:30pm; half-hour tours run every 20 minutes.