Winter on the
Redwood Coast (from Fort Ross in Sonoma County through Irish
Beach in Mendocino County) offers a remarkable variety of
activities for the winter traveler.
Spectacular storms transform the ocean into pounding fury that
alternate with days of balmy sunshine. It is the most romantic
time to bring your sweetheart to the Redwood Coast. Many
lodgings offer along with cozy rooms or cottages, luxurious beds
with handmade quilts or down comforters, fireplaces, and hot
Some inns have spectacular views of the tempest-tossed seas,
and most offer special off-season rates. Be advised, however,
that some businesses and restaurants are on winter schedules, so
it is wise to call ahead to check the hours.
Winter is mushroom season
for the experienced forager, with the many exotic varieties such
as golden chanterelles, morels, and king boletus popping up on
the forest floor. Salt Point State Park allows mushroom hunters
to pick up to five pounds per day. Please respect private
property, however, and definitely be sure you can correctly
identify any mushroom you eat.
Winter walks along the redwood forest paths are spectacular.
Waterfalls tumble down the banks at every turn. This is the
season when forest vegetation is most lush. Ferns and fungi
sprout from moss-covered fallen trees, and the fresh woodland
smells should prove invigorating.
Crab & wine festival
This is also crabbing
season, and the fourth annual Mendocino Crab and Wine Festival
will be held from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1. During the festival,
restaurants up and down the coast will feature crab specials and
"winemaker dinners" pairing local Dungeness crab with Mendocino
wines. Look for other events including crab feeds, cooking
classes, crab cruises and more.
February brings St. Valentine's and Presidents' holidays and a
fundraiser in the Gualala Arts Center will feature live and
silent auctions, live music, wine lots, objets d'art, gift
certificate packages of lodging and dining and other goods and
services offered up for bid.
Boating & fishing
Gualala River is often
too swollen and swift at this time of year for canoeing and
kayaking, but check with local outfitter Adventure Rents for
current conditions. By March, the river has usually calmed down,
and guided high-water trips are offered.
When the sandbar at the mouth of the Gualala River is breached
by winter's first storms, steelhead (ocean-going trout) begin
their annual spawning. Steelhead season brings a gauntlet of
fishermen to the Gualala River's banks, although any fish caught
must be released. The most up-to-date information on how the
fish are biting, as well as innumerable fish stories, are usually
found at the venerable Gualala Hotel built in 1903.
The beaches along the
Redwood Coast--the Sea Ranch's public-access strands, Gualala
Point Regional Park, Anchor Bay's Fish Rock beach, and the state
beaches at Schooner Gulch and Manchester--are all but deserted
during the winter. Beachcombing on a sunny winter day often
yields treasures in the piles of driftwood tossed ashore by the
Remember to use extreme caution near the winter shoreline.
So-called "sneaker waves," which rise suddenly out of a
relatively calm sea, can be treacherous; never turn your
back on the ocean.
Just north of Gualala on Highway 1 is the tiny city of Point
Arena, and Point Arena Cove restaurants provide excellent (and
cozy) vantage spots for watching surfers brave the world-class
Whale watching is, of
course, one of the Redwood Coast's most popular winter pastimes,
with Gualala Point and the Point Arena Lighthouse prime spots to
observe the migration of the California whales.
Whale and Jazz Festivals will be held April 2, 3, and 4 in
Point Arena and Gualala. Call the Arena Cove Bar & Grill at
800.778.5252 or Gualala Arts Center at 707.884.1138 or the Point
Arena Lighthouse at 707.882.2777 for information on
Just north of Point Arena is the floodplain of the Garcia
River and nesting grounds for the beautiful tundra swans, which
arrive in huge flocks in late November and stay the winter.
*Coastal Traveler, Winter 2004, Volume XVIII
Number 1, Tomales Bay Pulishing Co., Point Reyes Station, CA.