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Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands

Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands
Venture to the rugged North Coast to experience the untouched beauty of this California Coastal National Monument

California has a whopping 840 miles of coastline, but there’s nothing quite like the more than two-mile stretch you’ll encounter at the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument. Just imagine a 270-degree view of the sparkling Pacific from atop one of the public land’s signature craggy cliffs, which literally lift you out and over the ocean. These jutting, ever-changing rock formations are the result of constant erosion from the crashing waves below, creating cavernous holes at their base.

“The Point Arena-Stornetta Unit encompasses 1,700 wild, undeveloped acres,” says Leslie Dahlhoff, former mayor of Point Arena, which has a population of roughly 450. “There are cliffs and rocky shorelines. The lands here have a definite wilderness character to them.” The Point Arena-Stornetta Unit is also a marine life sanctuary. It’s one of only five places in the world with a deep upwelling that pushes nutrient-rich waters to the surface.The protected lands are so special, in fact, that President Obama declared them part of the California Coastal National Monument in March 2014. 

A great spot to soak in all this untouched beauty is from the top of Point Arena’s historic lighthouse. Built in 1870 (destroyed by an earthquake in 1906 and rebuilt by 1908) to help guide ships carrying redwood lumber from Northern California down to San Francisco, the 115-foot structure is the tallest of its kind on the Pacific Coast.

Hike to one of the area’s sandy shores (Bowling Ball and Garcia River beaches are favourites) and see loads of wildlife on the way. Depending on the time of year, you’ll catch glimpses of humpback, blue, or gray whales coming up for air as they migrate between Alaska and Baja, Mexico; black oystercatchers foraging for mussels along the shoreline; or peregrine falcons soaring high above—all with the sweet soundtrack of sea lions barking in the background. You may even cross paths with endangered species such as the Point Arena Mountain Beaver and California Red-Legged Frog—and likely a cow or two. The Stornetta family dairy ranch, which donated the land in 2005, still grazes cattle there today.

Point Arena is a two-hour trek from Santa Rosa (directions here). Be sure to stick to highways as local roads like Mountain View Road, Skaggs Creek Road, and Fish Rock Road may be too curvy for first timers. It’s a pretty short trip for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The northern California coast is a different world,” says David Christy, spokesman for the USDI Bureau of Land Management. “If you haven’t been to the Point Arena-Stornetta Lands, you must add it to your catalogue of travel,” adds Margaret Lindgren, guide and owner of Unbeaten Path Tours. “It is a key component to engaging in the full California travel experience.”

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Tai Power Seeff

Northern California

Discover the North Coast

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Average (°C)
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Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.

Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.

It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.

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Tour an inspiring compound dedicated to an almost-lost art

Eric Hollenbeck didn’t plan to be a time traveler, or a museum curator, or a model of how to take care of troubled youth or returning war vets....

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Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake within California, is the oldest lake in North America and possibly the world.
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
John Muir
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Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Mendocino

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Discover a coastal paradise with ridiculously fresh seafood, amazing wine, and craft beer

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea, this coastal hamlet is an obvious magnet for artists, romantics, and lovers of...

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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

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Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

North Coast Wine Country

Slip away to some of the state’s most peaceful vineyards

From quiet vineyards bounded by lush redwood forests along the Mendocino Coast, to the sun-drenched rolling hills of rugged Lake County, the North...

Clear Lake, California
Courtesy of County of Lake

Clear Lake

Explore a burgeoning wine scene and cool off with a summery splash in the lake

Take a deep breath the next time you’re in Northern California’s Lake County. That’s some of...

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Tai Power Seeff

Wine & Dine in the North Coast

Sample hyper-local foods from land and sea, plus amazing beers and wines

The North Coast might just be the perfect place to eat. Few other places in the world can offer such a harmonious blend of chefs, farmers,...

Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

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Celebrate the seasonal bounty and quirky art-fueled character of the North Coast

You can learn a lot about a place at its local festivals. Consider the Kinetic Grand Championship, a cosmically silly three-day battle between human-powered works of art (imagine a speeding dragon...

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The Humboldt County Fair began in 1896 and is the oldest running county fair in California.
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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB


Visit a Victorian village where time stands still

A fairytale come to life, this remote village features carefully preserved Victorian-era century homes, a visual and architectural feast. On a...

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Courtesy of Skunk Train

Skunk Train

Ride a historic train through soaring coast redwoods

Originally built to transport redwood logs from the rugged backcountry to the coast, this 1885 heritage railroad now ferries sightseers to and fro...

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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB


Nature and culture merge in an art-fueled Victorian seaport

This lively seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has split-personality charm: a sense of history in...

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Lucas Himovitz

Fort Bragg

Rough-and-tumble lumber town morphs into a top coastal find

With its original roots as a military garrison and then a gritty lumber town, Fort Bragg skirted under the radar of most visitors. But now—perhaps...

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While now a beautiful coastal treasure, Glass Beach initially began in the late 1940s as a place where locals would toss their trash, including glass bottles.
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Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
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Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

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The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbor, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...