California has a whopping 840 miles of coastline, but there’s nothing quite like the roughly 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 about 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 favorites) 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 Springs 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.”