Art in the redwoods at Gualala Arts Center
Along a delightfully quiet bit of California’s northern coast sits an unexpected cultural hub: Gualala. Too far north for most day trippers, and too far south to borrow the efficiency of the 101 and then cut through Anderson Valley, this spellbinding portion of shoreline is left to those with extra chutzpah, who take the manta “it’s the journey…” literally.
The area is sheltered from the colder ocean gusts that are common in Mendocino County’s namesake town by the arm of land jutting out from nearby Point Arena. Redwood tree spires ascend from Gualala River as you enter town. The Gualala Arts Center is the first right turn if you are arriving from the south on the 1.
The parking lot is itself a gallery, with sculptures from mostly regional artists. Polished steel curves, sloping bricks painted with the unmistakable silhouette of the wise raven, modern totems rise from the woodchips. In a sort of outdoor amphitheater or gathering place is a wooden shelter where community members pick up their organic Oz Farm CSA boxes, wood-hewn benches, and an outdoor pizza oven to rival those at Russian Valley wineries.
But it is inside where the community spirit of Gualala’s creativity comes alive. Rather than a static gallery there’s a parade of shows, most of them with open calls for artists. There are regular performances, too: this November I poked my head in and found the San Francisco Ballet School graduating class practicing on stage. In December there were 300-odd hundred people bobbing in and out of local artisan displays – we picked up a beautiful piece of hand weaving.
Since the sawmills left in the 1950’s, the area has refocused on its best import, human reflections of the density of beauty surrounding. Gualala attracts creative free spirits. I just recently discovered that Consuelo Underwood, one of my favorite American fiber artists, lives in this haven.
This biggest arts festival is in the middle of August, but there are dozens of galleries and the arts center open year-round. Check the calendar for upcoming performances, call for artists, and shows. After your visual candy, head to Trink’s Cafe for a bite – their beef and the cranberry beans in their soul-nourishing chili come from part of the Stornetta Lands nearby, and their key lime pie rivals any I’ve tried, coasts combined. Even though I am a card carrying fan of Fanny’s Cup and Saucer in Point Arena – try the canelle and the chocolate chip potato chip cookie to start – their key lime is overtaken by Trink’s. (To further emphasize and reminisce, I literally went on a Key Lime Pie tasting tour with my parents from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Meyers, the Everglades to Long Key. We saw manatees and visited Tequesta tribal lands and met a spoonbill, but our mission included sampling pie everywhere we went. Treasured times.)
There is a different from-scratch dessert served at Trink’s every day. There are green smoothies to save you from the usual road trip fare. Three nights a week Trink’s makes dinner and the neighbors all flock to their little ocean-view spot.
Gualala is hard to write about – it’s marvel is partly the quietness. There’s a majesty about small places. Here, even the most hardened city slicker has a chance to be undone by beauty.