andrew burke





Point Arena: The Wharf Master's Inn and the Coastal Trail

Posted on: 2023-09-03

I visit family in Eureka California several times a year. As the airport there is often fogged in, I fly to San Francisco and then drive up. Usually I just take the inland route, five hours on highway 101. If I have extra time, I like to split the trip into two days and take highway 1 winding along the extremely scenic coast. I've already written about this route on here but last weekend I finally did the drive again for the first time in five years.

As before, I stayed in Point Arena, almost exactly half-way up, at The Wharf-Master's Inn. I hadn't been there in quite some time but they still remembered me, which was nice. I guess they don't get that many people coming by from Nova Scotia.

The Wharf-Master's Inn in Point Arena California

The Wharf-Master's Inn features rooms with big jacuzzis, comfortable beds, electric fireplaces, and large balconies overlooking the wharf and the ocean. Room rates vary dramatically, but I'm usually able to time things so I go through on an off day or in the off season. The best thing to do there is have some wine and sit on the balcony in the evening.

Feet up at dusk at the Wharf-Master's Inn in Point Arena California

Sunsets from here are especially lovely:

Sunset from a balcony at the Wharf-Master's Inn in Point Arena California

Sunset over the Wharf-Master's Inn in Point Arena California

The last time I was here was in November 2018 and otherwise terrible wildfire smoke made for an especially epic synthwave-style sunset:

California sunset filtered by November 2018 wildfire smoke, looking like a 1980s 'synthwave' image

The sunrises can also be spectacular:

Pink sunrise clouds over the Pacific Ocean at the Wharf-Master's Inn in Point Arena

There was no spectacular sunrise on this visit, as fog had rolled in overnight:

Foggy morning harbour and beach at Point Arena California

When I checked in I was given the passcode to a gate behind the hotel leading to a trail network along the headlands above, and was told that I could, theoretically, walk all the way to the lighthouse. I had already walked around some of this area before and I had driven out to the lighthouse a few times, but I had never really considered walking the entire distance in one go. My phone said the lighthouse was about 5 kilometres away. Since I had spent a whole day sitting in airplanes and another whole day sitting in a car and was going to spend the rest of this day sitting in a car too, I decided to set out and see how far I could get. It helped that I had woken up very early due to jet leg and so I was on the trail before 8am.

In previous visits, the shining seas had crashed against vividly sun-coloured cliffs and exotically-shaped rocks:

Colourful cliffs and arch rocks on the shore by Point Arena California

Coastal rocks and sea arches on a sunny day in Point Arena California

... but this morning it was foggy. Very foggy:

Coastal rocks and sea arches on a foggy day in Point Arena California

This made it perhaps less epic but a lot more evocative. It felt a lot like an old 3D video game which saved on processing power by making everything foggy to keep from rendering far-away objects.

Foggy grass paths near Point Arena California

This stretch of coast seems particularly hazardous for trees: some have had the soil fall away from under them, others seem to have caught fire at some point, some are covered with moss, and yet others seem to have suffered some kind of blight.

Overgrown trees by the coast near Point Arena California

The stormy winds off the ocean can't help either. The best survivors are low and streamlined.

Windswept tree by the coast near Point Arena California

I went through a gate and down a hillside and suddenly came across ... cows!

Cows in the mist near Point Arena California

I'm a city guy so I wasn't sure how safe it would be to get too close to these large animals, especially as some of them had calves as well. I considered turning back, but then a jogger passed me in the opposite direction, having clearly just run through the whole herd. So I decided to risk it. It turns out that cows are extremely chill. Some calves liked to stand right on the path, but a few moos from their mothers had them moving along. I tried to stay out of everyone's way but they mostly ignored me. For such large animals they were actually rather relaxing to be around.

At one point I turned a corner by a grove of trees and had a face-to-face encounter:

Cow and calf on the path near Point Arena California

There weren't a lot of options for going around. I cautiously made my way through the edge of the trees, making calm noises at the cow and calf. Eventually they casually moved away, the calf continuing to watch me curiously. A crow up in a nearby branch watched the whole contretemps and I'm pretty sure it was laughing at me.

After that I finally got to the familiar road that leads to the lighthouse. I got as far as the property gate, which usually has a great view of the building, but it was so foggy there was no lighthouse to be seen.

Point Arena Lighthouse lost in the fog

Oh well. At least I had done the distance. It turned out to be more like 7 kilometres than 5, but it was good to get some exercise for a change!

I made better time on the way back, as often happens. The fog cleared and some sunlight even started peeking through the clouds. Looking back from halfway home I could now clearly see the lighthouse in the distance.

Lighthouse and cows by the shore near Point Arena California

My quick little hike had ended up taking nearly two and a half hours, but I was now ready for another day of driving.

Hybrid screenshot from Apple Health activity tracking of a hike in Point Arena California

I had just enough time to shower and change and pack before checking out and driving north again on highway 1. I hope to come back again sooner next time.

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