Setting: 115 miles north of San Francisco, Gualala proper is defined by eight miles of the Pacific Ocean, the Gualala River, and curvy Old Stage Road. It's 59 miles south of Fort Bragg and 67 miles northwest of Santa Rosa.
Attractions: Gualala enjoys the benefits of what locals call a "banana belt," with more fog-free days than other Northern California towns can claim. Its posture offers stunning ocean views, and the area has mild summers. This small town boasts a thriving arts community and an active theater.
Drawbacks: Gualala isn't known for excellent public schools or an active nightlife. The town's inaccessibility might pose a problem for people wishing to escape small-town life.
Housing Options: Property here rarely goes up for sale, and when it does, it sells fast at a high price. Most of the neighborhoods exist in the hills above the town center, along Old Stage Road. The Sea Ranch, a nearby planned community famed for its breathtaking locale and environmental protection, enjoys its own zip code. But it shares the same stores and services as Gualala proper.
What It Costs: A two-bedroom, one-bath house in Gualala averages $350,000. Homes on the bluff, overlooking the Pacific, cost between $1 and $4 million. Generator-required, off-the-grid houses in the woods sell for $250,000, and rentals average $1,400 a month. At The Sea Ranch, oceanfront houses start at $1 million and soar from there; mid-meadow homes average $750,000. Self-standing town houses at The Sea Ranch go for $400,000; lots start at $60,000 and climb to $1 million. The Sea Ranch boasts an active vacation-rental market, which helps second-home owners make the payments.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Architects (inspired by the innovative 1960s architects of The Sea Ranch) flock here, as do doctors, lawyers, retired dot-commers, photographers, painters, engineers, telecommuters, and farmers. Word has it that Robin Williams and Joe Montana both own houses in the area, but locals protect their famous neighbors' addresses as much as they do their not-so-famous ones.
How You'd Spend Free Time: Kayaking on the Gualala River, beachcombing, hiking on some of the North Coast's most breathtaking trails at The Sea Ranch, visiting Gualala Arts. For more, call 707/462-7417 or visit www.gomendo.com.