By Paige Porter

Setting: 115 miles north of San Francisco, Gualala proper isdefined by eight miles of the Pacific Ocean, the Gualala River, andcurvy Old Stage Road. It's 59 miles south of Fort Bragg and 67miles northwest of Santa Rosa.

Attractions: Gualala enjoys the benefits of what locals calla "banana belt," with more fog-free days than other NorthernCalifornia towns can claim. Its posture offers stunning oceanviews, and the area has mild summers. This small town boasts athriving arts community and an active theater.

Drawbacks: Gualala isn't known for excellent public schoolsor an active nightlife. The town's inaccessibility might pose aproblem for people wishing to escape small-town life.

Housing Options: Property here rarely goes up for sale, andwhen it does, it sells fast at a high price. Most of theneighborhoods exist in the hills above the town center, along OldStage Road. The Sea Ranch, a nearby planned community famed for itsbreathtaking locale and environmental protection, enjoys its ownzip code. But it shares the same stores and services as Gualalaproper.

What It Costs: A two-bedroom, one-bath house in Gualalaaverages $350,000. Homes on the bluff, overlooking the Pacific,cost between $1 and $4 million. Generator-required, off-the-gridhouses in the woods sell for $250,000, and rentals average $1,400 amonth. At The Sea Ranch, oceanfront houses start at $1 million andsoar from there; mid-meadow homes average $750,000. Self-standingtown houses at The Sea Ranch go for $400,000; lots start at $60,000and climb to $1 million. The Sea Ranch boasts an activevacation-rental market, which helps second-home owners make thepayments.

Your Next-door Neighbors: Architects (inspired by theinnovative 1960s architects of The Sea Ranch) flock here, as dodoctors, lawyers, retired dot-commers, photographers, painters,engineers, telecommuters, and farmers. Word has it that RobinWilliams and Joe Montana both own houses in the area, but localsprotect their famous neighbors' addresses as much as they do theirnot-so-famous ones.

How You'd Spend Free Time: Kayaking on the Gualala River,beachcombing, hiking on some of the North Coast's most breathtakingtrails at The Sea Ranch, visiting Gualala Arts. For more, call707/462-7417 or visit www.gomendo.com.

(published 2003)

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