The Coast Guard was preceded by the U.S. Life-saving Service which was established in the late 19th Century as a means of providing rescue to the many mariners who lost ships or got into trouble in the fog or on the stormy seas just off the point. In 1901, the Cape Code-style building now known as the Coast Guard House was built as a "life-saving station" -- a place for members of the Life-saving Service to live. Much like today's firehouses, the rescuers lived together and were available on short notice for emergencies. In those days, they rowed out to the stricken ships in long boats that seemed almost as hazardous as the ships they were rescuing.
Innkeeper Kevin Gallagher has turned this historic building into an especially charming inn that offers guests a choice between rooms in the main building or separate cottages just behind the building. We enjoyed a tiny, yet unique accommodation called the Flag Room which was ideal for a couple or single person. The room basically is a Queen bed, a private bathroom and a dining or reading area that includes a couch-like bench, table and three large windows overlooking the Arena Cove and the sea beyond. The bedroom area, while small, seems open because it also has a wall full of windows. Furnishings, floors -- everything in this room is upscale.
Judging from the conversation at the breakfast table, guests do find the inn to their liking. Over an elaborate Spanish-style omelet, fresh pastries, juice and coffee, we enjoyed meeting an extended family that had booked several rooms for their group as they toured California with family members from Israel. The guests who stayed in the cottages enjoyed their breakfast in their rooms. Like innkeepers at many bed-and-breakfast inns, Gallagher - a Philadelphia native -- is a gracious and affable host who makes a point of getting to know each of his guests, whether at breakfast or while they are enjoying some quiet relaxation in the reading room.
The life-saving station helped, but there also was the need for a good, strong light beam to guide ships away from hazards. During the 1860's, ships carrying lumber past Point Arena would go aground almost weekly. So it was in 1866 that the government funded the Point Arena Lighthouse. While the original was damaged beyond repair in the 1906 earthquake, the replacement lighthouse stands to this day and is a popular stop just a couple miles north of the town of Point Arena.
Near the base of the Point Arena Lighthouse is a small museum and gift shop where visitors can spend a few minutes while they wait for the next tour to the top of the lighthouse. With more than a hundred steps, the stairs to the top can be challenging for older visitors, but the spiral staircase leads to a unique up-close look at the famous Fresnel lens - a lens that makes the light visible 18 miles at sea. There are also great views of the coastline from the top, although the best photo opportunities are just a quarter-mile or so from the lighthouse where you can also look out on the rocks and tidepools.
Maybe the best place of all to view the rocky coastline is the Stornetta Public Lands, just a short walk on a trail located at the first bend in the road once you leave the lighthouse. For wide open beaches, there is no better place along here than Manchester State Park, with its dunes and scenic views of the Point Arena Lighthouse.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: This tour starts in Bodega, just a half hour drive from Petaluma, and there are fascinating coastal views and attractions all the way up to Point Arena and beyond. Further up the road is Mendocino, famous for its seaside landscapes and fine restaurants and lodgings.
WHAT: The Bodega to Point Arena drive is an easy half-day drive that is ideal for a weekend daytrip, or better yet, an overnight in Point Arena and return trip the next day.
WHEN: Year-round, although the weather along the coast can change quickly and be quite unpredictable.
WHY: The California coast is a national treasure, and it simply lifts the spirits to see what Mother Nature has given us along this gorgeous stretch of Highway 1.
HOW: For more information on the Coast Guard House Historic Inn, phone 707-882-2442 or visit www.coastguardhouse.com.
Cary Ordway is president of Getaway Media Corp and publishes a website focusing on California vacation ideas. Please visit California Weekend for more information on California travel .
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway