Gualala is located on the northern bank of the Gualala River, where the river meets the sea. There are several explanations as to the origin of the word Gualala, but the area has long been the home of the Kashaya Pomo Indian Tribe and most folks who live there believe that the word "Gualala" is derived from their language. It is generally translated into English as "water coming down place" or something similar.
Before California was incorporated into the United States the Gualala area was included in Spanish and Mexican Land Grants, but few Europeans occupied the land. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the first homesteaders settled there and shortly thereafter a lumber mill was built to help satisfy the demand for construction materials in the San Francisco region during the gold and silver booms..
In the nineteenth century it took two or three days to reach Gualala from San Francisco by dog hole schooner or stage coach, but today Gualala is a three hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge (if you know the road and don't hit rush hour on the bridge). It is one of the most beautiful drives in the world and should be savored rather than rushed. Another approach is to incorporate Gualala into an exploration of the entire coast from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. That can be stretched into a fascinating multi-day trip. Be careful when planning these trips. Distances are not great, but the roads are curvaceous and driving times are not to be gauged by past freeway experiences.
Gualala is a friendly little town with all of the necessities of a modern community and few of the problems of big city life. The business community is dominated by small entrepreneurs who live in town. The person that you meet behind the counter is frequently the owner of the business. The same thing is true of the infrastructure of trades that support the community. The people who drive the ambulances and fire engines, the plumbers and carpenters, the metal workers and roofers are all part of the fabric of the community. If you attend one of the local theatrical performances you are likely to see a plumber acting opposite a school teacher and a banker.
Much of the economy depends upon tourism and there are miles of magnificent coast line and several important regional parks nearby. The Gualala area has a wide range of excellent lodging and restaurant choices as well as three grocery stores, two gas stations, an automobile repair shop, a bank, several hardware stores and a wide variety of other businesses that can satisfy just about every basic need a traveler might have. There is even a championship eighteen hole golf course just across the river in The Sea Ranch. The real treasure for the traveler, however, is the number of artists that live in the region and display their work in town. There is no excuse to bemoan the homogeneity of shopping choice in most big city stores. Gualala has something for even the most jaded shopper.