Last modified: August 28, 2018

Fishing Piers Northern California

Point Arena Pier

The inshore rocks and reef areas are covered with a variety of seaweeds, kelp and other organisms

What will we find today?

We would not keep that many fish today.

One of my students, Debbie, with a grass rockfish

James with a striped seaperch

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Records kept by the Department of Fish and Wildlife confirm the main catch of fish from the pier. Leading the hit parade are striped seaperch and silver surfperch followed by several other perch—walleye surfperch, calico surfperch, white seaperch and shinerperch. Kelp greenling are a common catch as are cabezon, black rockfish, grass rockfish, and a several schooling species—Pacific sardine, surf smelt and topsmelt.

Common species at the pier — Kelp Greenling, Striped Seaperch and a small Cabezon

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Now I don’t want to say that some of the people in my old Mendocino County stomping grounds are a bit strange, but… from the Barbary Coast Dive Club Newsletter of September, 1999: “Another highlight of the weekend was the Drowning Woman Parade on the Point Arena Pier. According to the locals, the Festival is a response to the annual Burning Man festival that is held in the Nevada desert. The parade featured a number of revealing, wacky costumes like a guy with a pig head mask who was walking around wearing a giant dildo… Perhaps next year the BCD club can enter a float in the parade. Any ideas…?” My suggestion would be to stick to diving.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< —  Who doesn’t like a feel good nature story?

‘THE ALBATROSS IS BACK’ — Mr. Al B. Tross has a following at Point Arena

The “Cove Coffee” shop at the Point Arena pier held a modest crowd, with people sipping hot brew and peering at their newspapers shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday. Then the front door was flung open.

“The albatross is back!” a young, bearded man announced. “Just saw him come in and land.”

The customers all nodded and smiled. They were relieved, because the bird had vanished for almost a week. It was easy to understand why someone might get excited about seeing a bird with a 6- to 7-foot wingspan sail into the home cove. I jumped from my table and went to take a look.

This illustrious visitor is a legendary bird locals had named Mr. Al B. Tross, a wandering Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) who has wintered at this harbor in southern Mendocino County for fourteen consecutive seasons. Though the phenomenon of “”agrants” — individual birds who depart or are blown away from customary migratory routes — is well-known in the birding world, this albatross is something special. He’s not simply dropping by. It seems he has adopted Point Arena as his winter home.

—Paul McHugh, San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 2007

[Post script — Unfortunately the albatross has not been seen for several years.]

<*}}}}}}}}}><  An interesting plaque sits near the front of the pier: “This monument dedicated to the fifteen young men from Yawatahama, Japan who sailed 11,000 kilometers across the Pacific in a 15 meter wood boat to realize their vision of coming to America. Landing at Point Arena on August 13, 1912, their dreams and courage continue to be a source of inspiration and a foundation of the friendship between the people of Yawatahama and Point Arena.” Raven B. Earlygrow, Mayor of Point Arena.

<*}}}}}}}}}><   When I taught at Anderson Valley High School, I also coached girls basketball and was Athletic Director for a number of years. Point Arena was one of our main league rivals and some of the games with the “Pirates” were so intense that we needed a police escort out of town. Perhaps a better mascot than “Pirates” would have been the “Beavers” since Point Arena is the home of an endangered species of beaver—the Point Arena Mountain Beaver (Aplodontia rufa nigra). The beaver, a sub-species of Mountain Beaver is only found in a 24 square mile area around Point Arena.

History Note. Originally home to the Native American Pomo Tribe, the first European to “discover” Point Arena and give it a name was the Spaniard Bartolomé Ferrelo who named it Cabo de Fortunas (Spanish for “cape of fortunes”) in 1543.

A little over two hundred years later, in 1775, the cape was renamed Punta Delgado (narrow point) by lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (commander of the schooner Sonora), part of a royal expedition chartered by the government of Mexico to map the north coast of Alta California.

However, by the late 18th century the common name among sailors for the point and town south of the point seems to have been Barra de Arena (sand bar) which in turn became Punta de Arenas (sandy point). This name was eventually Americanized into Point Arena.

Prior to the 1860s, Point Arena was one of many sites along this stretch of coast that utilized chutes and wire trapeze rigging to bring supplies to local residents while loading the small coastal schooners with redwood lumber, dairy products, hides and other exports destined for San Francisco and beyond.

Most of these ports were so small they were called dog-hole ports—since they supposedly were just big enough to allow a dog to get in and out. Dozens of these were built, and almost any small cove or river outlet was a prime candidate for a chute. Luckily, the captains of these schooners were masters of their art and were able to get out of places like Hard Scratch and Nip-and-Tuck.

Point Arena got its first store in 1859 and a real wharf in 1866. With a prime location, roughly 40 miles south of Fort Bragg and 110 miles northwest of San Francisco, Point Arena became the most active port between San Francisco and Eureka during the booming logging period of the 1870s (in fact at one time the cove had two wharves). Steam schooners like the Seafoam, Pomo and Point Arena made regular runs along the Mendocino coast.

Unfortunately shipwrecks occurred at the point at an alarming rate so a lighthouse was needed and the original Point Arena Lighthouse was constructed in 1870; this lighthouse was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and later replaced.

Point Arena Hotel  — THE UNDERSIGNED, HAVING taken possession of the Point Arena Hotel, hereby requests the patronage of the traveling public along the coast, and will assure the that every effort will be made to please them in culinary, bar and all other matters pertaining to the good comforts of a hotel. The beds are renewed and the cooking department is supervised by Mrs. Jones. CALL AND SEE US. 563-tf     F. Jones

San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 1872

Point Arena — Located 40 miles south of Fort Bragg and 110 miles northwest of San Francisco… This was another town that boomed during the logging period and it became the busiest little city between San Francisco and Eureka. At the edge of town and just south of the point is a partially sheltered cove where a wharf has been constructed and where there is a U. S. Coast Guard lifesaving station. Fishing boats tie up at the wharf where there are hoists, scales and cleaning sheds. Ashore there is a large warehouse where fish are handled. A small fleet of trollers anchors in the cove during the season or ties up at the dock. The chief activity is salmon and albacore trolling but a few setline boats work out of this port. Occasionally trawlers unload sole, lingcod, and rockfish. A few crab fishermen deliver at the cove. All fish goes out by truck. For the past 20 years the catches at Point Arena have averaged 300,000 pounds per year with 940,000 pounds in the peak year, 1940. In 1947 the total was 840,000 pounds but by 1951 the catch had dropped to 34,000 pounds. The leading species have been salmon, lingcod, crabs, albacore, and rockfish.

—California Department of Fish and Game, Fish Bulletin #96, 1953

Point Arena Letter — Nimrod wants a fish story, so here it is: A young man by the name of Chas. Minor was gathering abalone near Seal Rock recently, when hearing a splashing near by he picked up a spear that was handy and looking for the cause of the commotion, he saw a shark about four feet long after a twenty-five pound codfish. Finally the fish ran into a hole of water among the rocks, the shark following like a flash, and in a minute more a four-pronged spear was darted into his sharkship up to the socket. Then the fun commenced in earnest. Quicker  than thought the handle was twisted from his hand, and he jumped into the water to get hold of it again, but the shark turned on him and drove him out. In the course of half an hour the shark became exhausted in his efforts to rid himself of the spear, the young man succeeded in regaining his hold on the handle, and after a hard struggle landed the man-eater on the beach. He then speared the codfish, which made a New Year dinner for a score of persons.

Petaluma Courier, January 26, 1887

The pier in 1973

Boats moored near the pier

In the years since 1866, Point Arena has seen several wharves, testimony to the killer storms (primarily from the south) and waves that periodically thrash the cove. The storm in 1983 was only the latest but it ended the life of the old pier and resulted in the building of a completely new pier in 1987, a pier that hopefully will be better able to weather the storms.

Mendocino Coast Ravaged By Storm

Thousands of coast residents remained without power this morning in the wake of wind and heavy rains from the winter’s roughest storm, but damage was light throughout the inland areas of the county… Point Arena, at the county’s southern tip, was the hardest hit. Waves, wind and localized flooding caused the collapse of two buildings near the water at Point Arena Cove and smashed through the front windows of the Cove Café.

Eight people were caught inside the restaurant and its rear buildings when the high water struck, but all were rescued without injury. “My little boy was trapped,” Betty Moran said. “I floated around and started screaming for help. I was afraid that another wave would come and force them to leave me.” “I was in the building taking a shower when it happened,” said Dori Fox, daughter of the restaurant’s owner. “I was standing in there looking out the window like I always do and then I saw a wave coming eye level.” “I’ve never been so scared in my life. The water was coming in all over — under the door, up the drain. I got out of the house, and people were running all over screaming.” Fox, 26, said she had lived there all her life and never seen such high surf.

Along with the destroyed boathouse and outbuildings, raging seas demolished much of the Point Arena Cove pier, built during the last century to load timber ships…

—Charles Rappleye, Ukiah Daily Journal, January 27, 1983

The pier before the 1983 storm

Huge waves slammed the pier and onshore buildings

Only pilings were left after the storm

Photos courtesy of Nicholas King — “The Great Disaster at Arena Cove”

Today the nearest oceanfront pier to the north is at Trinidad, a nautical distance of 131 miles. Such was not the case back in the late 1800s. There were a number of true wharves along the Mendocino and Humboldt coasts including those at the Navarro River, Albion, Little River, Caspar, Noyo Harbor, and Fort Bragg (where C.R. Johnson built a wharf at Soldiers Harbor Cove in 1885). To the north was Roger’s Wharf at Westport (which was called Beal’s Landing in the 1860s and Westport after the late 1870s). Eventually Westport had two wharves. Further north, a wharf was built at Rockport in 1876 by W.R. Miller; at the time it was built it was claimed to be among the finest on the coast. Bear Harbor had its own wharf until it was washed away by a tidal wave in 1899. Across the county line, in Humboldt County, a 900-foot-long wharf was built at Shelter Cove in 1886.

Smaller dog-hole ports (which generally had a chute, sometimes a modified type of wharf, but rarely a true wharf) came and went depending on the health of their lumber mills. Still remembered were those at Iversen’s Landing and Saunders Landing, which were south of Point Arena. Rollerville (near the Garcia River), Greenwood Cove (where Casket Wharf operated until 1929), and Cuffey Cove, were located south of the Navarro River. Mendocino, Cleone, Newport, Kibesilla, Union Landing, Juan Creek (McFall’s Landing) and Hardy Creek are/were all located in central to northern parts of the county still located on Highway 1. Usal, Northport, Little Jackass Gulch and Needle Rock were found in the territory that today is called the “Lost Coast.” Most of these date from the 1860s to 1880s and many today are just history. Although Humboldt and Del Norte counties both saw extensive timber operations in the late 1800s, most of their movement of logs was done by railroad.

Although stories of people fishing on the wharves are to be expected, what is really interesting are the stories of fish caught off the chutes. The chutes weren’t always as safe as wharves, but some people, especially kids, would hardly be stopped just because there was a little danger.

Pier office and restrooms that have showers

Point Arena Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Restrooms with toilets, coin-operated showers, fish cleaning stations, free parking, some benches, night lighting, boat launching (up to 5 tons and 27 feet) are all available on or near the pier. Food is available at the Arena Cove Bar and Grill just a few feet from the foot of the pier. Bait and tackle is available near the foot of the pier. Picnic tables are available near the front of the pier. Private Sportfishing boats are also available some years; check with the harbormaster at (707) 882-2583, he usually has the phone numbers of local craft.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is concrete and the railing is 40 inches high. Not marked for handicapped.

How To Get There: From the south, turn left from Hwy. 1 onto Iverson Ave., which will turn into Port Rd. Simply, follow the road to the pier. From the north, turn right onto Port Rd. and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Point Arena.


One Response

  1. My wife and I stopped at Point Arena during our 5th anniversary road trip down the Hwy 1. It was a beautiful early August afternoon. Sitting on deck of Point Arena Bar & Grill, we enjoyed a pint of Blue Star Wheat from Northcoast Brewing while soaking in the sun. We bought a succulent arrangement from a vendor in the parking lot for our hosts in Los Altos. We only spent an hour there, but it was a fantastic hour! It was reminiscent of Cape Kiwanda on the Northern Oregon Coast. We will make sure to make another stop the next time we venture down PCH. Thanks for the hospitality!


    Mike Lowery
    Salem, OR

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