Bowling Ball Beach has to be the most photographed Mendocino beach; it's certainly the most unusual. The beach gets its name from the round boulders (known as concretions) that are uncovered at low tide, looking for all the world like a cache of giant bowling balls. The beach is backed by tall sandstone bluffs, making the effect even more dramatic.
The concretions are formed when the minerals in sedimentary rock precipitate together to form a concrete-like mass. Since the surrounding sediments are softer, the concretions are exposed when the cliff starts eroding. To add to the bowling ball theme, dense strata in the sedimentary rock are also exposed by erosion, forming parallel grooves that look (with a little imagination) like bowling lanes.
Photo © JJ Harrison | Wikipedia.org
This beach is not always easy to get to. It is accessible from Schooner Gulf State Beach, about 4 miles south of Point Arena. There's a small parking area on the west side of Highway 1. From there, two trails branch out. The north trail goes to Bowling Ball Beach, and the south trail to Schooner Gulch. Unfortunately, the north trail has been badly eroded and may be inaccessible.
However, you can also reach the beach by walking north from Schooner Gulch beach during a minus tide (a lower than average low tide). That's the best time to visit anyway. You can check the local tide tables to plan your visit.
Bowling Ball Beach, showing exposed strata Photo © JJ Harrison | Wikimedia.org
Schooner Gulch State Beach includes 52 acres of largely undeveloped land. Take the trail from Highway 1 through the redwoods and down to the sandy beach, located in a protected cove backed by sandstone cliffs. You'll find tidepools, interesting rock formations, and driftwood at this beach. Fishing, picnicking, and surfing are popular activities here.
Another trail winds along the bluffs, offering a view of both beaches below, and a good spot to enjoy the sunset.
Facilities include a portable toilet; there is no water.