The city itself is built around a small natural harbor, and is located about a mile (1.5 km) south of the actual Point Arena, a narrow peninsula jutting around 1/2 mile (800 m) into the Pacific Ocean. This is the location of the Point Arena Lighthouse, at 115 feet (34.5m) the tallest lighthouse on the West coast of the United States. The lighthouse is also the closest location on the mainland (excluding Alaska) to Honolulu, Hawaii at a distance of 2,045 nautical miles (2,353 statute miles) or 3,787 kilometers.
The city has two high schools: the Point Arena High School and the Pacific Community Charter School. Students are allowed to cross-enroll and take courses at both schools, granting Point Arena students a broad curriculum to choose from. Although due to limited teaching staff many of the top students are left without options. The choice of the charter school has helped to keep in Point Arena many students who formerly commuted to Mendocino to attend its high school. Several feeder schools bring students through grammar school before sending them to Point Arena High School or the Charter School, meaning that the schools draw from a large pool of students in southern Mendocino County. The sports teams have lost much of their previous skill, partly due to apathy on the students part as well as failing grades.
Sound levels in Point Arena are relatively quiet, with many locations at night-time dominated by natural sounds such as those of the surf. The firm of Earth Metrics Inc., who prepared the Noise Element of the Point Arena General Plan, found that, even considering the presence of logging trucks on main city streets, composite sound levels rarely exceed 55 Leq. The maximum acceptable sound level specified in that General Plan Element is 60 Leq for residential areas.
The first European to record Point Arena was Spaniard Bartolomé Ferrelo in 1543, who named it Cabo de Fortunas (Spanish for "cape of fortunes"). The cape was renamed to Punta Delgado (narrow point) in 1775 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. Later the point, and the small harbor town south of it, were called Barra de Arena (i.e. sandbar) and finally Point Arena (literally "sand point").
The Point Arena area is also home to the Point Arena Cable Station, although the station is technically located in nearby Manchester. Built in 1956 by AT&T, the cable station serves as the eastern terminus of several undersea cables, including the JUSCN and connections to Hawaii and Canada. In 2002, AT&T applied for a permit from the EPA to connect an existing fiber optic conduit to the cable station, since further construction would cause incidental damage to the habitat of the endangered Point Arena Mountain Beaver.
As of the census of 2000, there were 474 people, 191 households, and 109 families residing in the city. The population density was 348.5 people per square mile (134.6/km²). There were 218 housing units at an average density of 160.3/sq mi (61.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 73.63% White, 1.05% African American, 3.80% Native American, 0.21% Asian, 18.78% from other races, and 2.53% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 28.48% of the population.
There were 191 households out of which 33.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.3% were married couples living together, 13.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.9% were non-families. 32.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.30.
In the city the population was spread out with 32.9% under the age of 18, 7.2% from 18 to 24, 27.8% from 25 to 44, 23.0% from 45 to 64, and 9.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 110.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 106.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,083, and the median income for a family was $32,885. Males had a median income of $21,042 versus $15,000 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,591. About 24.1% of families and 26.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 36.0% of those under age 18 and 4.5% of those age 65 or over.
In the state legislature Point Arena is located in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Pat Wiggins, and in the 1st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Patty Berg. Federally, Point Arena is located in California's 1st congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +10 and is represented by Democrat Mike Thompson.