Sunsets in Northern California's wine country are simply amazing. As dusk settles in on a perfect evening, the Sonoma County skies open up in a sunset portrait of pinks, orange, gold and shimmering bits of blue dotted with billowy white clouds. This time of day, there’s little better in life than sitting back at a restaurant with a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and Mother Nature’s masterpieces.
We can also savor sunsets at some wineries, sipping a glorious glass as the sun slips into the horizon.
River's End Restaurant & Inn, Jenner
Drive the winding, coastal-front highway, enjoying the ocean views. Then sit back in the bluff-top restaurant with its expansive windows overlooking the mouth of the Russian River where it enters the Pacific Ocean.
Sometimes, the water splashes with seals and whales, and there’s usually a seagull show, too. Seasonal bites are as brilliant as the sun setting over the horizon – fresh-caught Wild King salmon grilled with asparagus and mustard, for example, plus seafood chowders, wasabi tobiko oysters, Petaluma duck confit egg rolls, and applewood smoked filet mignon topped in tangy Pt. Reyes bleu cheese.
River's End Restaurant & Inn, 11048 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2484
Lucas Wharf, Bodega Bay
Everything tastes even better with the stunning sunset views across the Bay at this large, waterfront restaurant and bar. The ocean is right before your eyes, and the chef takes care with the fresh catch, for seasonal specialties like seared ahi with pesto crostini, a fried oyster sandwich, crab cakes, and the stellar seafood stew served steaming in a pot. Sipping glass of wine or cocktail in front of the huge windows is an extra slice of heaven.
Lucas Wharf, 595 S. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3522
Boat House, Bodega Bay
This tiny place is almost always packed, with lines spilling out the door, and customers can get downright territorial over the handful of tables inside and on the little porch overlooking the water. Boathouse owner Captain Rick Powers catches his own rock cod in the ocean right outside the seaside shanty’s door, and drags his own crab pots for the crab cake sandwich.
You order at the counter, your food is sent out in a plastic basket lined with red-and-white checkered paper, and everything is really, really good, made to order by the nice men at the grill. Mouthwatering favorites include just-shucked oysters, fish –n- chips, thick and rich clam chowder, a local salmon burger, and fried prawns and scallops. At sunset, the water literally glitters gold and red, but in the longer days of summer, be sure to get there early since the place closes about 7 p.m.
Boat House, 1445 N. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3495
Tides Wharf & Restaurant, Bodega Bay
It’s big and touristy, but this waterfront restaurant knows its way around superb seafood. Set on the waterfront across the street from the Inn at the Tides, the place is also a fish market and wholesale seafood business. So stock up on the fresh stuff to-go for your own sunset beach picnic, or take a seat in the airy, casual dining room for oysters Florentine, crab cakes, Louie salad, hot or cold whole cracked crab, linguine with clams, a hot crab and cheese sandwich, or zesty cioppino. The setting sun streams in through the windows, bathing everything in romantic light.
Tides Wharf & Restaurant, 835 Highway 1 (in the Inn at the Tides), Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652
The views from this special occasion spot inside the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa are as delicious as the cuisine —they go on for miles, spanning across the water and to the dipping sun.
The high-end menu changes frequently, but stand-outs might include organic beet salad with living watercress, Laura Chenel chevre croquette, hazelnuts, and hazelnut-sherry vinaigrette; Dungeness crab cakes with tomato ginger chutney and smoked paprika aioli; or Bellwether Farms whole milk ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, snap peas, organic tomatoes, shaved Estero Gold Reserve, and herb-vegetable sauce. For something more casual, relax in the Drake's Fireside Lounge next door.
Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen, 103 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3525
A pretty plate is arranged with sweet crab and silky avocado in a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, grapefruit and apples on mixed greens tossed with passion fruit vinaigrette. Seafood parpadelle swims in creamy Alfredo sauce, and scallops sing with Thai sauce at this waterfront dining destination. You can also play spectacular sunset golf on the ocean-kissed course, then sip a beverage on the plush deck sofas in the Fireside Lounge. Open for lunch daily; for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday; and for dinner Thursday to Saturday, and on Sunday in the summer.
Bluewater Bistro & Bar, 21301 Heron Drive, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3513
Paradise Ridge Winery, Santa Rosa
The views from the expansive veranda and poetry terrace at this hillside estate are gorgeous year-round, overlooking vineyards leading to the Marijke’s Grove outdoor sculpture gallery.
But on Wednesday evenings from mid-May to mid-October, 6 p.m. to sunset, the winery hosts an official Wines & Sunsets party, featuring local food vendors and popular live music bands in addition to the wines from the Russian River Valley and the Rockpile Viticultural Area.
Paradise Ridge Winery, 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-528-9463
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville
Grab a seat on the Rustic restaurant patio next to the tasting room, or on the lovely swimming pool patio of the winery. Then sit back as sun sets over the rolling hills of the Alexander Valley, while you sip from a huge list of wines and perhaps add in an Italian style hors d’oeuvres or two. Often, there’s live music, too.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1471
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.