Set aside time during your trip to San Francisco to experience northern California’s rich farmlands and wild, dramatic coastline on a one-day visit to Bodega Bay, in beautiful Sonoma County. You won’t regret it.
Located slightly more than an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bodega Bay blends the relaxed Wine Country lifestyle with the wondrous power and superb natural beauty of the Pacific Ocean coastline. And the drive there takes you through the pasturelands and rolling hills of Sonoma County’s lush farm belt.
Whether you choose to relax on a sandy beach, explore tide pools, hike bluff-top trails, savor premium wine and cuisine, or simply enjoy amazing view after amazing view driving along the famous Coast Highway 1, it will be a day to remember.
From the Golden Gate Bridge, cruise Highway 101 North to the town of Petaluma, and take the Highway 116/Lakeville Street exit. The off-ramp makes a U turn; at the end go right (west) on Lakeville Street, crossing under Highway 101. Take a left on East Washington Street, which (after it crosses Howard Street) becomes Bodega Avenue, and heads toward the coast.
The buildings and homes lining this two-lane roadway gradually give way to weathered barns and sheds, neat farmhouses, gentle hillsides, and pastures filled with cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. Enjoy the views around each bend and, when there’s a Y in the road, go right on Valley Ford Road, which eventually blends into Highway 1, known on this particular stretch as the Shoreline Highway.
If you have the time, stop in tiny Valley Ford (pop. 147), a collection of buildings that includes several popular restaurants, a few shops, the Valley Ford Hotel (built in 1864), and the family-owned Valley Ford Market, a farmers’ and ranchers’ grocery store that also caters to tourists.
Continue on your way on the Shoreline Highway. In slightly more than three miles, take a right on the Bodega Highway for a quick stop in the village of Bodega. At least two of the buildings in this tiny town will be familiar to film buffs, because they served as locations for director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 thriller movie, “The Birds.”
A life-sized cutout of Hitchcock stands outside the Bodega Country Store, which in addition to organic groceries and take-out food, boasts an amazing collection of Hitchcock memorabilia on its walls and hanging from its ceiling. And it’s fun to browse this town’s diverse mix of shops and businesses, offering gifts, antiques, Peruvian fabrics, surfing equipment, fine art, fresh-roasted coffee, local crafts, yoga classes, massage, and skin care.
Then it’s on to our destination. Retrace your route the short distance on the Bodega Highway back to Highway 1, turn right, and it’s just four miles to Bodega Bay, a shallow, rocky inlet about five miles wide on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
On the north end of this bay, the fishing village of Bodega Bay (pop. 1,077) hugs the hillside in a protected harbor. This small community offers a delightful mix of shops, restaurants, art galleries, and multiple ways to explore the stunning natural beauty of this amazing area.
Start by getting your feet in the sand on the beautiful beach at Doran Regional Park, a perfect spot for beachcombing, picnicking, fishing, building a sand castle, or just sitting back and enjoying the day. Or scramble over the rock jetty at the harbor mouth and explore pools of sea life.
If it’s slightly breezy, Doran is a wonderful place to fly a kite, so you might want to stop at one of the two kite stores in town—Candy & Kites or Second Wind—to buy a kite or two before settling in to spend time on the beach at Doran.
If stretching out on a sandy beach isn’t what you’re looking for, or if you’re simply ready to explore further so you don’t miss any of the natural wonders of this beautiful area, head north once again on Highway 1. Take a left onto Eastshore road, right onto Bay Flat Road, and then continue straight on Westshore Road, to the parking lot for Bodega Head.
A rocky peninsula about four miles long and one mile wide, Bodega Head shelters the town of Bodega Bay from the mighty Pacific Ocean. Trails to the north and south offer dazzling ocean and bay views, as well as access down to small beaches.
Or just stand on the bluffs next to the parking lot, and chances are you’ll spot seals playing in the water, or whales cruising by. If you have binoculars, they’ll come in handy. You can see whales off the coast all year long, but your chances are best during the primary migration seasons (the whales pass by heading south from October through February, and going north from February to April).
For an even closer view of whales, or to simply get out on the ocean to fish, with advance reservations a number of charter companies offer whale watching, fishing, or sightseeing boat trips out of Bodega Harbor.
It’s undoubtedly time for a bit of lunch. If you’re up for something rustic but delicious, on your way to Bodega Head you passed the family-run Spud Point Crab Company; the family also owns two fishing boats, so you know the seafood is fresh. Fans rave about their clam chowder and crab sandwiches, which you can enjoy on the picnic tables out front, or take to the beach for a picnic. If you eat at the crab shack, you’ll enjoy a great view of the neat rows of fishing and crab boats docked at the Spud Point Marina, directly across the street.
In addition to selling fresh seafood, the Fishetarian Fish Market on Highway 12 features a menu of fish and chips, clam chowder, grilled fish tacos, and more, with gluten-free and vegetarian options, all using organic, locally-grown ingredients, and made in the healthiest way possible.
Or stop by the Tides Wharf, which offers a snack bar, a gourmet market, a gift shop, and a great restaurant serving fresh local seafood and American cuisine; film buffs will recognize that the restaurant served as a backdrop for Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” For more lunchtime options, check our listings of Bodega Bay restaurants
At this point you have a decision to make: do you want to push onward, driving along the coast and taking in the spectacular views? Or would you rather stay in Bodega for a more hands-on experience of this gorgeous spot?
Option 1: Head Farther North
It’s less than 11 miles from Bodega Bay to the coastal community of Jenner (pop. 136), but you’ll want to take it slow and easy, and stop often to enjoy the view. The two-lane highway meanders inland here and there, but generally hugs the hillside coastline, winding in and out, and giving you an endlessly changing panorama of ocean, sky, rugged bluffs, sandy beaches, and hidden coves.
Take advantage of turnouts, vista points, and beaches whenever possible. This area is part of the Sonoma Coast State Park, stretching for 17 miles along the coast from Bodega Bay to north of Jenner. It offers picnic areas, stunning scenic overlooks, and miles of trails (but no swimming due to strong currents).
Immediately north of Bodega Bay on Highway 1, the long, scenic sandy beach at Salmon Creek Beach makes it a great spot for beachcombing and picnicking; the area north of the creek is popular with surfers when the waves are good.
Wright’s Beach Campground offers a day-use picnic area with access to a two-mile-long sandy beach. Or you can hike part or all of the Kortum Trail, an easy, relatively flat, bluff-top pathway that’s about five miles round trip, connecting Wright’s Beach to Shell Beach, Blind Beach, and Goat Rock Beach. Sonoma Coast State Park provides a brochure with a trail map.
Goat Rock Beach at the mouth of the Russian River is known for the massive rock that gives the place its name, its easily accessible sandy beach, and the colony of harbor seals that make their home on the far end of the beach. (Please stay 50 yards from the seals, especially during pupping season, March to August).
This brings you to the coastal village of Jenner, which perches on a bluff high above where the river meets the sea, offering spectacular scenery in every direction, and truly stunning sunsets. It’s a great place to stop for a romantic dinner in the small and intimate dining room at River’s End Restaurant & Inn, offering wonderful food, superb yet unpretentious service, and captivating views from every table.
If you’re ready to call it a day, head east on Highway 116 and River Road back to Highway 101, then south to San Francisco. If you decide to extend your visit, River’s End offers six view cabins “designed for couples looking to rejuvenate,” where you can settle in for the night.
Option 2: Have Fun in Bodega
If you prefer to spend more time exploring the natural wonders of Bodega Bay first hand, there are many choices. The beach or the tide pools may beckon, for an afternoon of relaxation or exploration.
To explore on four legs, choose from a variety of ocean-view trails or go horseback riding on the beach (limited availability; reservations required) with Horse N Around Trail Rides. Open year round, the company has access to eight miles of private trails, including some running through wildlife preserves.
If the water is calling your name, Bodega Bay Kayak rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, and offers lesson and customized guided tours on the ocean, bay, river, or estuary. Rentals include all equipment, wetsuit, life vest, and 20 minutes of safety instruction before heading out.
For surfers, both Bodega Bay Surf Shack and Northern Light Surf Shop rent a variety of styles of surfboards, as well as wetsuits, skim boards, body boards, and booties. Bodega Bay Surf Shack offers private lessons for beginners.
Combine the best of the coast and Wine Country at Gourmet au Bay, a waterside wine bar and tasting room in Bodega Bay featuring small-production, award-winning wines and coastal-inspired gifts. Enjoy the view from the weather-protected deck as you sip a flight of wines served on a mini-surfboard
When it’s dinnertime, there are (once again) many choices. The recipient of a Michelin Star, the Terrapin Creek Café presents cuisine made with the finest, freshest ingredients in inventive pairings, with an emphasis on simplicity and in a casual neighborly atmosphere. The Drakes Sonoma Coast Cuisine restaurant inside the Bodega Bay Lodge offers an ultra-local, seasonally-changing menu that can include delights like Dungeness crab cakes with tomato ginger chutney and smoked paprika aioli, or Madras curry-dusted local petrale sole. For more options, check our listings of Bodega Bay restaurants.
After dinner, you can retrace your steps and drive back to San Francisco. Or if you decide you just can’t bear to leave Bodega Bay and want to spend the night, options include the Bay Hill Mansion Bed & Breakfast, a private, luxurious, and romantic Queen Anne Victorian estate; Bodega Bay Lodge, a luxurious retreat with ocean views from every room; Inn at the Tides, with elegant guest lodges nestled among secluded, natural surroundings, with sweeping views of Bodega Bay; or check our listings of coastal hotels and B&Bs.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.