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Great Pacific Coast Parks for Beach Walks

Bodega Head

A Sonoma County beach walk is bound to create great memories filled with awesome views, the sounds of crashing surf and barking sea lions, and the invigorating feel of brisk sea air.

Your memories might also include studying a tidepool, building a castle from driftwood, photographing sandpipers or gulls, posing for selfies with a whale in the background (spouting offshore, maybe), or luxuriating over a delicious picnic.

Here are a few great beaches to help you create memories on your Sonoma County visit:

Gualala Point Regional Park: This stunningly beautiful park at the junction of the Gualala River and Pacific Ocean, offers fabulous ocean views, white beach dunes, and, in summer, a sandspit at the river’s mouth to play in. On shore walks you’ll hunt for sea glass, collect shells, try your hand at fishing (depending on the season), construct driftwood castles, roll down sand dunes, or just sit and appreciate the views. Feel like putting on the miles? Head south along the park’s Bluff Top Trail, walking atop coastal cliffs that afford far-ranging views (stop at Whale Watch Point to check for passing gray whales). The park’s campground nestles under redwood trees beside the river near the crashing surf. More info.

Stillwater Cove Regional Park: Situated on a particularly gorgeous stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline near Fort Ross State Historic Park, 210-acre Stillwater offers fabulous ocean-view hiking, along with great birding, fishing, a beach suitable for launching kayaks and other small boats, abalone diving, and 20 reservable campsites (and a hiker/bicyclist group site). Be sure to catch a glimpse of history by taking the short trail to the historic one-room schoolhouse at Fort Ross. Learn more.

Sonoma Coast State Park: This truly amazing park consists of a series of beautiful beaches separated by rocky bluffs and headlands, stretching 17 gorgeous miles along Highway 1 from Bodega Head to slightly north of Jenner. Along the way are more than a dozen access points that allow you to park and make your way onto a beach. Among them:

  • Shell Beach, a good stop for beachcombing and tidepools.
  • Goat Rock, near a haul-out spot for fun-to-watch seals.
  • North and South Salmon Beaches, a great surfer hangout.
  • Bodega Head (see below), a particularly good whale-watch spot.

Bodega Head, part of Sonoma Coast State Park, offers beautiful coastal bluff hiking. It’s also home to many beaches just perfect for oceanside strolls (or settling in with a picnic), and a noted destination for whale watching. Download a map and/or brochure of Sonoma Coast State Park.

Doran Beach Regional Park: Seeking the perfect beach for a family outing, anything from a Sunday picnic to a camping trip? You need look no further than Doran Beach. A beautiful, two-mile stretch of golden sand that rests between Bodega Harbor and the open ocean, it’s a top choice for picnics, flying kites, building sand castles, riding horses and picnics. Protected by Bodega Bay, Doran’s calm waters rank among the county’s safest for swimming. You can launch a kayak or a speedboat from a jetty at the harbor’s mouth, take a lovely walk on dozens of trails (including the avian fancier’s favorite, the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail), or pitch a tent (no hookups for RVs).

Sea Ranch Access Coastal Trails: Sea Ranch, which extends for 10 miles along a beautiful strip of the county’s far northern coast, is known for panoramic views of sea, sky, rocky ocean outcrops, and migrating whales. Although Sea Ranch is a privately-owned community, the public can use trailheads on its property (access points are located along the Pacific Coast Highway).

Six trails ranging from one-quarter mile to two-thirds of a mile lead to beaches — Salal, Walk on Beach, Black Point, Pebble Beach, Stengal Beach, and Shell Beach. The two northernmost trails, Salal and Walk on Beach, are connected by the three-mile Bluff Top Trail, which takes you along the headlands overlooking the ocean. Download the pdf map, Coastal Access: North Coast Access Trails.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.