A magical spot in the winter, the Sonoma Coast beckons with seasonal activities from succulent crab feasts in Bodega Bay, to exhilarating seaside hikes in Sonoma Coast State Park. And did you know, during the winter, this stretch of the Northern California coast is often very mild and temperate — surprisingly sunny and warm even when more inland areas might be chilly.
The thundering crash of the waves. The velvet gray clouds, sparked with brilliant shards of gold as the sun streams through. Oh, the invigorating nip of the air, fragrant with sea salt! For another treat, fewer tourists have discovered these secrets this time of year, meaning more solitude to explore.
Take in the Gallery Scene: Bodega Bay brims with beautiful art salons and shops, from local talent capturing the dramatic landscapes in paint, sculpture, glass, and even whimsical kites.
Stop in the shops in the tiny town of Bodega on your way to the coast, and then again in the central town by the Bay, and browse to your heart’s content for everything from early California impressionistic portraits, to photography, to turned wood, and frothy, colorful scarves.
Take a Hike: Work up an appetite on the easy Bodega Head hiking trail that edges three miles around the headlands, or a one-mile path to-and-from the overlook. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Harbor, and the town itself. The Bodega Head area is one of Sonoma County's top spots for whale watching; on weekends from January to May volunteers from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods are on hand to answer questions and share their knowledge of whales and migration. To get to Bodega Head: Take coastal Highway 1, just past the town of Bodega Bay. Turn left on Eastshore Road, then right on Bay Flat Road. Go around the harbor and turn right at Campbell Cove, then head uphill, bearing right at the fork for the free parking lot by the cliff.
Taste the Chowder: It can take three to four hours to sample all the delicious entries on Chowder Day, an annual event held the last Saturday in January. Enjoy a culinary tour of this bayside town, meeting chefs and tasting chowders at participating sites. The $10 ticket includes a map and ballot, and entitles you to a taste of chowder at each location listed on the map.
Get Crabby: Made famous in the early 1960s as the backdrop for scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's film classic, "The Birds," the Tides Wharf Restaurant (835 Coast Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652) at the Inn at the Tides resort specializes in local seafood, like breakfasts of grilled snapper, eggs and hash browns; a cioppino lunch stocked with Dungeness crab, prawns, scallops, clams and mussels; or dinner of Pacific red snapper.
And each winter, locals flock to this Bodega Bay-front restaurant for its delicious crab feeds, offered only when the fishermen are bringing in their fresh catch through winter. These reservations-only meals are served on select Fridays from December through March, and are often quickly sold out. It’s a mouthwatering feast of briny-sweet, chilled Dungeness crab served with cocktail sauce, drawn butter and the Tides’ own mustard sauce, clam chowder, linguine, green salad and fresh-baked French bread. Get a seat near the windows over looking the water, and keep an eye peeled — that boat out there might be the very one that brought in your dinner.
Stay the Night: Special packages are available for overnight guests at the Inn at the Tides resort (800 Coast Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 800-541-7788). Another favorite hideaway is the Bodega Bay Lodge (103 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3525), so romantic and serene on its seaside perch. As the only AAA Four Diamond hotel on the Sonoma Coast, it offers a luxury escape, in rooms outfitted with real fireplaces, warm, snuggly down comforters, and private balconies for stargazing.