48 Hours in Jenner on the California Coast
If you're lucky enough to be able to spend a few days in Jenner on the Sonoma County coast, be ready to slow down, relax, and immerse yourself in stunning natural beauty.
Located where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean, Jenner (pop. 136) is a place where the pace is up to you - you can challenge yourself with a rugged hillside hike with stunning coastal views, paddle a kayak on the river or ocean, stroll leisurely on a beautiful beach or high bluff, sit on the sand and watch a colony of sea lions, or snuggle into a comfy chair while sipping fine wine, nibbling fine food, and enjoying the view out the window.
There are several ways to reach Jenner from Highway 101 - the multi-lane freeway running north-south in central Sonoma County - and all of them are scenic. From Petaluma, head west out of town on East Washington Street as it turns into Bodega Avenue; go right on Valley Ford, then right again on winding Highway 1, following it north for 10 or so beautiful miles to Jenner.
From Cotati, follow Highway 116 west through the farming communities of Sebastopol, Graton, and Forestville, and on through the river towns of Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Duncans Mills, until you hit Highway 1 where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. You can also take the River Road exit off Highway 101 in northern Santa Rosa, following the meandering Russian River first on River Road and then on Highway 116 to Highway 1, and Jenner.
Whatever you choose to do and wherever you go in this rustic coastal community, the people will be friendly and the scenery will be absolutely amazing.
Here's a two-day itinerary with a few suggestions for spending a lovely 48 hours in Jenner. Feel free to mix and match the activities that appeal to you, to create your own memorable Jenner getaway.
Start your day at Café Aquatica, a charming roadside retreat for a casual, organic meal, and a hot cup of coffee. Enjoy breakfast pastries, cookies still warm from the oven, overstuffed breakfast burritos, or bagels with cream cheese and lox. The deck overlooks the estuary (the tidal mouth of the river), with its resident ducks, pelicans, otters, seagulls, and more. During seal pupping season, you’ll usually see the playful animals, too, as they poke their curious heads out of the water. (And if you come here later in the day, there’s sometimes live music on the outdoor stage.)
This café is a perfect starting point for your Jenner adventure, because just a few steps away a former boathouse houses the Jenner Visitors Center. Run by the nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, the center offers interpretive displays illustrating local history, flora, and fauna, as well as a nature store with an assortment of educational and gift items. You’ll also find helpful maps, money-saving coupons, informative brochures about sights and activities on Sonoma’s coast, lodging and restaurant information, and knowledgeable volunteer docents happy to answer questions.
Between the café and the visitors center, you’ll want to explore Jenner Sea Gifts and Wines, a small shop offering jewelry, clothing, chimes, seashells, and local wines. And don’t miss Tasting by the Sea wine bar in the back of the gift shop, pouring as many as 30 different wines by Eric Kent, Hooker & Stoner, and Pt. Reyes wineries. You can order tastes, or wines by the glass or bottle, while enjoying gorgeous views of the Russian River; you might want to come back later, as sunsets are particularly beautiful and the large outdoor deck includes plenty of seating with a cozy fire pit. Cheese plates are available, as is food from the café next door.
An Afternoon with Options
When you’re ready to move on, pick up a picnic lunch from the café or the deli across the highway, and choose from several delightful afternoon activities and destinations.
There’s a small boat launch next to the visitors center, where you can paddle away in a kayak or canoe to explore the quiet estuary or the dancing sea. Keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals, otters, birds, and maybe even a whale. WaterTreks EcoTours rents out kayaks, and offers a variety of interpretive guided kayaking and hiking tours in the area. Owner Suki Waters is a local Native American descendant, guide, and kayak instructor, specializing in wildlife, Sonoma Coast history, and ecology tours.
Take a short drive south on Highway 1, across the Russian River, and explore Goat Rock Beach, with views of immense sea stacks (tall, rocky columns), white-capped waves, sand dunes, and the massive, flat-topped rock that gives the place its name (it’s said that goats used to graze nearby). Goat Rock is part of the Sonoma Coast State Park, which offers 17 miles of bluffs, beaches, and hidden coves from Bodega Bay in the south to four miles north of Jenner.
At Goat Rock Beach, gulls, sandpipers and other seabirds peck along the waves for tasty morsels, beach combers search for washed-up treasure, and the occasional fisherperson casts a line in hopes of a tasty smelt or rockfish dinner. Whales are often spotted offshore, particularly during the migration season, and each summer a colony of Pacific Harbor seals and their frisky pups make their home on a sandy spit at the far end of the beach (always stay at least 50 yards away from the seals). And don’t forget to look skyward for more than just birds — there’s a legal hang-gliding launch point above the sandy beach, so hang-gliders are also a frequent sight.
At the south end of Goat Rock you’ll find the long, narrow Blind Beach. Great for beachcombing and fishing, it’s also one endpoint of the Kortum Trail, a well-maintained and relatively easy bluff top trail that connects Blind Beach first to Shell Beach and then to Wright’s Beach to the south. It’s about 4.6 miles round trip, with sweeping ocean views plus optional side trips down to the beach or up the trailside rocky outcroppings.
If you’re feeling more adventurous and want to stretch your legs, the Pomo Canyon Trail follows an ancient trading route of the Pomo and Miwok people. Covering 6.2 miles round trip (out and back) and with an elevation change of 650 feet, the trail begins at Shell Beach and heads east, crossing Highway 1 and then traveling upward into a redwood forest with a waterfall. Rated moderate, this gorgeous hike starts with long steady uphill segments, levels off along the ridge, and then takes a steep drop down into Willow Creek. The gorgeous scenery is worth the climb.
Or, take Highway 1 a few miles north to the Jenner Headlands Preserve, offering 5,630 acres covered with redwood and Douglas fir forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal prairie overlooking the Pacific Ocean. For several years access to the preserve was limited to guided hikes, but with the construction of a parking lot, restrooms, and a day-use area with picnic tables, this rugged landscape is now open to the public daily (8 a.m. to sunset; admission is free). With a 14-mile network of trails on the western part of the preserve, plus a 15-mile round-trip route to the top of Pole Mountain, ambitious hikers can go from sea level to the highest point on the Sonoma Coast (with a 3,500-foot elevation gain). The preserve also includes a paved 400-foot trail accessible by wheelchair, letting people of all abilities reach a stunning scenic overlook.
Perched on a bluff just up the hill from the Jenner Visitors Center, the cozy River's End Restaurant serves delicious lunches and dinners with amazing views of both the river and ocean, but offers especially spectacular (and romantic) sunset vistas. Chef Martin Recoder offers unique and eclectic seasonal menus, internationally influenced but using local Sonoma County food products. Past menu items included Dungeness Crab Ravioli, Lamb Lollipops, Prawns & Pasta, and Applewood Smoked Filet Mignon.
Or, the restaurant at the Jenner Inn serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday, offering traditional favorites like shrimp Louie, fresh grilled salmon, and chicken fettuccine Alfredo, as well as fish and chips, grilled sandwiches, or a Jenner cheeseburger with fries. The full bar features local beers, Sonoma County wines, and premium spirits.
When you’re ready to park your bags for the night, there are a number of options for staying in and around Jenner. River’s End Restaurant & Inn features wonderful cabins originally built in 1927 as well as rooms in the restaurant building, all with spectacular coastal views. Trimmed in wood, the rustic romantic cabins and rooms are all are designed for couples looking to rejuvenate (no TV, no telephones, no data ports; no pets; and no children under 12).
Spread out over more than four acres, the recently remodeled Jenner Inn is a landmark collection of historic buildings, some of which date back more than a century. The unique main building was constructed entirely from redwood in the late 1940s by Swedish boat-builders. The 21 guest rooms offer ocean and river views, private decks, fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and kitchenettes, and include a complimentary continental breakfast.
About 14 miles north on Highway 1, Timber Cove Resort is one-of-a-kind hotel offering unimpeded views of the ocean, wind-swept cypress trees, and towering redwoods. Recently extensively remodeled, the lodge features 46 guest rooms, including eight premium suites. Towering over the resort is the 93-foot Peace Obelisk sculpture by the late San Francisco artist Benjamino Bufano.
And a few miles farther north, the Ocean Cove Lodge is a rustic and charming cliff-side retreat with 16 rooms nestled around a hot tub and picturesque gardens. The upstairs rooms have private sun decks, hot tubs, and spectacular ocean views. All rooms include a 32” HDTV, oak furnishings, original artwork, a mini-refrigerator, and microwave.
If you’d rather have a place to yourself, check our listings of Vacation Rentals and click on Jenner. Or, if you really want to immerse yourself in Jenner’s natural beauty, there are several campgrounds in the area.
The Coast Kitchen restaurant at the Timber Cove Resort offers organic, seasonal Wine Country coastal cuisine with clean, crisp presentations, served amid stunning ocean views for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
A Good Day for a Drive
After breakfast, it’s time to hit the road. The stretch of coastal Highway 1 just north of Jenner is not about getting there — you’re already there. The goal is to really be there, to savor each moment and each vista. Take it slow, and use the turnouts to stretch and enjoy the views. Each turnout has its own unique delights.
From the Jenner Visitors Center to the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve is only about 22 miles, but it’s a minimum 45-minute drive — and it can be several hours or several days if you take the time to really explore and enjoy this relatively wild, untamed coastline.
The first stop is Fort Ross State Historic Park, which from 1812 to 1841 was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements along the West Coast. Faithfully reconstructed buildings recall the once-thriving colony, including the stockade, a Russian chapel, a barracks, two blockhouses, and a windmill. The only surviving original structure, Rotchev House, was renovated in 1836 for the last manager of Fort Ross, Alexander Rotchev.
Continuing north on Highway 1 brings you to the Timber Cove Resort. You can't miss seeing its 93-foot Peace Obelisk sculpture by the late San Francisco sculptor Benjamin Bufano. You don’t have to be a guest of the resort or restaurant to get a close-up view of Bufano’s sculpture. Just park in the gravel lot north of the resort and follow the short path leading back to the obelisk.
A little farther north you’ll find Ocean Cove Store & Campground, a small island of private land surrounded by state and county parks, offering camping on the bluff and boat access to the sheltered cove. RVs, tent campers, and day use visitors are welcomed from April to November.
A few more miles north, the beautiful 6,000-acre Salt Point State Park stretches for more than six miles along the Pacific Ocean, with more than 20 miles of hiking trails, two campgrounds (Gerstle Cove and Woodside), an underwater park, and a host of recreational activities that include hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and skin or scuba diving. The park offers rocky promontories, panoramic views, kelp-dotted coves, open grasslands, forested hills, pristine prairies, a pygmy forest, and a lively visitors center with many activities. Don’t miss the Tafoni sandstone — stone that’s riddled by honeycomb-type erosion that produces ribs, ridges, holes, and other patterns. Download a park brochure.
And immediately to the north is Kruse Rhododendron Reserve, once part of a large family ranch established in 1880. Today, this pristine reserve contains second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, grand firs, tanoaks, and a plethora of rhododendrons that burst into spectacular bloom each May. The one-mile road in to the parking area is only one lane wide and only partially paved, but it’s worth the trip to explore the preserve’s five miles of hiking trails.
Lunch (or Dinner)
If you didn’t pack along a picnic (or stayed longer than expected, and are ready for supper), the Ocean Cove Lodge Bar & Grill offers fresh and simple coastal fare (from burgers and fries to a prawn quesadilla, salmon, or steak) in a relaxed setting, with outdoor seating and a beautiful ocean view.
Going a Little Further Afield
As beautiful as it is, you’re not actually limited to staying in and around Jenner. Heading even farther north on Highway 1, you can explore the communities of The Sea Ranch and Gualala, and the surrounding natural beauties. For ideas, read 5 Fun Things to Do in The Sea Ranch, Trails Along the Pacific Coast in The Sea Ranch, and 5 Fun Things to Do in Gualala.
About five miles inland from Jenner on Highway 116, the tiny riverside hamlet of Duncans Mills (pop. 175) offers a regional museum inside a 1907 train depot, a coffee shop and bakery, a wine tasting room, and a delightful mix of gift shops, exotic boutiques, antique stores, and art galleries. Read 3 Things to do in Duncans Mills.
Driving south from Jenner on Highway 12, you can discover the beaches and bluffs of the Sonoma Coast State Park, go horseback riding on the beach or hillsides, take to the water on a kayak or paddleboard, or explore the shops and restaurants of the coastal community of Bodega Bay. For ideas, read 5 Fun Things to Do in Bodega Bay, Explore Bodega Head on the Sonoma Coast, and Highlights of the Sonoma Coast.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Henley.