8 Natural Wonders of Sonoma County
One of the best ways to get familiar with Sonoma County is to check out its superb natural wonders. These marvelous twists of nature, all of them in beautiful locations scattered around the county, will take you by surprise and stay in your mind forever.
Intricate Tafoni Sculpture
Located on the coast about four miles north of Fort Ross, the 6,000-acre Salt Point State Park is known for its dramatic beauty. It's a place of steep sea cliffs, surf crashing against rugged rocks, fantastic sunsets, and fascinating Tafoni sandstone sculpture. Riddled with honeycomb-type erosion that produces ribs, ridges, holes, and other patterns, the Tafoni takes on infinite lacy shapes, patterns, and complexity. Delicate-looking but enduring, it's sometimes called stonelace. The park has more than 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails; surf fishing is extremely good; and the rocky waters are popular with abalone divers.
A Pygmy Forest
In the northern reaches of Sonoma's coast lies one of the world's wonderful oddities: a pygmy forest. Acidic soils and other environmental factors deprived the trees here of the nutrients needed to grow normally. When fully mature, the trees are perfect miniature versions of their species, but only a few feet tall. Situated at the highest elevation within Salt Point State Park, the pygmy forest is populated with stands of tiny pine and cypress trees - and even a small-fry version of the usually gigantic redwood tree. You can see this miniature forest by following the park's looping 3.8-mile Pygmy Forest Trail.
A Vast Wetlands Complex
A tributary of the Russian River and the county's largest freshwater wetlands complex, the 254-square-mile Laguna de Santa Rosa is a stunningly beautiful mosaic of creeks, open water, perennial marshes, riparian forests, seasonal wetlands, oak woodlands, and grasslands. An essential stopover destination for migrating birds, it's also a permanent home to numerous mammal, fish, bird, and plant species. Hike or bike the 1.8-mile multi-use trail, or try the 2-mile Laguna Wetlands Preserve trail (open to hikers and wheelchairs, but not bikes). Another idea: visit the Laguna Environmental Center for a self-guided tour, or choose among three put-in locations for your kayak.
An Ancient Sea Stack
Magnificent Redwood Trees
Geothermal Hot Springs
The 3,295-square-mile Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary lies off the northern California coast, and includes the waters along Sonoma County's 55-mile coastline.
The sanctuary provides significant breeding and feeding grounds - including open ocean, rocky intertidal areas, wetlands, subtidal reefs and coastal beaches - for an abundance of aquatic species, including many that are endangered or threatened.
The amazing diversity of marine life here includes 25 endangered species, 38 species of marine mammals like humpback whales, and one of the planet's largest white shark populations. The sanctuary also shelters cultural resources such as shipwrecks or Native American artifacts; serves as a valuable research resource; and offers opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, boating and tourism.
Visitors can enjoy the sanctuary in an endless ways. A stay in Bodega Bay provides opportunities for hiking along sea cliffs or sandy beach, whale watching from shore or an ocean-going boat, sleeping in a beautiful inn with ocean views or camping on the beach at Doran Regional Park, and much more. Or you could spend a few days traveling along the hauntingly beautiful coast, stopping wherever you feel like to take in the views or spend the night.
A Wealth of Sand Dunes
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Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.