Breathtaking California beaches, rugged coastline, the legendary Pacific Coast Highway (known as Highway 1 to locals), and picturesque villages — Bodega Bay, Jenner, Timber Cove, The Sea Ranch, and Gualala — are all part of the Sonoma Coast.
The more than 55 miles of shoreline that make up Sonoma County’s western border are rugged, dramatic, unbelievably scenic, and quite diverse. You’ll find long sandy beaches, secluded coves, rocky crags, natural stone arches, and sheer cliffs running to the edge of the sea.
Despite its great beauty, Sonoma’s coast is approachable. It’s perfect for relaxing, taking a hike, camping, fishing, sunbathing, flying a kite, building driftwood castles, studying tide pools, riding horseback on the beach, enjoying a romantic picnic, or watching the sun set and the stars come out.
Here are a few fabulous beaches to enjoy on your visit.
Situated near the mouth of the Russian River, Goat Rock’s stunning views of white-capped waves, sand dunes and immense sea stacks make it a sure-fire win.
It’s the kind of beach where you’ll stroll along looking for washed-up treasure, peer with fascination into tide pools, and catch sight of migrating whales. Gulls, sandpipers, and other seabirds peck at the wave line for tasty morsels, and—near the river’s mouth—a colony of harbor seals is great fun to watch.
For a coastal hike you’ll never forget, hop onto the Kortum Trail on the bluffs above the beach. Always gorgeous, Kortum is particularly so in summer, when the surrounding seagrass has turned golden and is dotted with pink pennyroyal, golden California poppy, and stark red paintbrush.
Highway 1 and Goat Rock Road, Jenner, 707-875-3483
Just north of Bodega Bay on Highway 1, popular Salmon Creek Beach is divided by its namesake creek into two sections: North and South.
North Beach attracts surfers, and if the waves are high you’ll witness some spectacular moves. South Beach is notable for its nearly two miles of beautiful, uninterrupted sand and dunes; it’s a haven for picnics, surf fishing, beachcombing, snoozing in the sun, or surfing.
A lagoon forms in summer at the point where Salmon Creek empties into the ocean, making the water warm and shallow—great for wading and safe for kids. Pulya-lakum, a Coast Miwok village, was once located at the mouth.
3095 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3483
Situated where the Gualala River enters the Pacific Ocean, the park at Gualala Point offers views that go on forever, a vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, and a summertime sandspit at the river’s mouth.
As you walk you can construct driftwood castles, run up and down sand dunes, hunt for sea glass, collect shells, try your hand at fishing (depending on the season), enjoy the views, or just sit and daydream. You might also enjoy walking up-river to the freshwater marsh (or beyond to the redwood grove populated by bristling sword ferns and rhododendrons), or take a hike along the Bluff Trail.
The park’s campground nestles under redwood trees beside the river and is within walking distance of the crashing surf; it includes drive-in and walk-to sites, and sites reserved for hikers and cyclists.
42401 Highway 1, Gualala, 707-785-2377
The Sea Ranch, which extends for ten miles along a beautiful strip of the Sonoma coast, is known for its panoramic views of sea, sky, rocky ocean outcrops, and migrating whales. Although The Sea Ranch is a privately-owned community, the public can utilize six trailheads on its property at access points located along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Five trails ranging from one-quarter mile to two-thirds of a mile lead to beaches—Black Point, Pebble Beach, Stengel Beach, Shell Beach, and Walk On Beach. Most beaches are secluded, offering opportunities for fishing, whale-watching, and picnics while enjoying the feeling of “getting away from it all.” And the three-mile-long Bluff Top Trail takes you along the headlands overlooking the ocean, from Walk On Beach to the 195-acre Gualala Regional Park.
Walking past coves and through small wood copses, you’ll enjoy awesome views, the sound of crashing surf and barking sea lions, and the invigorating feel of brisk sea air. For more details, read our article on Trails Along the Pacific Coast in The Sea Ranch or download a North Coast Access Trails map from Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Access points from 35050 to 40101 Highway 1, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2377
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 rests between Bodega Harbor and the open ocean, making this a top choice for picnics, flying kites, building sand castles, riding horses, and having a picnic.
Protected as it is 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).
201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay, 707-565-2041
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.