Find hidden gems, outdoor adventures and more with tips from those who know the coast better than anyone: The locals.
There is a calling. Just ask the locals who live along the Sonoma Coast.
It might not be audible, like a siren call or the crash of unrelenting waves, sculpting the rocky shoreline. It might lie somewhere in the light — not just in the way it glows, but in the way it changes, often many times an hour.
Or it might be a feeling you get, as if you’re suspended on the edge of the world, when Bodega Bay is fogged in and you climb a few hundred feet up Coleman Valley Road and sit above the clouds at sunset, watching how the dying light fades not over the sea but over an endless expanse of pillowy fog.
Bodega photographer Jerry Dodrill knows the call of the ocean. One morning, as we drove into Bodega Bay on Bay Hill Road (the same route Tippi Hedren takes when first approaching town in “The Birds”), we parked in a pullout and surveyed the outstretched shallow bay, green with seaweed at low tide.“One of the things that makes the light good is that we’re on the edge of the earth,” he says.“I don’t mean that as a flatlander, but we’re on the edge of land.”
It’s also a metaphor for the people who live here. “I think a lot of us want a sense of wildness,” says Dodrill. “It takes a little bit of grit to want to live out here.”
Growing up near the Gulf of Mexico, I feel the same need to be near the water here in Northern California. I’ve stood on a cliff with my kids at Shell Beach in Sea Ranch to watch harbor seals give birth to pups, then swim with them for the first time. I’ve kayaked off Doran Beach to harvest crab traps, then made paella on the beach with a local chef. I’ve caught rock cod from a kayak off Fort Ross.
And along the flats of Bodega Bay, I’ve watched a father with his arm up to his shoulder in mud, teaching his kids how to look for upwelling bubbles and dig for clams. He taught me how to dig for them, too. So herein lies the challenge: On a trip to the Sonoma Coast, you can drive along Highway 1 and drop in and out of various cafes and shops, eating clam chowder here and crab rolls there, maybe buying some artwork to take home. That’s what you do when you’re on vacation, and it’s a beautiful thing. But along the way, if you look, you can get a more nuanced feel for what’s really going on along the shoreline.
Those ochre sea stars you can glimpse while tidepooling might be a harbinger of good things to come, like the return of healthier kelp forests. You can find out more when you drop into the Bodega Marine Laboratory on open-house Fridays.
There’s a cliff rock near Jenner Bridge known as The Skywatcher, which sings when the wind hits it just right. Just ask the Kashia Pomo kayak guide who learned it from her grandmother.
Stop off and take a photo of a payphone perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Russian River — it might be the best view from any payphone in the world.
Secret tunnels under Bodega Head reveal themselves at low tide — and nearby, photographers clustered along the northern edge of Bodega Bay are aiming their lenses at a bald eagle’s nest in a tree across the road.
Know all this, and you’ll have a tiny glimpse into the calling — the calling that lies just below the ripples on the surface. The glimpse into the always changing, always magical Sonoma Coast.
Here’s how to spend a perfect summer by the coast, according to those in the know.
By John Beck
Terrapin Creek Cafe, 1580 Eastshore Rd., Bodega Bay. 707-875-2700
Coast Kitchen, 21780 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-847-3231
Fort Ross Winery, 15725 Meyers Grade Rd., Jenner. 707-847-3460
Spud Point Marina, 1910 Westshore Rd., Bodega Bay. 707-875-9472
The Sea Ranch Lodge, 42000 Hwy. 1, The Sea Ranch. 707-785-2468
More top restaurant picks, from food writer Carey Sweet:
WaterTreks EcoTours, 10444 Hwy 1, Jenner. 707-865-2249
Hike: Pole Mountain, part of the vast network Jenner Headlands preserves, 12001 Hwy. 1, Jenner
Bike: Coleman Valley Road, (for something a little more beginner friendly, check out Ace It! Bike Tours, offering four-hour Bodega hike and bike tours,
Fishing expeditions: Kayak Fishing Sonoma
Helicopter tours: Helico Sonoma, 707-526-8949
Bodega Marine Labratory, 1412 Bay Flat Rd, Bodega Bay.
Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve, in Salt Point State Park and Shell Beach, three miles south of Jenner
Lodge at Bodega Bay, 103 Highway 1, Bodega Bay. 707-875-3525
Starcross Monastic Community, 34500 Annapolis Rd., Annapolis. 707-886-1919
River's End, 11048 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-865-2484
The Inn at the Tides, 800 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707-875-2751
The Lodge at Bodega Bay, 103 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707-875-3525
Fort Ross Lodge, 20706 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-847-3333
Timber Cove Resort, 21780 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-847-3231
The Sea Ranch Lodge, 60 Sea Walk Dr., The Sea Ranch. 707-579-9777