Best Places to Eat, Drink and Stay on the Sonoma Coast, According to Locals

Spend a perfect summer by the coast with travel tips from locals. (Kim Carroll/For Sonoma Magazine)

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.”

Sunset beach with flowers and people
Photo by Rob Brodman

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.

Sunset beach with flowers and people
Photo by Rob Brodman

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

Food & Wine

Terrapin Creek Cafe, 1580 Eastshore Rd., Bodega Bay. 707-875-2700

Terrapin Creek restaurant fresh wild salmon dish
Terrapin Creek restaurant in Bodega Bay serves fresh wild salmon. (Chris Hardy/for Sonoma Magazine)

Coast Kitchen, 21780 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-847-3231

Fort Ross Winery,  15725 Meyers Grade Rd., Jenner. 707-847-3460

Tasting wine at Fort Ross Winery
Tasting wine at Fort Ross Winery in Jenner. (Fort Ross Winery)

Spud Point Marina, 1910 Westshore Rd., Bodega Bay. 707-875-9472

The Sea Ranch Lodge42000 Hwy. 1, The Sea Ranch. 707-785-2468

Seafood dish at Sea Ranch Lodge
A vibrant seafood dish from the restaurant at The Sea Ranch Lodge. (The Sea Ranch Lodge)

More top restaurant picks, from food writer Carey Sweet: 

Outdoor Adventures

WaterTreks EcoTours, 10444 Hwy 1, Jenner. 707-865-2249

Suki Waters on kayak
Suki Waters, owner of WaterTreks EcoTours in Jenner. (Jerry Dodrill)

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

Art & Culture

The artwork of Sea Ranch resident Joe Ferriso, on Instagram @joeferriso

Dodrill Gallery, 17175 Bodega Hwy., Bodega. 707-377-4732

Sea Ranch Chapel, 40033 Hwy. 1, The Sea Ranch

Benjamino Bufano’s Peace Totem, rising above Timber Cove Resort along Highway 1

Beniamino Bufano's Peace Totem soars above the rocky cliffs.
Beniamino Bufano’s Peace Totem soars above the rocky cliffs.

Nature

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

Kruse Rhododendron Sate Park

Lodge at Bodega Bay, 103 Highway 1, Bodega Bay. 707-875-3525

Starcross Monastic Community, 34500 Annapolis Rd., Annapolis. 707-886-1919

Where to Stay at the Coast

River’s End, 11048 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707-865-2484

Coast views at River's End in Jenner
Coast views at River’s End in Jenner. (River’s End)

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

Timber Cove Resort's main hall
Timber Cove Resort’s soaring main hall. (The Nomadic People

The Sea Ranch Lodge, 60 Sea Walk Dr., The Sea Ranch. 707-579-9777

Couple walking in Sea Ranch
Rent a contemporary vacation home in the iconic Sea Ranch. (Chris Hardy/for Sonoma Magazine)

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