Goat Rock Beach is part of the Sonoma Coast State Park, a series of beaches stretching along 17 miles of the Sonoma County coastline. Located just south of the Russian River’s outlet to the sea, Goat Rock provides views of immense sea stacks, white-capped waves, and sand dunes. Gulls, sandpipers, and other seabirds peck at the wave line for tasty morsels, beachcombers search for washed-up treasure, and the occasional angler casts a line in hopes of a tasty smelt or rockfish dinner.
Hang gliders are a frequent sight here, too, since a legal launch point is located on a high marine terrace above the beach.
There’s also the magic and mystery of Goat Rock itself. An immense arched sea stack barely attached to the land by a narrow isthmus, the flat-topped rock is said to have derived its name from goat herds that grazed nearby more than a century ago.
Whales are frequently sighted from Goat Rock Beach. Best times for whale-spotting are from December through April, when they migrate from Alaska to Baja California and then return. But whales can be spied spouting offshore at any time of the year.
Each spring a large sand spit builds up at the mouth of the Russian River, and all summer long it’s crowded with adult Pacific Harbor seals and their frisky pups. You can watch them from the far end of the beach but legally you must stay at least 50 yards away from the seals.
For a memorable coastal hike, the Kortum Trail runs southward atop the bluffs from Goat Rock Beach, offering spectacular views of land and sea. It’s particularly beautiful in summer, when the trail is surrounded by bleached yellow grass dotted with pink pennyroyal, golden California poppy, stark red paintbrush, green blackberry brambles, and late violet lupine. Red-tailed hawks cruise overhead, orange-and-black crescent butterflies flutter, bright-blue dragonflies dart by, and tiny lizards dash quickly about.