Explore Bodega Head on the Sonoma Coast
Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, the small rocky peninsula known as Bodega Head offers stunning bluff top vistas, enticing trails, beach access, and abundant wildlife viewing, from seabirds to seals and migrating whales.
Only about four miles long and one mile wide, Bodega Head shelters the bay and harbor from the power of the Pacific Ocean. Composed of rugged granite, the Head is a bit off of the main coastal route, making it a delightful place to explore along the Sonoma County coast.
From Highway 1 in the town of Bodega Bay, go west on Eastshore Road, right onto Bay Flat Road, and then continue straight on Westshore Road, which eventually leads to the bluff top parking lot for Bodega Head.
We'll get to that ocean vista point soon, but there's quite a bit to see and do on the way there. You're actually on the Bodega Head peninsula shortly after you turn onto Westshore Road, so the exploration has begun.
Look to your left and you'll see fishing and pleasure boats lined up at the docks at Spud Point Marina. This harbor is the hub of commercial and sport fishing in Sonoma County. If you have the time, you might consider booking a fishing or whale watching charter boat trip.
If you need to fuel up before your adventure or want to bring a picnic with you, across the street you'll find Spud Point Crab Company. Owned by a long-time fishing family, it serves what some locals consider the best chowder and crab sandwiches countywide (seating is outdoors at picnic tables). And not far away on Bay Shore Road, there's also Fisherman's Cove, a local, family-owned seafood shack and fishing-marine supply store specializing in fresh local oysters.
Continuing on Westshore Road, we'll pass the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Operated by the University of California, Davis, the lab extensively researches the rapidly changing land-sea interface. Free docent-led tours are available most Fridays on a drop-in basis, or by appointment. On the tour, you'll spend time with a 24-foot display of local fishes and invertebrates, a kelp forest, a harbor aquarium that's home to examples of Bodega Harbor marine life, another aquarium for giant anemones, a tide pool, and more.
Go past the lab, and the road takes a sharp right, heading uphill to the top of Bodega Head. Before driving up there, go straight into the (free) parking lot for Campbell Cove. This sheltered cove offers a flat beach that can be quite large at low tide and mostly underwater at high tide. Not a busy spot, at low tide it can be a good place for a picnic, or for the kids to explore. Fishing and clamming are also popular activities here. The parking lot area includes picnic tables and pit toilets.
If you follow the short walkway inland from the cove, you'll see a lush, tranquil pond that's a stopping point for a variety of migratory birds. It's the only remaining sign of plans to build a nuclear reactor on this spot back in the 1960s. A 70-foot-deep pit was dug as a preliminary step - but then locals rallied in opposition. After it was discovered that an earthquake fault ran directly underneath the site, the nuclear project was canceled. All that remains is the small, quiet pond known as the Hole in the Head, visited most often by birds.
At The Top
Now it's time to drive to the top of the Bodega Head bluffs, and start to really take in the spectacular views. Parking is free, and the lot offers pit toilets; picnic tables are nearby.
Massive, flat, granite boulders at the southern end of the parking lot are popular for whale watching. Volunteers from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods Whale Watch Public Education Program can be found here on weekends from January through Mother's Day with binoculars and scopes, answering questions and sharing their knowledge of whales and migration.
It's a fairly easy walk on the Bodega Head Trail that loops around the southern end of the peninsula, giving you breathtaking ocean and bay views, including a look down at the Hole in the Head pond. The loop is about a mile long, and depending on the time of year, offers glimpses of whales, seals, wildflowers, seabirds, and more.
Or take the three-mile long overlook trail north from the Bodega Head parking lot, also a relatively easy trail. Not far after the start of this trail, a fork to the left heads down to a small sandy beach. If you keep going straight, the trail climbs gradually, offering sweeping views along the way. After about a third of a mile, one trail heads right down to the Bodega Dunes; go straight to reach the vistas of the Horseshoe Cove overlook.
Bodega Head is located at the southern end of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park (unfortunately, that means dogs are not allowed on the trails).
Just the beginning
Exploring Bodega Head is simply one of the many coastal adventures available in this area.
Across the bay from Bodega Head, the two-mile-long sandy beach at Doran Regional Park is a popular place for beachcombing, picnicking, building sand castles, flying kites, fishing, and just relaxing. The rock jetty at the far end is great for fishing, crabbing, and exploring sea life. The popular campground offers both tent and RV sites (although the campsites can be windy at times).
A bit to the north, Bodega Dunes Campground includes 98 campsites tucked into the protective trees, with hot showers and flush toilets (no hookups). The day use area includes an accessible boardwalk out to a classic sandy beach.
North Salmon Creek Beach and South Salmon Creek Beach are two ends of a long, scenic sandy beach that's great for beachcombing and picnicking; the north stretch is popular with surfers when the waves are good.
If you're eager to get out on the water, Bodega Bay Kayak rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, and offers lessons and customized guided tours. For surfers, Bodega Bay Surf Shack, Northern Light Surf Shop Bodega, and Northern Light Surf Shop Valley Ford rent a variety of styles of surfboards, as well as wetsuits, skim boards, body boards, and booties.
And if horseback riding appeals, both Chanslor Stables and Horse N Around Trails Rides offer a variety of guided trail rides (public or private) with breathtaking coastal or hillside views, through sand dunes, or along the beach.
And when you're ready to eat, there are many options, from the Boat House, where Captain Rick Powers' schooner hauls in seafood straight from the water, to Terrapin Creek Café, which earned national acclaim for its seasonal menu using the finest, freshest ingredients in inventive pairings, in a casual, neighborly atmosphere.
In addition to selling fresh seafood, the Fishetarian Fish Market features a menu of fish and chips, clam chowder, grilled fish tacos, and more, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. Gourmet au Bay offers waterfront views, a daily menu crafted in a wood-fired oven, and wine tasting flights served on mini-surfboards.
Drakes Sonoma Coast restaurant inside the Bodega Bay Lodge serves an ultra-local, seasonally changing menu. Tides Wharf Restaurant specializes in fresh, local seafood and American cuisine, with extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. For more options, check our listings of Bodega Bay Restaurants.
If you decide you just can't bear to leave the area, consider Bodega Bay Lodge, a luxurious retreat with ocean views from every room; Inn at the Tides, with elegant guest lodges nestled in secluded, natural surroundings; or check out 10 Unique Hotels and Inns on the Sonoma Coast.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Henley.