The Sonoma Coast offers a stunning drive along Hwy. 1. Yet there’s endless beauty to explore on foot, as well, so hop out of your car and really get to know the area. Bucolic state and regional parks dot the coastline, tempting with hiking, beaches, fishing, camping, water sports and horseback riding.
The area is rugged and dramatic, yet approachable even for novice adventurers. And if navigating an ocean front path isn’t your thing, you can simply relax at a beach for the day, enjoy a romantic picnic, or go all-out on a camping trip.
You can enjoy the coast year-round, too. In the spring, the area is blanketed in explosions of wildflowers, and in the summer, the cool ocean breezes temper the sun. In fall, the coast is warm with a Mediterranean climate, and temperatures continue to be mild even through winter. Just note that weather can turn windy or foggy any time of year, so always bring along a windbreaker and cap.
Plan some down time, as well, to let it all soak in. Excellent dining and hotel destinations invite you to linger and savor the coast some more.
Regional and state parks embrace some of the coast’s most lavish landscapes. Get up close with nature via a stroll along the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, a paved path running along the Bodega Bay salt marsh that’s home to wildlife thousands of birds throughout the year. The walk is easy, looping one mile through Doran Regional Park and Bird Walk Coastal Access Park along Doran Park Marsh and tidal channels, over a new 110' bridge that spans Cheney Creek, and connects to the Bird Walk Park up on the levees. To access the trail, park at a 10-car space parking lot right off Hwy. 1 at the south end of town (between Smith Brothers Road and Doran Park Road), or enter through Doran Beach Park at the north end of town. For even more fun, leashed dogs are welcome to come romp, too.
355 State Highway 1, north of the town of Bodega Bay. Parking $7.
For a taste of history, the Fort Ross State Historic Park offers a rich adventure, as a former Russian colony established in 1812. Some of the ancient wood structures still remain on the 3,200 acre cliff-top site, as does an antique canon and water tower. The visitor center features ongoing interpretive presentations about Russian-era buildings, neighborhoods, intercultural relations, agriculture and trade.
19005 Coast Highway, Jenner, 707-847-3437. Parking/gate fee $8.
Take a Hike
Some 17 miles of bluff-top trails beckon from above, while wide sandy beaches welcome below. The path along Kortum Trail is an easy, cliff-side jaunt that lets you appreciate both sceneries, stretching about 4-1/2 miles round-trip between Wright's Beach and Blind Beach, accessed by a trailhead located near the middle of the two at Shell Beach.
Another easy walk is found on the Bodega Head hiking trail that edges three miles around the headlands, or takes a straighter one-mile path to-and-from the overlook. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Harbor, and the town itself. To get there: Take coastal Highway 1, just past the town of Bodega Bay. Turn left on Eastshore Road, then right on Bay Flat Road. Go around the harbor and turn right at Campbell Cove, then head uphill, bearing right at the fork for the free parking lot by the cliff.
Note that during whale migration season (January through May, but still visible during much of the year), the Ocean Overlook at Bodega Head is prime for watching gray and blue whales traveling south from the Chukchi Sea near Alaska and down to Baja California for winter, then back north for the summer feeding season. Just drive one mile north from the Visitors Center located on Highway One, turn left onto Eastshore Road, then right onto Bay Flat/Westshore Road. Drive three miles, and take the right fork to the Ocean Overlook. Bodega Head is part of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, stretching from Bodega Bay in the south to several miles north of Jenner, and offering a multitude of beautiful beaches and bluff-top trails.
Hit the Beach
North Salmon Creek Beach and South Salmon Creek Beach are great places to splash down, since the beaches are slightly inland in a lagoon, making the water warmer and calmer. Nearly two miles of sand make this an excellent place for surf fishing, beachcombing, and picnicking, while waves attract swimmers and surfers. The area is also home to the he western snowy plover, a bird listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
While Salmon Creek doesn’t allow dogs, Doran Regional Park does (leashed), and Fido will adore you even more when you take him to frolic here. The two-mile stretch of sandy beach is quiet, secluded, and since it’s protected by the bay, the water is calm, perfect for dipping toes. Bring your picnic basket, your camping gear, and even your boat, since there’s a rock jetty at the harbor mouth for fishing and crabbing under gentle wind-scudded clouds dancing across the sky.
201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay
Beach goers also frequent Goat Rock Beach, a highlight of spectacular Jenner just north of Bodega Bay. This is one of the most easily accessible sandy beaches tucked amid the towering bluffs and crashing waves, and the partial cove is also a superb area for wildlife watching, where the Russian River meets the sea. Hike the trails around the high surrounding cliffs to watch migrating gray whales, or claim a prime perch on the sand, within view of a colony of frolicking harbor seals. Again, this is all part of the 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park.
With water-water everywhere, the coast is prime for fishing and boating. You can catch your own, through the Bodega Bay Sport Fishing Center, as Captain Rick Powers charters hunts for crab, salmon, albacore tuna, cod and Humboldt giant squid from his New Sea Angler, a 12-person, 65-foot vessel running spring through fall.
1410 B Bay Flat Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3495.
Set up Camp
The Bodega Dunes Campground is very popular, so reservations are strongly recommended at (800) 444-7275 or www.parks.ca.gov. Sure, you’re roughing it some, but fire pits await firewood purchased from the park rangers, and your portable cook stove is perfect for warming coffee (or hot toddies). On-site hot showers and multiple restrooms with electrical outlets are available, and you can park your car right near your tents. It’s sure hard to beat the beautiful ocean and dune views, either, enhanced by shady canopies of trees, and the well-spaced sites that offer seclusion.
3095 Highway 1, Bodega Bay
Get Wet and Wild
WaterTreks EcoTours owner Suki Waters is a local Native American descendant, guide and kayak instructor, specializing in wildlife, Sonoma history and ecology tours. From beginner boaters to skilled sports enthusiasts, there’s an adventure for all, staged along the amazing coast. Explore the quiet estuary or tackle the dancing sea, and keep your eyes peeled for area residents like sea lions, harbor seals, otters, birds and maybe even a whale.
10438 Highway 1, Jenner, 707-865-2249.
The Bodega Bay coast also boasts powerful waves perfect for surfing enthusiasts, plus more manageable beginner waves. Bodega Bay Surf Shack rents a variety of styles of surfboards, wetsuits, skim boards, body boards, and booties. They offer private lessons for beginners, as well, and rent bicycles and kayaks, too.
1400 N. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3944.
The hillsides and redwood forests bring gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, made even finer on horseback.
Chanslor Stables, a working western horse ranch, offers guided horseback trail rides with breathtaking ocean views. Follow miles of trails that take you to lofty mountaintops, grassy meadows, coastal dunes, or along the beach. Private rides are available, including a private picnic ride.
2660 N. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-589-5040.
Horse N Around Trail Rides offers a 60-minute sand dunes ride with panoramic views of Bodega Bay harbor and Sonoma Coastline; a 90 minute beach ride that includes the dunes and harbor views, plus riding along a long stretch of beach; and trail rides on the Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm, an incredible family-owned ranch with gorgeous views of the rolling coastal hills.
Between 18401 & 19000 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3333.
The Tides Wharf Restaurant & Bar: Known as the backdrop for scary scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic, “The Birds,” this oceanfront eatery specializes in local seafood, like breakfasts of grilled snapper, eggs and hash browns; a cioppino lunch stocked with Dungeness crab, prawns, scallops, clams and mussels; or dinner of Pacific red snapper.
800 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3652.
Meanwhile, there’s a great lunch to be had at The Boat House, where owner Captain Rick Powers’ schooner hauls in seafood straight from the water. Right at the curve around the northern Bodega bend, you’ll see bustles of people year-round, converging on a tiny little shack on the side of the road to get their fill of Dungeness crab cake sandwiches, briny oysters, and legendary rock cod fish-n-chips. It’s so popular that getting a table can be difficult, in fact. Here’s the trick. Place your order at the counter, get it to-go, then clamber back in your car and head to the beach for an al fresco feast. Just beware the seagulls - they’re not shy about dive-bombing to steal those delicious chips.
1445 N. Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3495.
One of the best-known destinations is a tiny café that is more bait shop than restaurant, called Spud Point Crab Company. It makes sense, because Tony and Carol Anello catch the seafood themselves on a sturdy boat named Annabelle. You can see crab cooked whole in the boiler right outside the store, then buy it by the pound to take home. Or, if you’re feeling picnic-y, take a seat at an outdoor table and dig into crab cakes, crab cocktail, or crab sandwiches.
1860 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-9472.
And if you would like to go wine tasting, read about the Sonoma Coast Wine Region.
The thundering crash of the waves. The velvet gray clouds, sparked with brilliant shards of gold as the sun streams through. Oh, the invigorating nip of the air, fragrant with sea salt! It makes you want to take a nap, doesn’t it?
So stay the night at the Inn at the Tides. Or, another top-notch hideaway is the Bodega Bay Lodge, so romantic and serene on its seaside perch. As the only AAA Four Diamond hotel on the Sonoma Coast, it offers a luxury escape, in rooms outfitted with real fireplaces, warm, snuggly down comforters, and private balconies for stargazing.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet