And the drive to reach the beach offers major pleasure. The county’s west side holds an amazing network of beautiful back roads that pass through extensive meadows, redwood trees, vineyards, apple orchards, farms, roadside produce stands, narrow canyons bordered by steep cliffs, and quaint villages dating back to the mid-19th century.
Small side roads frequently divert from the “main” two-lane roads, passing through less-traveled territory; they may branch a time or two — or even three — before joining up once again with one of the two-lane roads leading to the Pacific Ocean. That’s why even long-time residents haven’t explored all routes leading to the coast.
Here are two straightforward routes from Sonoma to the coast, each rich with only-in-Sonoma-County delights that you will treasure long after your return home. The first takes you to Bodega Bay, on the southern end of Sonoma’s coast. The second brings you to the point where the Russian River meets the ocean; from there you can travel north along a coastal route that ranks with the most beautiful on earth.
Destination: Bodega Bay
- Head out of Sonoma on Highway 12 East (Broadway).
- After about two miles, turn right onto Watmaugh Road.
- In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Highway 116 West (Stage Gulch Road). Although you’ll be taking a few turns in the next few miles, you’ll remain on Highway 116 West until you reach the coast.
- Continue on Stage Gulch Road for 3.2 miles to Adobe Road, where you’ll turn right.
- In approximately 4 miles, turn left onto Corona Road.
- About 1½ miles later, at the traffic circle, take the second exit and stay on Corona Road.
- Less than a mile later, continue onto Skillman Lane.
- About 2.5 miles later, turn right onto Bodega Avenue.
- In another 4.5 miles, continue onto Valley Ford Road.
- Stay on Valley Ford Road for 10.5 miles until you reach Highway 1 — the coast highway!
- Turn north: Bodega Bay is less than eight miles ahead.
Ideas for your day on and around Bodega Bay:
- Devour fresh crab sandwiches in Bodega Harbor
- Keep an eye out for passing whales from atop Bodega Head
- Fly a kite along the breezy beach at Doran Regional Park
- Visit the nearby town of Bodega, where many scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” were filmed (some of the buildings featured in the movie remain)
- Join a whale-watching cruise or a fishing charter
- Ride horseback along the beach
- If it’s Friday, enjoy a tour of the Bodega Marine Laboratory on Westside Road
Destination: Junction of Russian River/Pacific Ocean
- From Sonoma Plaza, turn onto Highway 12 West (West Napa Street).
- Less than a mile later, turn right onto Highway 12 West (Sonoma Highway)
- In approximately 19 miles, stay straight to go onto Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.
- About one mile later, make a slight right onto College Avenue.
- In a bit more than a mile, merge onto US Highway 101 North (Redwood Highway North) toward Eureka.
- Nearly four miles later, take the River Road exit (Exit 494) toward Guerneville.
- In a quarter mile, turn left onto Mark West Springs Road.
- Mark West Springs Road almost immediately becomes River Road
- In 15 miles, River Road becomes Highway 116 West. Soon you will enter the rustic river town of Guerneville.
- Continue on Highway 116 West through Guerneville, along the Russian River, for another 12 miles, when you will join Highway 1 on the coast.
Ideas for your day exploring the northern coast of Sonoma County:
- Visit Goat Rock in Sonoma Coast State Park (located across the highway from the last step, above)
- Have lunch in Jenner (one mile north)
- Continue driving north up the coast, a route offering astonishing views. Travel back into time at Fort Ross State Historic Park, stop at Sonoma Coast State Park’s beaches, and check out the Pygmy Forest at Salt Point State Park.
- Hike the public access bluff trails in The Sea Ranch and have lunch in the town of Gualala.
- Drive south to Bodega Bay, stopping for walks along the beaches of Sonoma Coast State Park.
More info: Coast and Sea Villages
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.