Sonoma Coast State Park

This final portion of our guide to the Russian River Valley continues west to where the Russian River meets the coast and empties into the Pacific Ocean. 

Roll the windows down and feel the ocean breeze on your cheeks as you crest soaring bluffs on Highway 1 and explore the tiny coastal towns of Duncans Mills and Jenner. Watch for migrating whales, or stop to observe wildlife such as Pacific harbor seals, great blue herons, and osprey.

Beginning to Feel Sea Breezes

Because it’s only 5 miles inland from the Sonoma County coast and enjoys a unique climate, tiny Duncans Mills (pop. 175) often enjoys blue skies while fog or rain clouds cover the surrounding hills. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and explore before driving the Sonoma County coast. 

Despite its small stature, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Duncans Mills: This former lumber mill town is now home to more than a dozen unique specialty shops, several restaurants, a bakery, a wine tasting room, and even a quaint regional museum housed inside a 1907 railroad depot. 

The exterior of the Duncans Mills General Store in Duncans Mills
Duncans Mills General Store

Once you’re ready to keep moving, head west on Highway 116 then hang a right on Highway 1 to reach the Russian River estuary, where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean. You’ll be greeted by a stunning coastal landscape and diverse wildlife habitat, including a mix of freshwater and saltwater animals such as Pacific harbor seals, brown pelicans, ospreys, great blue herons, and many more.

On the northern edge of the estuary, the Jenner Visitors Center gives you a chance to watch the prolific wildlife and provides interpretative displays and a nature store. Volunteers at the visitors center offer helpful background about this delicate ecosystem and sell interpretive merchandise to fund their work and support the park. 

An Ocean View Like No Other: Jenner

The highway climbs quickly here, to where the coastal village of Jenner (pop. 136) perches on a high bluff. There are several restaurants in town and scattered along the coast, many with spectacular views. River’s End Restaurant & Inn boasts a one-of-a-kind location on the bluff, offering stunning vistas and spectacular sunsets.

Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County

Or head left at the junction of Highway 116 with Highway 1 to access the scenic shoreline of Goat Rock State Beach, part of the Sonoma Coast State Park series of beaches stretching along the Sonoma County coast. Soak up the sun from your enviable spot on the beach while watching for migrating whales in the distance, or set your sights closer to shore to observe (from at least 50 yards away) the seal colony that makes its home in the area each summer.

More to Explore: North and the Redwoods

The Russian River fun is just beginning. We have two more itineraries to help guide your trip, whether you want to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants or have always wanted to to take a family trip to a California redwood forest. Learn more about the North and Redwoods sections of the Russian River Valley itinerary.

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