Marvel at the Magic of Winter on the Sonoma Coast
And did you know, during the winter, this stretch of the Northern California coast is often very mild and temperate - surprisingly sunny and warm even when inland areas might be chilly.
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! For another treat, fewer tourists have discovered these secrets this time of year, meaning more solitude to explore. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Take in the Gallery Scene
Bodega Bay brims with beautiful art salons and shops, from local talent capturing the dramatic landscapes in paint, sculpture, glass, and even whimsical kites. East Shore Outfitters offers a variety of gifts, home decor, jewelry and other fun items.
Stop in the shops in the tiny town of Bodega on your way to the coast, and then again in the central town by the Bay, and browse to your heart's content for everything from early California impressionistic portraits, to photography, to turned wood, and frothy, colorful scarves. The Historic Town of Bodega Art Gallery is located in the original blacksmith shop from the 1850s and has been an art gallery since the 1960s.
Take a Hike
Work up an appetite on the easy Bodega Head hiking trail that edges three miles around the headlands, or a 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. The Bodega Head area is one of Sonoma County's top spots for whale watching; on weekends from January to May volunteers from the Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods are on hand to answer questions and share their knowledge of whales and migration. To get to Bodega Head: 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.
Taste the Chowder
Venture out toward Spud Point Marina and admire the rows of yachts and fishing boats. Don't blink and miss the tiny seafood shack that, according to several reliable sources, serves the best clam chowder in Northern California. Spud Point Crab Company is mostly a take-out operation – you walk into the small shop and place your order from a limited menu posted on the wall.
It can take three to four hours to sample all the delicious entries on Chowder Day, an annual event held the last Saturday in January. Enjoy a culinary tour of this bayside town, meeting chefs and tasting chowders at participating sites. The entry ticket includes a map and ballot, and entitles you to a taste of chowder at each location listed on the map.
Made famous in the early 1960s as the backdrop for scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's film classic, "The Birds," the Tides Wharf Restaurant at the Inn at the Tides 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.
And locals flock to this Bodega Bay-front restaurant for its delicious crab feeds, offered only when the fishermen are bringing in their fresh catch in the winter. These reservations-only meals are served on select Fridays from December through March, and are often quickly sold out. It's a mouthwatering feast of briny-sweet, chilled Dungeness crab served with cocktail sauce, drawn butter and the Tides' own mustard sauce, clam chowder, linguine, green salad and fresh-baked French bread. Get a seat near the windows overlooking the water, and keep an eye peeled - that boat out there might be the very one that brought in your dinner.
Stay the Night
Special packages are available for overnight guests at the Inn at the Tides. Another favorite 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. For more ideas, read the guide to 10 Unique Hotels and Inns on the Sonoma Coast.
Looking for more fun things to do during your trip to Sonoma County? Take a look at the many outdoor activities to enjoy in the valleys, vineyards, coastline, and Russian River areas of Sonoma County.