7 Reasons to Visit the Sonoma Coast in the Off-Season
Late fall through winter is considered off-season at the Sonoma Coast, but we consider them ideal times to visit our 55 miles' worth of gorgeous coves, trails, and beaches. Here are 7 great reasons why:
1. The Late Fall/Winter Weather Here is Pretty Darn Mild
While the off-season weather will bring occasional mist, rain, or fog to the Sonoma Coast, late fall and winter days are more often 60 degrees, breezy, and sunny. Sunsets seem impossibly vibrant, and while nights average in the 40s, skies are generally clear and bright with stars.
Layering your clothing is key to a great off-season trip at the Sonoma Coast. Most afternoons are warm enough for a cozy hoodie or sweater with a T-shirt underneath, plus your favorite jeans and closed-toe shoes. For morning and evening excursions, bring a fleece jacket or light parka, and though you might not end up needing them, a hat and scarf. And be sure to pack a raincoat, beach towel, and sunscreen, as well.
2. Summer Crowds Have Gone Back Home
You'll have your favorite beaches to yourself for long walks on the sand (e.g., Portuguese Beach and Doran Beach), shellcombing and collecting driftwood (e.g., Shell Beach and public access trails in The Sea Ranch).
3. You'll Find Special Deals and Packages at Coastal Lodging Properties
The Sonoma Coast is home to some of the county's most unique hotels and inns, offering perks like ocean views, farm-to-fork restaurants, fire pits, and even hot tubs.
Also visit our hotel booking section's West-Pacific Coast listings to find more cozy lodging options at the Sonoma Coast (e.g., Bodega Bay, Jenner, etc.).
4. Lower Tides = Tide-Pooling Paradise
In late fall and winter, the moon is closer to the Earth than it is in spring and summer, resulting in low tides that are a few inches lower. This means that more of the Sonoma Coast's sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea stars, chitons, limpets, mussels, tiny fish, and other colorful creatures are often more visible during these times, so it's a great time of year to go tide pooling!
To stay up to speed on Sonoma Coast tides, download NOAA's mobile app, Tide Guide: Charts & Tables, to see up to 10 days' worth (for free) of high and low tides, as well as sunrises, sunsets, and moon phases, as recorded by local tide stations. Along the Sonoma Coast, the tide stations are Bodega Harbor entrance (south coastal points) and Fort Ross (north coastal points).
5. Higher Tides = Better Fishing
The moon being closer to the Earth also means high tides that are higher than usual. High tides bring in cooler water with higher levels of oxygen, which cause fish to be more active — thus improving your chances of catching fish.
You can go Pacific Ocean surf fishing at Gualala Point Regional Park, and in Sonoma Coast State Park — home to rockfish, perch, salmon, ling cod, steelhead, and smelt — the most notable fishing spots are Shell Beach and Salmon Creek Beach North and South. (Download the Sonoma Coast park brochure/map.)
6. It's Dungeness Crab Season
From early November to late June, you can celebrate Dungeness crab season in Sonoma County — and the off-season is prime time for these tasty crustaceans. You can book a crab fishing charter with one of the outfitters above, or buy crabs straight off the dock at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay (you'll just have to rise early to meet the fisherman).
You can also enjoy a variety of crab delicacies at sustainable spots like Spud Point Crab Company, Fishetarian Fish Market and Bay View Restaurant at Inn at the Tides, as well as other top seafood restaurants in Bodega Bay. Up near Jenner, feast on crab at River's End Restaurant & Inn.
7. You Can Go Whale Watching
The annual north-to-south gray whale migration along the Sonoma Coast peaks during the winter months, with good opportunities for whale-spotting. Consider taking a whale-watching boat trip with one of the experienced companies out of Bodega Bay (see above), or go look for cetaceans on your own.
One of the top whale-watching spots on the coast is the peninsula at Bodega Head. On weekends from January through Mother's Day, volunteers from the Whale Watch Public Education Program are at Bodega Head to answer questions and share their knowledge of whales and migration.
Other wonderful locations to whale watch include Gualala Point Regional Park, the six public access trails at The Sea Ranch, Stillwater Cove Regional Park, Fort Ross State Historic Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, and Salt Point State Park.
As you're planning your off-season trip to the Sonoma Coast, be sure to check out Marvel at the Magic of Winter on the Sonoma Coast, Cozy Sonoma County Restaurants for Cold Winter Days, and our Calendar of Events!
Written by Melanie Wynne