Profile of Coastal Sonoma County

The coast of Sonoma County is not only beautiful, but accessible. Most of the 17 miles of coastline from Bodega Bay to Jenner are Sonoma Coast State Beaches and include numerous campsites, hiking trails and picnic areas. Just inland are the towns of Bodega, Freestone, Occidental, Monte Rio, Duncans Mills and the small city of Sebastopol.
Highway 1 travels right along the crests and bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and offers a number of turnouts where motorists can stop and explore secluded beaches and coves.
The southernmost town on the Sonoma coast is the jewel-like village of Bodega Bay, a popular visitor destination with numerous restaurants and lodging establishments. There are hiking trails from Bodega Dunes Campground to Salmon Creek, as well as on Bodega Head, the rocky headlands that form the entrance to Bodega Harbor. The head is a great vantage point for watching the annual migration of gray whales as they move south from the Arctic beginning in October, continuing into December and returning north starting in February. Or watch from whale watching boat trips in the local area.
Windsurfing is popular in Bodega Harbor, and there is a good launch spot between Spud Point Marina and Westside Park. Fishermen can charter boats out of Bodega Harbor for ocean fishing for salmon or bottomfish, or try fishing from the jetty for jacksmelt, surfperch, greenlings and more. Around the base of Bodega Head, rockfishing is good. Surf netting is popular along the sandy beaches, as is abalone diving.
The 19th century town of Bodega lies just east of Bodega Bay, infamous as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds.” Potter School (1863) and St. Theresa’s Church (1860) are historic landmarks that were featured in the film. You will find quaint sops with wares from local artisans, a bonafide country store complete with the souvenirs you will want to take home with you, and a timeless saloon/grill where frequent live music punctuates the daily festivities.
Highway 1 winds northward from Bodega Bay and passes through Jenner, where the Russian River meets the coast. Although tiny, Jenner is the gateway to the coastal resort areas and beaches. Jenner has restaurants and inns, and supplies for travelers on a coastal adventure—the last place to fill up on gasoline for 20 miles. Seals are a common sight on the rocky offshore islands. During the seal season, park rangers conduct seal-watching excursions.
Just inland from Jenner on Hwy 116 is the former logging town of Duncans Mills, stores dating back to the early 1900s, a restaurant, and various shops, antique stores and art galleries.
North of Jenner, spectacular scenery awaits hikers and campers at Salt Point State Park and Kruse Rhododendron Reserve. The 3,500-acre Salt Point State Park has several hiking trails that lead to old Pomo village sites, hidden coves and a pygmy forest. The campground has both tent and RV campsites.
Twelve miles north of Jenner, Hwy 101 winds along a steep ocean bluff, climbs more than 700 feet above sea level and then descends upon Fort Ross State Historic Park. From 1812 to 1841, the fort was home to a thriving multi-cultural settlement of Russians, Native Alaskans, Californians and Creoles (individuals of mixed Russian and native ancestry). The community served as an agricultural base to supply Russian settlements in Alaska, as a center for fur trappers who came in search of valuable otter and seal pelts, as well as to establish a trading post and protect their turf from the Spanish. The nearby Russian River is named after the fort’s inhabitants.
The fort includes warehouses, a chapel, dwellings, cannons, a stockade and workshops furnished as they might have been in the fort’s heyday. The Fort Ross Visitor Center and Museum acquaints visitors with the history of the fort through slide displays and artifacts. There are also exhibits of Pomo Indian basketry. The Pomo were the original inhabitants of the area.
The northernmost community on the rural and rugged Sonoma Coast is the recreational subdivision of Sea Ranch, a 5,200 acre development created in the mid 60s. A 10-mile stretch along both sides of the highway on the coast, Sea Ranch includes a restaurant and lodge, an 18-hole golf course and numerous vacation rentals. There are also six access trails through Sea Ranch property to the public beaches bordering the community. The trailheads are well marked and have portable toilets in the parking lots.
Just over the Mendocino County line, the village of Gualala beckons with a world class Arts Center, seaside parks, unique shopping and several great dining choices, including Bones Roadhouse, where you will find BBQ that brings tears to your eyes, and a view that will astound.