The bad news is that gas is expensive. The good news is that less than one tank will get you and a car full of family or friends to Sonoma Coast’s Bodega Bay. It’s less than 70 miles from San Francisco, yet feels a world away. Clamming, camping, sailing, a walk on the beach, golf, a hot air balloon ride, horseback rides and bike tours await just across the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s always a pleasure to begin a drive by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Then continue north on US-101 for 40 miles to Petaluma. Take the East Washington Street exit and continue west for 30 miles, following signs to Bodega Bay. You’ll know when you’re there, as you cannot go any further.
Stop Along the Way
Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center
at the Bridge Pavilion
In tribute to the 75th anniversary of the bridge in 2012, stop for a photo opportunity at the new $5-million visitor center at the entrance. It’s located next to the parking lot at the southeastern entrance, painted international orange, of course. Enjoy historical displays including a 1937 opening invitation, and interpretive materials and films. “Whose Shoes?” is a moving remembrance to the 1,500 people who have jumped or fallen from the bridge. For foggy days, take advantage of a digitally enhanced photo opportunity.
Price: $6 parking
Sonoma County, just north of Marin County, was a land of hunter-gatherer natives harvesting the bounty of land, sea and rivers until around 1775 when the first Spanish explorers came upon it. Bodega Head is a peninsula protecting the mainland from the ocean, creating two diverse coastlines. Weather conditions aside, a persistent foghorn marks your arrival for a day at Doran Beach.
Doran Beach has two sides, ocean and bay. Not at all a wide piece of land, it can be particularly windy. Never mind, just bring a kite, the kids and the dog (a leash is required), oh, and a jacket and rubber shoes for climbing on the kelp-covered rocks. The beach is gradual and flat, as are the waves, so great for kids, although chilly. While there are no dramatic cliffs to behold, there’s plenty of fun in watching the seals and dolphins frolicking just off the shore. Seagulls the size of small dogs dive for your potato chips as less aggressive egrets look on, so be warned if you try to picnic here. Walk along the beach heading north, noticing that beach-goers thin out considerably. Most Californians are aware of the gray whale migration patterns, and some know this is one of the best possible lookout points January through May and again in autumn.
Bodega Bay Charters
Bodega Bay, CA 94922
Price: from $135 per person
Choose your season and your vessel at Bodega Bay Charters. The pros are aware of the rules and regulations, so all you need worry about is what adventure you want to embark on. Albacore fishing is an all-day event 30 miles offshore in late summer. Rock cod fishing does have limitations on bags, species and fishing depth. Dungeness crab are in season November through June, and Bodega Charters has pots you may pull for a take-away bounty. Tackle and rod and reel rental are included, but you’ll need a fishing license.
Related: Tom Stienstra Outdoor Report
Sonoma Coast Villa and Spa
16702 Coast Highway One
Bodega, CA 94922
Price: from $155
Five inns in Bodega, ranging from two-star to four-star promise the perfect stay for any budget. Sonoma Coast Villa has Mediterranean-style charm complete with a guest-only spa, pool, restaurant, private terraces, gardens, wood-burning fireplaces and Internet access. DIne by the fire while sipping local Sonoma wines, or stroll outside for beautiful views of the Bodega Bay sunset.
Bodega Bay Lodge and The Duck Club Restaurant
103 Coast Highway One
Bodega Bay, CA 94922
Price: from $175
The AAA Four Diamond-rated Bodega Bay Lodge, with a spa, pool with ocean views and a restaurant, is a picturesque coastal retreat. The setting on a hill affords sweeping views overlooking the beach. Guest rooms are made extra cozy with down comforters, private balconies and real fireplaces. Be sure to enjoy dinner at the Duck Club Restaurant on site for freshly farmed local seafood.
Related: Hot Air Balloon Ride
The Links at Bodega Bay and Bluewater Restaurant and Bar
21301 Heron Drive
Bodega Bay, CA 94923
Spend a fun day in a hot air balloon or on a beautiful golf course right in Bodega Bay. An impressive 18-holes overlooking the Pacific awaits at The Links at Bodega Bay. On Thursday and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., enjoy live music without a cover charge at the club’s Bluewater Bistro all summer long. Great ocean views are served up with breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu featuring local wines and fish right off the boat.
Sonoma Coast Visitor Center
850 Highway One
Bodega Bay, CA
In the neighboring small town of Bodega, look for locations connected with the filming of Hitchcock’s early ’60s classic, “The Birds.” This place receives thousands of Hitchcock fans every year as a result. The Visitor Center can direct you to the film locations, including Saint Theresa de Avila Church. If you’re coming for Labor Day Weekend, actress Tippi Hedren herself will be in Bodega Bay to sign autographs at The Inn at the Tides on September 1-3, 2012.
Laurie Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.