Bodega Bay: A Day at the Other Bay
By Kris Klein
Most beachgoers from the Bay Area don’t make it farther north than Stinson Beach, and with good reason…who doesn’t love Stinson? But Bodega Bay has a different feel.
A fishing town first and a beach town second, albeit with stunning, world class beaches and plenty of salt water taffy, it’s more about doing than lounging. Want to go camping in the dunes? Kayak with seals?
Take a surfing lesson? And that’s just Day 1.
Watersports are the main event here. Want to try kayaking with seals, rays, and otters? Bob, the gregarious proprietor of Bodega Bay Kayak, is passionate about his job and can tell you down to the turtle sightings what to expect in the various estuaries and bays of the area. He’ll deliver everything you need to your launching site, and pick you up when you’re done. Bob has 17 years of experience in the area with all levels of kayakers. He will customize a kayaking adventure for your group depending on the age and experience, always with safety as the top priority and a fabulous day of fun as the goal. Conveniently, Bob also runs the Bodega Bay Surf Shack, another option for a day out on the water.
While you’re here, you’ve got to get to the beach. There are no lifeguards on the Sonoma Coast beaches and swimming is not recommended, but this doesn’t mean that you still can’t have plenty of fun. For little ones, young anglers will love Hagemann’s Trout Farm, a small pond stocked with small trout. The good news is there are lots of them, and they’re easy to catch, but the bad news is you pay for everything you reel in, and it adds up quickly.
Deep sea fishing and whale watching are also available if the gang is up for at least a half day on the water and larger quarry.
Adults might enjoy hunting for wild salmon and Dungeness crab, but even the smallest in the family will enjoy pulling in Pacific sand-dabs and rock cod. A word to the wise – even if you think you and your family don’t get seasick, come prepared with Dramamine or other seasickness prevention. The ocean swells can get to the strongest stomach on the mildest day. Whale watching is best December through April, so you might want to wait to try this later in the year.
If you’d rather stay on land and just admire the Pacific, the whole family will enjoy hiking along the towering bluffs that overlook the ocean on trails bursting with the season’s wildflowers, which due to the
late rains this year, are dazzling. The Kortum Trail follows the cliff from Wright’s Beach to Goat Rock Beach, crisscrossing a network of paths that wander through the dunes. It’s 3.3 mile hike with approximately
300 feet of gently graded elevation, offering dramatic ocean views. There’s plenty of parking for hikers and a bathroom (of sorts) at Shell Beach.
For similar views with less sweat, try a trail ride at the Chanslor Guest Ranch. The ranch has changed hands in the past few years, and it has never been in better shape. Cheerful,
young owner Sarahbeth Vosburg has her horses glowing with good health, and the miles of trails meandering through the 378 acre property offer spectacular ocean scenery and abundant wildlife. Rumor has it that a
60 pound catfish resides in the ranch’s Turtle Pond. You can try out a quick 30 – 40 minute ride, or go for a longer trek through Salmon Creek’s secret canyons and quiet wetlands.
There’s something for everyone at Bodega Bay, from toddlers to grandparents. About an hour and 15 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s an easy day trip, although you’ll find plenty to do if you choose
to stay longer. You won’t find any possessed crows…this isn’t Alfred Hitchcock’s Bodega Bay, the real thing is a lot better.
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How to Get There
The easiest way to get there is straight up Highway 101 to CA-116 west (the Lakeville Highway exit). Take Lakeville Street through Petaluma. Keep going straight…the road changes names a few times
but it’s still the same street (Lakeville Street, E. Washington, Bodega Avenue, Valley Ford Rd., and eventually merges into Coastal Highway One. Follow Highway One north, and you’re there. You can also
take Highway One all the way up from Mill Valley, through Olema, Pt. Reyes Station, and Marshall, which is a beautiful drive but it takes longer.
The Inn at the Tides, 800 Coast Highway 1, (800) 541-7788, http://www.innatthetides.com/
Most rooms offer bay and harbor views; rooms with fireplaces and patios are available, complimentary continental breakfast. Double Queen room rates start at $179 per night.
Bodega Bay Lodge, 103 Coast Highway 1, (707) 875-3525 http://www.bodegabaylodge.com/
Water views, private balconies, fireplaces, full-service spa, and complimentary wine hour.
Standard King room rates start at $175 per night.
Bodega Dunes Campground, 3095 North Highway 1, (707) 875-3483 http://www.ca.gov.com/
Many campsites back up to the dunes with nothing but nature between you and the ocean. The sound of the breakers will lull you to sleep. This is one of the state parks threatened by budget cuts, but so far it has remained open. Bodega Dunes is perfect for a relatively easy camping adventure, and comes complete with hot showers.
Terrapin Creek Café, 1580 Eastshore Rd., (707) 875-2700, http://www.terrapincreekcafe.com/
Opened in 2008, this casual café specializes in local and sustainable cuisine with an Asian influence.
The Tides Wharf and Fish Market, 835 Coast Highway 1, (707) 875-3652 http://www.innatthetides.com/
You’ll see the Tides Wharf in “The Birds”, although it looks different now. What the menu lacks in originality, it makes up for in freshness, and the harbor seals never fail to entertain. The Tides is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an adjacent fish market, bakery, and gift shop.
Lucas Wharf, 595 South Highway 1 (707) 875-3522
Although the restaurant is somewhat ordinary (although earns points for its friendly staff), the adjacent Island Style Deli is unusual and fun. Owned and operated by a native Hawaiian, the deli offers island-inspired surprises including a tender teriyaki chicken, in addition to standard deli fare.
There’s good clamming at low tide next to Spud Point Marina on Eastshore Drive. You can park on the side of the road and start digging for your dinner. Stop by the Spud Point Crab Company to pick up a few live crabs while you’re there, and you can make a seafood feast that could not possibly be any fresher.
Plan On It
South Salmon Creek Beach, featuring the biggest sand dune in the world! Not really, but if you’re 3 feet tall, it seems that way. Don’t forget a big piece of cardboard for sand sledding. Unfortunately the parking lot is usually closed due to budget cuts, but you can park at the north side of the beach and walk (about 10 minutes), or try your luck with parking in the quiet neighborhood closer to the dunes.
Pass On It
June. If you must go, expect fog, and lots of it.
Most of the coastline from Bodega Head to just past Jenner is government property. The public beaches, from South to North along Route 1, are as follows:
Bodega Head; look for the “Hole in the Head”
South Salmon Creek; see above
North Salmon Creek; good surfing beach
Miwok, Coleman, Arched Rock, Marshall, Carmet, Schoolhouse, Portuguese, Gleason, and Rock Point; all small, scenic, and subject to budget cut closures
Wright’s; on-the-beach campsites available
Shell; see above
Goat Rock; at the base of the Russian River
Dogs are allowed (on a leash) at all except the two Salmon Creek beaches, Miwok, and Coleman.
Kayaking: Bodega Bay Kayak, 1580 East Shore Dr.. (707) 875-8899
Surfing: Bodega Bay Surf Shack, 1400 Highway 1, (707) 875-3944
Fishing and whale watching: Hagemann Ranch, (707) 876-3217; Wil’s Fishing Adventures, P.O. Box 1555 (707) 875-2323, Bodega Charters, (707) 463-3618
Golf: The newly renovated Robert Trent Jones II-designed Links at Bodega Harbour, South Harbour Way 1-800-503-8158
Horseback Riding: Chanslor Guest Ranch, 2660 N. Highway 1, (707) 875-2721
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Kris Klein is a mother of three, and a Marin County-based travel agent specializing in family adventures. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.