An Overview of Coastal Sonoma County:
Due north of the San Francisco Bay Area's Marin County, Sonoma is the heart of one of the world's preeminent winemaking regions. The western side of Sonoma County is sparsely populated and stunningly beautiful, as it fringes the Pacific Ocean and includes a dramatic stretch of the fabled scenic road, Highway 1.
If you're coming from San Francisco up to Sonoma County, either to popular gay resort of the Russian River or farther inland to the Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa winemaking areas, it's worth taking this scenic coastal route up Highway 1, through the sleepy and scenic villages of Bodega Bay and Jenner.
Resources, Travel Tips, and Climate:
Fort Ross State Park:
About 11 miles north of Jenner, Fort Ross State Historic Park is a re-created trading outpost settled in 1812 by Russian fur trappers (Ross is an archaic name for Russia). [
For 30 years they explored the Sonoma region, charting the river named after them, bartering with the Yankees, Mexicans, and indigenous Pomo Indians, and hunting down the native sea otter, nearly to the point of extinction. In 1841 they sold their extensive land holdings to John Sutter. The grounds consist of second-growth redwoods, plus numerous stands of Bishop pine and Douglas firs.
Salt Point State Park:
You can continue north from Fort Ross to Salt Point State Park, a 3,500 beach park with the remnants of many Pomo Indian village sites, plus extensive hiking trails and a pygmy forest.
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve:
Even more unusual than Salt Point State Park is the 317-acre Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, which is just to the north and contains native rhododendron, some of them 30 feet tall. Douglas fir and redwoods loom hauntingly over the pink flowering bushes, which are in bloom in April and May.
A Scenic Route from Kruse State Reserve to Guerneville:
To return to Guerneville, consider a tortuous but gorgeous scenic route: From Kruse Reserve, head inland on Kruse Ranch Road, turn right onto Seaview Road, and then left onto Fort Ross Road. Eventually you'll pass through the wooded hamlet of Cazadero. Here turn right onto Skyline Ridge Road, which winds down several miles back to Hwy. 116, close to Monte Rio, and an easy drive from Guerneville. Allow a good 90 minutes for this drive, especially if you hop out to take photos.
Sonoma Coast 2016-2017 Events Calendar
- Jan.-Apr.: Whale-Watching season along the coast.
- Late Apr.: Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival (it's been going strong since the early 1970s and is one of the best times to visit the region).
- Late July: Fort Ross Festival.
- Late Aug.: Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival (another great time for exploring the coast and enjoying great seafood).
- Nov.: Gualala Arts Festival of the Trees.
Planning a trip through Coastal Sonoma:
Some sparsely populated but beautiful parts of the county take in the coast north of San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore (a must stop if you're coming up through Marin County), along dramatic Hwy. 1.
Here you can drive through Bodega Bay, where Suzanne Pleshette received an unceremonious pecking in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. It remains a sleepy commercial fishing village of clapboard houses and unprepossessing shops. Not surprisingly, it's an excellent place for birdwatching. Depending on the time of year, you'll be inundating, but probably not fatally attacked, by plovers, killdeer, willets, curlews, and many varieties of seagull.
There's not a ton to see and do in this quaint fishing community, but if passing through en route up Hwy. 1, it's worth stopping at the Duck Club Restaurant for lunch of dinner (or even staying at the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa, which is related to it. From Bodega Bay you can cut inland on Bodega Highway, past rolling meadows and bald hillsides, to the heart of the Wine country, passing through the charming little town of Sebastopol and on into Santa Rosa.
Or you can continue up the coast to Jenner, with its stunning oceanfront setting at the mouth of the Russian River - it's home to a handful of inns and restaurants. The River's End is highly recommended for dinner - the sunset views from here are amazing. For lunch in Jenner, an absolutely perfect spot for delicious Dungeness crab sandwiches, fine coffee, and tempting desserts is Cafe Aquatica, which has a sweet little deck in back overlooking the Russian River relatively close to where it enters the Pacific.
The 13 miles of coast to here from Bodega Bay are lined with a series of small, windswept beaches - ideal for beachcombing, hiking, and bicycling (along dramatic Hwy. 1), but a bit rough for swimming and typically too cool and windy to attract a substantial number of sunbathers. Harbor seals, however, love to cavort about along the shoreline. Hwy. 1 leads still farther north up the coast toward Mendocino via funky Gualala.
You can also hop onto winding Hwy. 116, which leads through Monte Rio and to the uber-gay resort village of Guerneville, the heart of the Russian River. In Jenner, stop to admire the surf at Goat Rock Beach, or north of that across the Russian River, you can stop at the Jenner Visitor Center, where you can explore the estuary formed where the river empties into the ocean. Still farther north lies Fort Ross State Historic Park, which traces the area's Russian heritage. Other things to watch for include migrating gray whales, which you can often spot off the coast (especially from Bodega Head at Sonoma Coast State Park) from January through April - bring a pair of binoculars as you drive up Hwy.