Sonoma Coast State Park: The Complete Guide

Coastline in Sonoma Coast State Park
Anders Blomqvist / Getty Images
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Sonoma Coast State Park

Address
3095 CA-1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
Phone +1 707-875-3483

Stretching 17 miles along the Northern Californian coast between San Francisco and Mendocino, Sonoma Coast State Park offers a rugged respite from the sloping valleys and vibrant agricultural lands found inland. If you’re visiting Sonoma, Napa, or even the South Bay, this park is a nature-filled escape brimming with hiking trails and oceanfront campsites with unforgettable views just a short drive away. Brisk and sunlit in the summer, enchanting and foggy in the winter, you won’t want to miss a visit to Sonoma Coast State Park.

Things to Do

Sonoma Coast State Park is most popular for beachcombing, hiking, camping, and picnicking. It is also a great place to get your seafood fix at one of the family-owned eateries along the coastal highway. Other activities include horseback riding through the backside of Bodega Dunes on the beach, driving up the coast and stopping at scenic viewpoints along the way, and catching a glimpse of some of California’s unique wildlife.

A note on safety: You’re not likely to find many people in the water at Sonoma Coast State Park, and there’s a good reason for that. Like other north coast beaches in California, the Sonoma Coast is characterized by strong rip currents, heavy surf, and dangerous, unpredictable swells (not to mention, the water is pretty cold). The state park does its best to supply the more popular beaches with lifeguards, but there’s simply too much ground to cover its 17 miles of coastline to rely too heavily on them. Be sure to keep an eye on children and never turn your back to the ocean while visiting Sonoma Coast State Park.

Best Hikes & Trails

One of the most remarkable features of Sonoma Coast State Park is the gorgeous collection of rock formations that rise from the sea along the many shorelines, and hiking is undoubtedly the best way to see them.

  • Bodega Head: A somewhat lengthy drive to the tip of a small peninsula on the south side of the park will bring you to Bodega Head and the beginning of an easy 1.7-mile out and back hike past wildflowers and coastal rock formations. Bodega Head also provides excellent opportunities for viewing migrating whales from early December through mid-February and again from March to April. 
  • Kortum Trail: The Kortum Trail connected Blind Beach with Shell Beach and Wright’s Beach through wooden boardwalks adjacent to dreamy coastal views. The trail spans 4.6 miles from the Goat Rock Park parking lot to Wright’s Beach or 8.5 miles starting from Shell Beach.
  • Pomo Canyon Trail: Pomo Canyon Trail is a moderate to difficult 7-mile out and back trail known for its birdwatching and wildflowers. The trail starts at Shell Beach and follows an ancient trading route of the Pomo people who once inhabited the area.
  • Vista Point: The 1-mile Vista Trail takes hikers to the park's northernmost point just 4 miles north of Jenner. While there’s no beach access here, the trail provides some gorgeous views of the ocean and craggy rocks in the distance.
Boardwalk to the beach in Bodega Bay, California
jmoor17 / Getty Images

Best Beaches

There are over a dozen points where visitors can enter the beach along Highway 1, which runs through the state park.

  • Bodega Dunes Beach: Quiet, peaceful Bodega Dunes Beach is one of the park’s more magical spots. Often blanketed in fog in the mornings and bordered with tall, grassy sand dunes, this beach is a dream for families and solo beachgoers alike. Keep in mind that Bodega Dunes is part of the nesting habitat for the western snowy plover, a native seabird that’s threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
  • Goat Rock State Beach: One of the northernmost beaches in Sonoma Coast State Park where the Russian River meets the sea, Goat Rock is filled with imposing driftwood and interesting rock formations both along the cliffside and scattered through the surf.
  • Schoolhouse Beach: Schoolhouse Beach is a dog-friendly option that’s surrounded by bluffs. It's famous for its tidepools—which are teeming with ocean life on any given day—and shoreline made up of small limestone pebbles rather than sand. Parking is notoriously difficult to find here, so make sure to arrive early to snag a place in the lot.
  • North Salmon Creek Beach: On the southern side of the state park just north of Bodega Bay, this stretch of sand is one of the more spacious beaches on the Sonoma Coast. A favorite among locals for watching the sunset and building shelters out of large pieces of driftwood, North Salmon Creek Beach requires a bit of a descent down a trail from the parking lot to access.

Where to Camp

Campsite reservations at Sonoma Coast State Park are essential, especially on the weekends and in the summer, and can be made by visiting the Reserve California website up to six months in advance. Bodega Dunes and Wright’s Beach Campgrounds cost $35 per night while Willow Creek and Pomo Canyon cost $25.

  • Bodega Dunes Campground: There are 99 developed campsites available at the Bodega Dunes Campground, known for its massive sand dunes and breezy beach. If you don’t want to camp, consider purchasing a day pass for $8 to use the parking facilities and check out the rustic boardwalk. There’s also a communal site located between sites 17 and 18 for foot hikers and bikers without cars that costs $5 per person per night.
  • Wright’s Beach Campground: This developed campground offers 27 sites adjacent to the beach. Unlike Bodega Dunes, there are no showers available at Wright’s Beach, but registered campers are allowed to use them if they’re willing to make the five-mile trek. Similarly, there are no potable water filling areas at Wright’s Beach, either.
  • Willow Creek Campground: One of the park's two primitive campsites, Willow Creek contains 11 first-come, first-served campsites that are all walk-ins (the closest parking lot is about a quarter-mile away). This campground is located near the Russian River on the northern tip of the park.
  • Pomo Canyon Campground: Nestled in an inland redwood grove on the east side of Sonoma Coast State Park, Pomo Canyon is another primitive campground with 21 first-come, first-served sites. Like Willow Creek, this campground offers no running water and has minimal amenities.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you’re unable to camp or prefer more hotel-style accommodations, there are plenty of local experiences to choose from.

  • River’s End Restaurant and Inn: Found at the junction of the Russian River and the ocean, River’s End Restaurant and Inn is about as cozy and approachable as it gets while still maintaining a luxurious and romantic feel. Comfortable, wood-lined rooms, a world-class restaurant on site, and sweeping ocean views; What more could you want?
  • Bodega Bay Lodge: One of the pricer options in the area, Bodega Bay Lodge offers the same coastal scenes along with a fine dining restaurant and spa. The property is set on 7 acres just a few miles outside of the state park.
  • Ocean Cove Lodge Bar & Grill: Ocean Cove Lodge is located about 10 miles north of Sonoma Coast State Park on the way to Sea Ranch, where ancient redwood forests are abundant. The lodge offers a bar and grill in a secluded setting.

How to Get There

The park is just over an hour’s drive from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the south or Napa to the east. From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north to Petaluma before hopping on the Highway 116/Lakeville Street exit. A left on Washington Street will turn into Bodega Avenue, Valley Ford Road, and eventually Highway 1 to Bodega Bay. From here, follow Highway 1 north along the Pacific Coast.

Accessibility

There are four accessible campsites in the Bodega Dune Campground and three in the Wright’s Beach Campground, both of which have generally accessible restrooms, showers, and parking. West Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes have accessible picnic sites and van accessible parking. To the north end of the park, Wright's Beach, Goat Rock, and Vista Point have accessible picnic sites and accessible non-flush restrooms, with van accessible parking available only at Goat Rock.

The 675-foot-long boardwalk and ramp from the Bodega Dunes day-use parking lot is designed to be accessible but may not always be passable for people in wheelchairs due to wind and changing site conditions. Visa Point Trail has a mostly flat asphalt surface and Kortum Trail has a surface made of compacted aggregate and wood; Both have accessible parking lots.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The weather can be unpredictable at Sonoma Coast State Park, but it’s often much colder than the inland areas due to the Pacific Ocean breezes. Err on the side of caution and wear layered clothing.
  • Cell phone service is spotty at best, so be prepared by downloading any maps you need beforehand and coming with a fully charged battery in case of emergencies.
  • Sonoma County is within the portion of Northern California that’s exceptionally prone to wildfires. Keep in mind that there may be a fire ban in the area (meaning no campfire) when you visit.
  • Goat Rock Beach is home to a large colony of harbor seals that are especially active during pupping season from March to August. Stay at least 50 yards away from any seals for your protection and theirs. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach here for the same reason.
  • In the springtime, Duncan’s Landing near the boat loading dock puts on a stunning display of wildflowers.
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Sonoma Coast State Park: The Complete Guide