A far cry from the stereotypical California coast town, Bodega Bay isn’t where you’ll catch tanned skin on boards or bare feet running down palm tree lined streets. This sleepy fishing town lives on a rocky stretch of the 101 that cuts through the teeth of rugged Sonoma County. With power of the sea due west and the natural landscapes of California to the east it’s intersection caught our eye and proved ideal for a weekend jaunt.
The following is your field guide to one of Northern California’s hidden treasures.
Claim to Fame
Bodega Bay might not have inspired any of the Beach Boys greatest hits, but it certainly caught the eye of one of Hollywood’s most renowned directors, Alfred Hitchcock. His film, The Birds, put Bodega on the map in 1963 and changed the course of Bodega’s history forever. If you weren’t already aware, let it be known that this place is responsible for sending shivers down your spine when you come across a suspiciously large flock of birds.
Memorabilia is scattered throughout the corners of every bar, restaurant, and store, but there are also more formal tributes to the film. One of the most prominent of these is the annual Hitchcock Film Festival. The event features three screenings of his films and the proceeds benefit art programs at local elementary schools. This year’s event took place on March 23rd, but if you find yourself there at the right time, grab some popcorn and let yourself be terrified. It’s for the kids.
Ask anyone where you should eat, they’ll tell you to get clam chowder from Spud Point Crab Co. Gently tell them you don’t like clam chowder, they’ll insist that you’ll like this one - they’ll be right. Spud’s outdoor patio faces a sailboat studded harbor so you can munch on this famous snack with a killer view. Looking for something more filling? Head back to the main road and stop at The Boat House. They’ve got a hefty menu of oysters, calamari, burgers, and everything in between. Enjoy on their outdoor patio or inside with a floor to ceiling view of Bodega’s impossibly green hills.
If the mention of Sonoma County stirs cravings for the vino, you’re in the right place. Bodega Bay is home to Gourmet Au Bay, the only ocean-front winery in the county. They offer a wide selection of wines and $16 flights so even if you’re on a budget, you can have it all. If that’s not quite your speed, they have plenty of beers on tap. As much as we loved indulging in the world of fine dining, we could only hold our pinkies out for so long. Like bugs to a fly zapper, there was no way we could resist the neon sign illuminating Bodega’s best and only true dive bar. Fully outfitted with retro arcade games, a pool table, and a complete wall of taxidermy, sit back and let this bar and it's dwellers play their parts.
What to Do
Going up the California coast without getting your feet wet is like taking a swig of lukewarm coffee on a frosty morning. You’re not scratching the itch. Although it’s not palm tree lined, rugged beauty prevails and type II fun is literally everywhere. If you happen to catch Bodega on a windy day, head to Candy & Kites. Treat yourself to something sweet then choose whatever neon character you’d be most stoked to run along the beach with.
If you’re looking for top notch wind conditions, Doran Beach is your go. I’ll more than likely be sprinting down the strand holding something straight out of Shark Week. For those of you who are itching to get in the water, gear up at Northern Lights Surf Shop. They rent out surfboards, bodyboards, and skim boards, so pick your poison and get salty at Salmon Creek. If the water temp is lower than your liking, they also rent wetsuits, hoods, gloves, and booties. For those feeling especially inspired by the town’s fishing culture, the options for fishing charters are endless. Check out the fishing report before you go.
I’m sure most people don’t geek out on sea creatures as hard as our friends do, but after a trip to Schoolhouse Beach you might be whistling a different tune. The tide pools that lie below the cliffs reveal crustaceans, starfish and the occasional octopus.
Hopping from rock to rock, with eyes on the water, is easily the closest you’ll get to feeling the power of the Bodega intersection. Mist spraying onto bare skin as one swell after another crash into the scragley rocks jutting out into the sea. A day on the Bodega coast involves the rare complexity of seeing the ocean for all that has to offer.
Where to Stay
While Bodega Bay can certainly be your next day trip destination, I certainly don’t regret turning it into a weekend getaway. For those seeking out an enclosed overnighter, try crashing at the Bodega Bay Inn. Rooms are equipped with their own patio and mornings begin with a walk across the courtyard to communal breakfast.
Not into sleeping under a roof? We weren’t either and opted for fire pits and tents at the Bodega Dunes Campground. With tent sites that push right up to the beach, you’ll be able to sit by the fire until your cooler runs dry and finally snooze to the real life version of “Ocean Sounds” on Spotify.
This oasis of greenery, salty air, and Hollywood history is one that can’t be replicated. It's more than a sleepy fishing town on the coast. It's a place to feel at home while at the same time feeling wildly far away from wherever you came. You'll leave with the salt from the air, the violent sound of the waves, and the warmth of the town’s residents, drawing you back for seconds.