11 fantastic things to do in the coastal bay of Bodega

Thirty minutes from the hustle and bustle of Santa Rosa, the coastal bay of Bodega is an escape pod, a place to disconnect, relax and immerse yourself in nature. The tiny fishing village of Bodega Bay, California in Sonoma County boasts rugged coastlines, towering Pacific headlands, secret coves and hidden beaches. Wildlife fills the water, the air and the coastal mountains.

This small fishing village has a reputation for R&R. It’s especially popular with San Francisco Bay residents as a coastal getaway where life is slower and nature is untouched.

Getting to Bodega Bay is easy. I suggest a car or car service. The nearest airport, approximately 48 km, is STS (Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport). It serves Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Phoenix, Orange County, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver and Dallas directly. The San Francisco and Oakland airports are approximately 80 miles from Bodega Bay.

Here are 11 of my favorite things to do on the Bodega Bay coast.

1. Meet the coastal grapes of Bodega Bay

Sonoma Coast Vineyards is an essential first stop when you arrive at Bodega Bay. The friendly and comfortable tasting room is the best place to immerse yourself in the Bodega state of mind while tasting the distinctive wines grown in the vineyards of the Sonoma Coast. Coastal farm winemakers in a cold climate wine region west of the Russian River Valley. Some wineries are only 8 km from the Pacific. The climate is harsh, the yield may be low, and the deer are hungry. Yet the results are sublime and unique to this part of California.

Your tasting host will help you choose a flight of local wines. Get your first taste of Bodega Bay from the grapes, then select a bottle or two for a sunset picnic or a nightcap by the fire.

2. Meet the people of Bodega Bay

Doran Regional Park is a sample of the surroundings and wildlife of Bodega Bay. The 127-acre park has a 3 km sandy beach where you can walk, fly a kite, surf, build a sand castle, listen to the barking seals or just watch the waves crash.

Take a walk among the grassy dunes or find a picnic area. A launching ramp and parking are available. In addition, the park offers cycling and hiking trails, horse trails, fishing areas, bird watching and accessible areas.

Pro tip: Kayaking, paddle boarding and exploring the wetlands can be enjoyed inside the port. A good place for equipment is Bodega Bay Kayak. They offer free lessons with equipment rental if you don’t bring your own.

Drakes scallops at Bodega Bay (Photo credit: Mary Charlebois)

3. Seafood, Seafood, Seafood

Bodega Bay is one of the last small fishing villages on the California coast. At one time, it was home to a thriving fishing industry for fresh and canned seafood. On the docks were companies with slogans such as “If it swims, we have it”. Catches from the fleet were purchased and distributed to restaurants, hotels and markets in San Francisco.

A small fleet of fishing boats is still housed in Bodega harbor, seasonally bringing in salmon, lingcod, rockfish, albacore, halibut and, of course, Dungeness crab. You will find the fruits of the work of fishermen all over Bodega Bay. It’s a catchy and crisp freshness to the mouth like no other.

There are many restaurants in Bodega Bay that will appeal to all tastes and budgets. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them. Here are two of my favorites.

Drakes Sonoma Coast focuses on the abundant fresh food of the Sonoma Coast. The executive chef excels in finding local ingredients from sustainable sources. A large stone fireplace and panoramic views of Bodega Bay and the ocean create a warm and relaxed atmosphere. Sonoma County wines, craft beers and mouthwatering cocktails are served in the dining room, bar and around the outdoor fireplace. Drakes is at Bodega Bay Lodge and is open for breakfast and dinner.

Spud Point Crab Company is a crab shack, and the crabs are always boiling. Spud’s also serves red and white chowders, crab cakes, seafood cocktails, sandwiches, and whole cooked crabs. It’s a laid back place where you order from the window and bring your delicacies to one of the picnic tables opposite or across the street to the marina docks.

For more restaurants, check out this list of the best seafood restaurants in Bodega Bay.

4. Fill your picnic basket

Pelican Plaza Market, Delicatessen, Wine and Cheese Shop has fish, meat, dairy, wine, beer, and more food selections than I can list. Stop on arrival and refuel for a beach picnic or stock up your accommodation’s mini-fridge. The deli counter offers delicious homemade salads and sandwiches. The coffee maker is never empty, starting at 7 am every day.

Osmosis Spa Meditation Garden, Bodega Bay, California.
Spa Osmosis meditation garden (Photo credit: Mary Charlebois)

5. The 3 Rs: refresh, rejuvenate, relax

Osmosis Spa and the relaxing Zen Gardens are quietly awaiting your arrival. Let the stress of the day dissipate with a cedar enzyme bath followed by a 75-minute Swedish-Esalen massage. This popular modality includes long strokes and therapeutic stretches.

After your treatment, spend time in one of five exquisite gardens: the Meditation Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Hammock Field, a secluded pagoda, by a stream, or in a group space.

6. Hitchcock hunting in Bodega Bay

If you are a Hitchcock fan you know the famous thriller, The birds, was filmed in Bodega Bay and Bodega. Most of the filming locations are easy to find. One of the most recognizable is in the inner village of Bodega. Potter School House was used as a school in the film. Learn more about the film and its filming locations in and around Bodega Bay here.

Pro tip: Stop by the Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega. It’s the perfect place to meet the locals over a burger and a cold beer.

White pelicans in Bodega Bay, California.
White pelicans at Bodega Bay (Photo credit: Mary Charlebois)

7. Meet the birds of Bodega Bay

Thanks to its location on the Pacific Flyway, Bodega Bay offers exceptional birding opportunities.

The Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail is the perfect place to find local and migratory birds. The 1.19 mile trail winds along a saltwater marsh and circles two freshwater ponds along the harbor. The area provides year round habitat for songbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds. I especially liked the pelicans. They fly and swim in groups with the choreography of a dance troupe.

The track is flat and gravel. It is moderately wheelchair accessible and a pedestrian walkway connects the Bird Walk to Doran Regional Park.

Pro tip: Find more birding spots on the Find a Park page in Sonoma County State Parks.

8. Explore the head

A granite monolith jutting out into the Pacific, four-mile-long, one-mile-wide Bodega Head protects Bodega Bay from the mighty forces of the Pacific. The 360-degree panoramic view of the Pacific and the Inner Bodega is a photographer’s nirvana.

On the Pacific side, hold on to your hat. This always windy setting is one of the best whale watching spots in the region. There are trails, beach access, picnic tables and restrooms available. Wildlife nearby includes seals, whales and seabirds.

On the port side of the head, try your hand at fishing, crabbing or launching for kayaking or paddleboarding.

Pro tip: From January to May, volunteers are on hand to help you spot migrating giants. They have spotting scopes, binoculars, and answers to your whale watching questions.

9. Meet the locals of the coastal estuary of Bodega Bay

Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) is a UC Davis research and education center that provides science for today’s complex environmental challenges. BML studies the impact of residential, recreational and commercial activities on the coast.

Aquariums and exhibits showcase local aquatic life in its natural habitat, including a kelp forest and tidal pool. In addition, guided tours and group tours are offered.

10. Golf with the whales

The Links at Bodega Harbor is a Scottish style course. Fairways and greens are combined with breathtaking views of the Pacific and a rugged natural coastline. From January to May, you can see whales from one of the 18 holes overlooking the ocean.

View from Bodega Bay Lodge (Photo credit: Mary Charlebois)

11. Stay in a special place

Bodega Bay Lodge is a destination in itself. Sitting between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, the setting is dazzling. Rooms have fireplaces and private balconies with views of the wetlands, Bodega Bay and the Pacific. The property is beautifully landscaped, with walking trails connecting Doren Park and the Bird Walk coastal access trail.

Spoil yourself with a visit to the spa with its menu of massages, body treatments and facials. Then indulge yourself with the recreational amenities including a hot tub, sauna, and fitness center. Finally, meet fellow travelers at sunset with a glass of champagne by the fireplace before dinner.

Eat breakfast or dinner at Drakes or stay indoors and take advantage of the hotel‘s room service. Try a late breakfast on your balcony. For your first morning, it is ideal to get into the Bodega spirit.

If vacation rentals are more your style, Bodega Bay is your happy place. Beachfront, mountain views, golf course access or mountain cabins are available in all sizes. So whether it’s a romantic getaway for two or a family reunion requiring 10 bedrooms to accommodate up to 22 people, there is a home away from home to meet your needs.

Coastal Bodega Bay is a bit off the beaten path but worth a trip through California’s farmlands, vineyards, ranches, and wetlands if you’re arriving from the east. Coming from the north or south you will meander along CA Hwy 1. This is the slow route. The narrow road runs along the absolute edge of the Pacific, showing rocky coasts and dizzying headlands. The landscape changes frequently as the fog moves in and out of the sea. It’s spectacular whatever the weather.

This Sonoma County fishing village is surrounded by the natural world. It’s slow paced and friendly with a lot to explore. Wildlife, waves, wilderness and wine. What more could you need?

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