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Jenner

Explore this cliff-hanging hamlet and wildlife-rich coast in Sonoma County

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You’ll find more wild, untrammeled land on the Sonoma Coast than towns, shops, or services—and that’s why it’s so appealing. Unplugging is easy here—after a few minutes gazing at the Pacific’s endless rolling waves, your cell phone seems irrelevant. But the action is always “on” at 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, a protected string of isolated beaches separated by grassy headlands. Wind-whipped waves crash against offshore rocks. Murrelets, cormorants, pelicans, and gulls soar above the surf-splashed headlands. The shimmering Pacific extends as far as your gaze can follow.

On the park’s north side, the seafaring hamlet of Jenner clings to the cliffs above the Russian River. Here, the river ends its ocean-bound journey, forming a massive sand spit at its mouth, which serves as breeding grounds for hundreds of Pacific harbor seals from March to July. To see them, drive to Goat Rock, a bulky offshore outcrop accessed by a narrow, paved road. Then park your car and stroll the brayed tan sand, gaining views of neighboring Arch Rock’s perfect crescent of sandstone. From Goat Rock Beach, you can observe the seals’ antics—a mish-mash of barking, slumbering, basking, swimming, mating, and raising their young.

During the seal pupping season, volunteers set up spotting scopes and binoculars on the beach. You can walk within 50 yards of the seals, but if you want to see them even closer, paddle a kayak. On a guided tour with WaterTreks EcoTours, even beginners can get up close with the fascinating wildlife of the Jenner estuary.

After your paddle, you’ll need sustenance. Head to Café Aquatica for a Dungeness crab sandwich or a steaming latte. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and watch the kayakers float past. Wander into the next-door Jenner Visitor Center, set in a worn-shingled boathouse, where docents provide information on the area’s natural history. A few steps to the north, the River’s End restaurant serves up outstanding local cuisine and breathtaking Pacific sunsets. Book in advance to reserve a coveted window table.

Jenner’s overnight options include Wright’s Beach campground, which offers beachfront sites on a long stretch of sand ideal for kite-flying. Or reserve a cozy bed at the mid-century modern Timber Cove Resort, perched on an ocean bluff. For a memorable splurge, book a king room with a private hot tub at Fort Ross Lodge, then scan the sea for passing gray whales as you soak.

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