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Bodega Bay

Pull off Highway 1 to this seafaring town bordered by wind-lashed headlands, crashing waves, and an annual parade of gray whales

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Say “Bodega Bay” and most people’s thoughts turn to Alfred Hitchcock and a bird-filled world run amok. But that’s Hollywood fiction. Bodega Bay’s real story lies in blue-water vistas extending to the horizon, coastal bluffs laden with wildflowers, and gray whales saluting with a tail fluke as they pass. 

From Highway 1 on the town’s outskirts, you’ll see only a smattering of shops selling kites and saltwater taffy tucked between seafood eateries. But turn west off the main drag, and Bodega Bay reveals its deep ties to the sea. Commercial boats set off into the dawn fog, putter through the harbor, squeeze through a narrow channel by Doran Beach, then motor out to freedom in Bodega Bay. By mid-afternoon, the vessels return loaded with fish that will stock restaurant kitchens up and down the Sonoma Coast.

Sample the catch all over town. The Birds Café serves crispy fish and chips—beer-battered with a local IPA—barbecued oysters, and artichoke fritters. Every seat is outdoors, and that’s where you’ll want to be. Fishetarian Fish Market makes slapping-fresh fish tacos. Clam chowder fans head to Spud Point Crab Company or Ginochio’s Kitchen (Ginochio’s chowder riff has scallops mixed in with the clams). Terrapin Creek Café serves gastronomic bliss in the form of pan-roasted scallops and charred octopus salad.

Since you can’t eat without a break, take a hike. The northernmost end of town marks the start of Sonoma Coast State Park, a 13-mile string of rocky beaches and grassy headlands that extend north to Jenner and the Russian River. The sea crashes against dark-sand beaches, rugged bluffs, and rocky outcroppings. Tenacious sea palms grip the offshore rocks, holding tight as breaker after breaker explodes into spray. In spring, California’s state colors—blue and gold—are echoed in breezy blufftop gardens of lupine and poppies. If you’d rather ride than walk, join a guided horse trip at Chanslor Stables and let your trusty steed escort you along the coast.

For a uniquely Bodega Bay experience, do like the locals and reel in your own dinner. Even if you’ve never fished before, local sport-fishing charters can take you to where the fish are and show you how to catch salmon, halibut, rock fish or even a net full of Dungeness crab. Get up early and hop aboard Miss Vic Sportfishing or North Bay Charters and you’ll be amazed at the sea’s generosity. Sightseeing cruises are offered, too.

An idyllic spot for a weekend away, Bodega Bay offers a number of romantic seaside inns—but many visitors choose to sleep under the stars at Doran Beach. The campground offers 120 sites with swimming, beachcombing, fishing, and paddleboarding just steps from your tent. Parents with little ones will appreciate the beach’s gentle slope, as well as its soft, clean sand, and the generally mellow surf break.

Don’t leave Bodega Bay without taking in the awe-inspiring Pacific scenery from Bodega Head. At 265 feet above the roiling waves, Bodega Head is one of California’s best whale-watching vantage points (migration season is December to April). The Head’s rocky peninsula extends west toward the horizon, then curves back inward toward the mainland like the fingers of a hand closing into a fist. From any high point, you can wave to a wide audience that includes the endless ocean waves, Bodega Bay’s sheltered harbor, and Point Reyes’ northern tip. Only five miles of sea separate the two peninsulas.

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