The Sonoma Coast spell

The rough beauty of this Northern California shore inspires grand passions and true reverence

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  • If the 1861 St. Teresa of Avila Mission looks familiar you probably remember the structure from the movie that made this region famous Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

    Sonoma church

    David Fenton

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An oversize landscape

Heading north from the sheep farm, I pass the dramatic mouth of the Russian River, where freshwater pours into the Pacific and harbor seals return year after year to raise their young.

My car switchbacks up the steep, golden hills; the ocean wraps itself around the globe far to the west. It is entirely apparent why this oversize landscape inspires oversize devotion from those who come here.

Back at my rental cottage at Mar Vista, the innkeeper, Renata Dorn, is tending the garden. She has her own dreamer's story: A city hotel executive, she searched for the perfect spot to start her own retreat. And here it is, a dozen cheery yellow cottages surrounding a field with chickens, pygmy goats, rabbits, and a garden ― with a view of the sea.

Dorn urges my friend Marisa and me to pick some baby greens for a dinner salad, which will complement the Bellwether cheese and local Dungeness crab we have brought. I comment about everything tasting so great, and Dorn's explanation is simple. "It's because it's all made with reverence," she says.

Reverence strikes me as the perfect word to sum up the attitude evoked by this place. Who isn't humbled and overwhelmed in the face of beauty so much bigger than one individual? Marisa and I eat our dinner as the evening brightens then fades to blue. The air is charged with energy from the sea. And we are sated, content, and transformed in the new light.

More:  Plan a trip to Sonoma County

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