The rugged stretch of land that runs along Sonoma County's coast inspires grand passions. From the pocket coves of Bodega Bay and windswept bluffs of Sea Ranch to inland pine-covered peaks and ocean-carved sea stacks, the area is marked by layers of fog, gulls, sweetgrass, and wildness.
It's a place where you can tidepool for hours in precious solitude or ride thrilling, frigid waves; a place where delicious wine and cheese are made carefully, lovingly, by hand.
The 45-mile stretch of coastline running from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to Gualala in Mendocino County is best reached from Petaluma via Petaluma Valley Ford Rd., or from Santa Rosa via State 12 and State 116. For area information, contact the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center (850 State 1, Bodega Bay; 707/875-3866).
WHERE TO STAY
Mar Vista Cottages at Anchor Bay. A dozen cottages with kitchens surrounding a prodigious veggie garden open to guests for harvesting. Access to a pocket beach is via very steep stairs across the highway. From $140; 35101 State 1, Gualala; www.marvistamendocino.com or 877/855-3522.
Sea Ranch Lodge and Restaurant. Wood structures, natural materials, angled ceilings, and skylights characterize this signature property on the coast, purchased last year by the owners of the Post Ranch Inn. Spacious lodge rooms have ocean views and out-the-door access to 8 miles of blufftop trails. Dining room is a great spot for watching the sunset over an elegant seafood dish. Restaurant $$$$; rooms from $230, breakfast included; 60 SeaWalk Dr., Sea Ranch; www.searanchlodge.com or 800/732-7262.
Sonoma Coast Villa & Spa. Located 4 miles inland on Petaluma Valley Ford Rd., rooms in three low-slung buildings have hot tubs and small patios on pretty grounds with a pool, putting green, full-service spa, and Italian-style garden (lots of fountains). From $195, breakfast included; 16702 State 1, Bodega; www.scvilla.com or 707/876-9818.
WHAT TO DO
Bowling Ball Beach. Nice spot for walking and tidepooling. Accessible at low tide from Schooner Beach (take the southern trail from parking lot). Park at Schooner Gulch State Beach, State 1 and Schooner Gulch Rd., 3 miles south of Point Arena; www.parks.ca.gov or 707/937-5804.
Gourmet au Bay. Few coast wineries have tasting rooms, but this wine shop offers tastings and some hard-to-find labels. Closed Wed; 913 State 1, Bodega Bay; www.gourmetaubay.com or 707/875-9875.
Northern Light Surf Shop. Surf gear and clothing, rental boards and wetsuits (from $15 per day). 17191 Bodega Hwy., Bodega; 707/876-3032.
Salt Point State Park. This is one of the rare public parks where visitors can legally collect mushrooms (porcini season usually starts in November; contact rangers for more information). www.parks.ca.gov or 707/847-3221.
Sonoma Coast State Beach. More than a dozen public beaches and coves are good stops along the county coastline. Salmon Creek is great for walking and surfing; at the mouth of the Russian River, Goat Rock is dramatic; Portuguese Beach offers nice views of sea stacks. Ranger office (closed Mon-Wed) at Salmon Creek, 3095 State 1, Bodega Bay; www.parks.ca.gov or 707/875-3483.
WHERE TO EAT
Cup O' Mud. Tiny, friendly cafe (really a cart with a roof) serves excellent coffee. On a nice day, seats out front are a good place to discuss surf conditions and gossip. 17192 Bodega Hwy., Bodega; 707/876-1810.
Pangaea. A small, colorfully painted dining room houses the area's outstanding restaurant. Locally grown ingredients prepared with a light, sophisticated touch are spotlighted here, as are area wines. $$$; closed Mon-Tue; 39165 State 1, Gualala; 707/884-9669.
St. Orres. Distinctive dome-topped redwood building, a nod to the area's Russian history, houses an inn and a quirky restaurant with an inventive menu that blends local foods and unusual flavors. Upstairs are pleasingly spare shared-bath rooms; property also has private cabins with baths. Restaurant $$$$; shared-bath rooms from $90, cottages from $120; 36601 State 1, Gualala; www.saintorres.com or 707/884-3335.
Sandpiper Restaurant. Located by the piers en route to Bodega Head, this is the spot for fresh fish, sandwiches, and fish and chips. $$; 1410 Bay Flat Rd., Bodega Bay; 707/875-2278.
Seaweed Cafe. Weekend brunch and tasty dinners, made mostly with local and organic ingredients, in a bright dining room. $$$; closed Mon-Wed; 1580 E. Shore Rd., Bodega Bay; 707/875-2700.
Twofish Baking Company. Tucked off Annapolis Rd., the small breakfast and lunch spot offers fresh breads, sandwiches, and coffee. Closed Mon-Wed; 35590 Verdant View Dr. (in Ranch Center complex), Sea Ranch; 707/785-2443.