Sonoma Coast & Beaches - California

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The Sonoma Coast

The Sonoma County coastline stretches north from the town of Bodega Bay, to the Mendocino County line -- offering a string of beaches which are increasingly wild as you travel north. Expansive dunes provide a backdrop to the beach areas, and small villages are interspersed between the state beaches. Sea Ranch is an outstanding natural area, containing an environmentally sensitive community of houses (many of which you can rent), and a fine lodge situated on meadows overlooking the ocean.

Southern Beaches

The beaches north of Bodega Bay are among the most scenic in the state. Collectively they are Sonoma State Beach, a sort of disconnected state park, which is accessible from more than a dozen points along Highway 1. The beaches extend for more than 13 miles: a prime location for anglers as well as picknickers, beachcombers, hikers and campers.

There are 30 campsites at Wright's Beach and a much larger campground with 100 sites at Bodega Dunes. This is a more developed campground with showers, restrooms, a sani-station and campsite center, 1/2 mile south of Salmon Creek. Summer stays are limited to seven days and at other times, 30 days.

The park information center is located at the Salmon Creek site. The beach at Salmon Creek curves around a lagoon with eel grass sheltering many birds in the shallows. You'll see European beach grass on the sand in the area, the result of a dunes stabilizing effort started in 1951. There are no lifeguards along these beaches, and swimming is not recommended. The waves are high, and rip tides in many places make for a strong undertow, particularly at Goat Rock, located at the northern end of the park.

The Sonoma Coast Trail runs along the blufftops and connects many of the beaches. It begins at the north end on the bluffs overlooking Blind Beach, and there is a farther access point 1/2 mile north at Goat Rock. A causeway connects the rock and the mainland. There is a parking lot (some say sparking lot) at the end of Goat Rock Road, and signs point to the trail that heads south along the bluffs, over a stile, crossing a pasture. The trail climbs up Peaked Hill and crosses a ravine bridge to sheep grazing fields. The trail continues south into Furlong Gulch and leads to Wright's Beach campground, the south trailhead.

Northern Beaches

The landscape is increasingly wild on the drive north from Fort Ross along Highway 1. The northern beaches are, for the most part, in small, secluded coves -- separated by stretches of rocky headlands. Stillwater Cove Regional Park is a small seaside day-use and camping park, set in a redwood grove with a wooded trail to the beach.

Kruse Rhododendron Reserve, off Kruse Road -- 10 miles north of Ft. Ross -- features 317 acres of wild rhodos, which bloom from April to June. Call (707) 865-2391 for blooming information.

Salt Point State Park, to the north, offers 6,000 acres of forest, grassland, a rocky shoreline and several beaches tucked into the rock landscape. There is a large campground (Woodside) suitable for trailers & RVs on the east side of the highway. Moonrock Campground is located to the west -- at ocean side. At night, with the moon shining, this can be an awesome, eerie scene. The park also contains 20 walk-in sites on the inland side of the highway with hikes of up to 1/2 mile. The park is known for its tide pools, diving and fishing opportunities, for this is one of the first underwater parks created by the State of California. Supplies are available in Fort Ross, Stewarts Point and Ocean Cove. For park information, phone (707) 847-3222.

Sea Ranch

North of the parks, at the northern end of the Sonoma Coast, is a ten-mile long expanse of private land, dotted with vacation homes, many which are often available for vacation rental. Public access trails lead to the shore with a small charge for daily parking. While there are several places to stay between Jenner and the Mendocino Coast, we know from our own experience that the Sea Ranch Lodge (see below) offers an experience to be remembered. The Sea Ranch property contains trails along the ocean bluffs to secluded beaches, and a links-style golf course near the Gualala River.

Gualala Point State Park is at the northern edge of the county, at the mouth of the Gualala River. There are hiking and bike paths as well as steelhead and rock fishing. There's a campground here and the point is a good spot for whale watching. For park information call 707-785-2377.

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Sea Ranch Lodge (707) 785-2371
This small and scenic resort offers accommodations and a dining room, a lounge, walking and biking trails, and several unspoiled, unpopulated beaches. The lodging rooms are situated along an ocean bluff. Both the dining room and adjacent solarium offer views of the surf -- and whales in season.

Farther south, Stillwater Cove Ranch (707-847-3227), six miles north of Ft. Ross, is rustic and designed for groups. Some units have kitchens and the "Dairy Barn" is a genuine bunkhouse.

Salt Point Lodge (800-956-3437) is at the south entrance to the state park, 17 miles north of Jenner, with 16 comfortable and inexpensive rooms. There is a restaurant, plus a bar, hot tub, and sundeck..


For camping reservations at state park campgrounds in the area, call 800-444-PARK, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week.

© 1997/2005 - Fraser Bridges

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