Staff Writer Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the senior content writer and operations manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests o…See full bio
Stunning ocean vistas, rugged bluffs, and cool breezes typify the coastal landscape of Northern California—presenting a stark contrast to the hectic cities, arid deserts, and pastoral scenery found in the southern parts of the state. Highly trafficked freeways are left behind in favor of the winding Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), where freshly caught seafood, salty waves, and a slower pace reign supreme. So when you cruise into Bodega Bay, you may never want to leave. Oysters are shucked and barbecued feet from your picnic table, giant swells that rival San Francisco’s best surf spots roll onto the shore, and an air of serenity blows in with the westerly winds, making the small Sonoma County town an idyllic getaway.
Only after driving from San Francisco’s eclectic Mission District, through the Presidio, across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and past the quaint town of Sausalito does it start to settle in that you’re on vacation. It’s as if something in the air indicates a fresh beginning when the 101 meets the PCH, where worries don’t exist, responsibilities fade away, and living takes on new meaning.
Cruising along the PCH feels both exhilarating and nostalgic as new adventures collide with classic California road trip traditions. While the anticipation for the journey and the adrenaline from traversing the city streets provide plenty of motivation to fuel your two-hour journey, Bay Area–based roaster Equator Coffees is too tasty to pass up. Pull off Highway 1 after crossing Coyote Creek in Mill Valley to experience the Proof Lab and grab a house-made caramel latte with oat milk before continuing on.
With coffee in hand, it’s time to explore the coastline. Though the cooler temperatures often mean the beaches north of Malibu are overlooked, they contain the most beautiful vistas, private sandy expanses, and calming environments that only exist in the upper half of the state. After driving past Muir Woods National Monument (and planning a future excursion), stop at the Muir Beach Overlook to breathe in the fresh air and gaze out over the vast waters. Admire the view for a few moments, then jump back in the car and drive past Mount Tamalpais State Park to Stinson Beach.
The unique peninsula that separates Bolinas Lagoon from Bolinas Bay is incredibly photogenic, making Stinson Beach a picturesque stop on any Northern California road trip. A few photos and a bit of relaxation later, it’s time to cruise past the gorgeous vacation destination of Point Reyes and up to Marshall to keep reservations at The Boat Oyster Bar on the Hog Island Oyster Farm.
Upon arrival, you’ll see rustic picnic tables spread across the property, providing sweeping views of Tomales Bay. Order the barbecued oysters with chipotle-bourbon butter, and then chow down on the local cheese board for a decadent experience. The scrumptious variety of cheeses lies in a beautiful arrangement alongside almonds and apricot-guava jam; Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam sits next to Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s gouda. Ask for the marinated olives, too, which round out the flavor palate. Spend some time savoring the idyllic afternoon before continuing north. Next stop: Bodega Bay, California.
The last half hour of the drive flies by, but the day is young and there are still plenty of adventures to be had. After arriving in Bodega Bay, turn right onto Bay Hill Road until the Horse N Around Trail Rides stables come into view. Ride horseback along the sand dunes and onto the shore for breathtaking views of the region and the perfect introduction to the natural beauty that surrounds you. The hour-and-a-half experience seems to end in the blink of an eye, but the day’s events have started to take a toll, so while there are plenty of places to stay in Bodega Bay, it’s time to check in to the heavenly Bodega Bay Lodge.
Triangulated between the Bodega Bay Golf Links and Doran Beach, Bodega Bay Lodge is the ideal place to experience the town—but with an extensive list of amenities, it can be difficult to leave. Get cozy by the wood-burning fireplace in your guest room, check out the coastal views from the private balcony or veranda, and unwind in the soaking tub before getting ready for dinner.
A relaxing late afternoon was the perfect cure for a long travel day. With so much already explored, it seems impossible that the vacation has just begun—and that you were just in San Francisco this morning. But more adventures await, and a walk on the beach is a great way to work up an appetite. Make your way out to Doran Beach to feel the brisk air on your face and the sand between your toes before returning to the hotel for dinner at Drakes Sonoma Coast.
Begin with the classic Caesar salad topped with garlic croutons and creamy anchovy dressing for a refreshing start to the evening. Continue on to the crispy calamari with smoked-tomato aioli and fresh lemon wedges to experience a tantalizing contrast; the dish will also prepare your taste buds for the house-made flatbread featuring marinated figs, Point Reyes blue cheese, Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery fontina, caramelized onions, prosciutto, and arugula.
Next, share the Bodega Bay crab risotto to taste what the region is all about. Local crab mixes with seasonal artichokes, creamy mascarpone, tangy lemon juice, and luxurious Valley Ford Estero Gold cheese—resulting in a magical gastronomic journey. Though it may take a moment before you’re ready to indulge further, the local strawberry tart is a must-try. Yuzu curd mixes with basil and black pepper to create a dish you never knew you needed in your life.
Once every last bite has been consumed, meander back to your suite at Bodega Bay Lodge for a rejuvenating night’s sleep atop plush linens.
A restful night leaves you feeling like a new person who’s ready to conquer the day. While the desire for new experiences has begun to call, the luxuriousness of the infinity-edge hot tub proves to be too tempting. Just a few minutes elapse, and every ounce of tension floats out of the body, leaving you feeling magically lighter than ever before. Lounging in the warmth, it is clear that Bodega Bay will hold a special place in your heart.
After drying off and getting ready for the day, hunger strikes because it’s undoubtedly breakfast time. The Tides Wharf and Restaurant lies about a mile away and is the perfect location to spend the morning. Located across from the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center in Bodega Bay, The Tides Wharf is best known for its appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Bodega Bay is full of beauty, so it’s not surprising that this quaint town and its establishments made their way onto the silver screen—though the wharf may no longer be recognized for its starring role, since it was entirely rebuilt in the ’90s.
Regardless, the eatery serves up breakfast dishes that shouldn’t be overlooked, so head inside and order a hot chocolate before you decide on an entrée. The oysters Benedict provides an interesting twist on a classic, but it’s the hangtown fry that garners attention. Fried oysters are tossed inside an omelette and served with bacon, toast, and home-fried potatoes to create a delectable blend of savory seaside comforts.
With a full belly and plenty of energy to start the day, climb into the car and drive five miles to Bodega Head to take in the serenity of the surrounding area. This popular hiking area lies along the edge of Bodega Bay’s peninsula, showcasing the Sonoma Coast’s rugged beauty with just under two miles of scenic trails. The stunning Bodega Head Trail is fairly short, making it ideal for the whole family, but for a bit longer adventure, opt for the 8.1 mile out-and-back Bodega Dunes Trail. While this pathway is optimized for equestrian travel, it makes for an interesting trek, offering similar views to the Bodega Head Trail at its southernmost point.
If the hike sparks a desire for more adventures, spend some time whale-watching at Bodega Head, or venture to South Salmon Creek Beach to dip your toes in the Pacific. The sandy trail, tall beachgrass, and gentle waves will make you wish you could stay forever. Relax, revel in the sunshine, and capture the moment before moving on to the next destination.
Complete with world-famous clam chowder and seasonal crab menus, Spud Point Crab Co. has to be the next stop. Inspired by San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, this eatery crafts fresh, simple dishes in a family environment that celebrates Bodega Bay. Visit on the weekends to experience the house-made crab cakes with roasted red pepper sauce, add the prawn cocktail to any order, and grab the bay shrimp sandwich to elevate a low-key beach day. But if there is a single must-have item from this joint, it has to be the New England–style clam chowder.
Once you’re satiated, make your way to Bodega Bay Sailing Adventures to see the region from a different perspective. A three-hour tour aboard a 33-foot sailboat offers an intimate look at aquatic life, including dolphins, whales, sea lions, and harbor seals. Since this intimate tour company is a locally owned green business—and each sailing excursion allows for a maximum of six attendees—it’s unlike any other experience in Bodega Bay.
Camera in hand and plenty of memories already made, the final stop of the day is Gourmet Au Bay for a tapas-style dinner. Tucked along the water next to the Bodega Bay Sailing Adventures dock, this restaurant has been a local staple since it opened in 1995. Start with the Marcona almonds and Castelvetrano olives or the charred shishito peppers with olive oil and Parmesan. Continue on with the baked Marin French Cheese brie served alongside toasted baguette slices and cranberry-apricot compote. It seems fitting to end the trip the same way it began: with oysters. So, round out the meal with Cajun roasted prawns before finishing with Tomales Bay Marin Miyagi oysters and house-made mignonette.
Though the weekend seems to have flown by, the laid-back atmosphere and rural coastal landscape provide the idyllic environment for a relaxing escape. As this expedition comes to a close, just one question remains: Where will Highway 1 take us next?
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