With less fog and
wind, and more warmth, Labor Day weekend showcases the coast
at it's best...
by George Lauer
parts of our hemisphere, Labor Day marks the beginning of
the end of outdoor endeavors.
Not in the
East Coast counterparts are putting away beach blankets and
summer shorts, veterans of West Coast autumns are stocking
up on sunscreen and getting out their surfboards.
two months around here are always September and October,"
says Ann Berger of the coastal resort community Sea Ranch.
"It's not as foggy, the winds die down -- or at least they
start later in the day -- and the air is warmer."
people call it Indian summer, although what exactly that
means depends on where you grew up. In the Midwest and
East, it usually refers to a warm spell after the first
frost of autumn or winter. Not a strictly defined
meteorological term, Indian summer is as much an emotional
event as a scientific one. It usually conjures up a
wistful warmth, a time when it's great to be outside but you
know your outdoor days are numbered -- and getting shorter.
just a folk tale, it's real climatology," says Dave
Reynolds, meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Service.
all kinds of meteorological ways to explain it -- "onshore
pressure gradients" meeting "dominant thermal lows" and
"offshore flows," and "high-pressure systems" being affected
by changes in water temperatures, the angle of the sun and
Essentially it all means the transition from summer to
winter in Northern California produces some of the best,
warmest weather on the coast. Every year. Locals
know it and look forward to it. They also know the
beauty that makes this coast spectacular is created by
forces that can be dangerous to humans all year round.
Sleeper waves are
the best days I've ever seen on the North Coast have been in
October," say vintner, restaurateur and surfer Fred Cline.
"Last fall I saw pods of dolphins off Dillon Beach, just
south of Bodega Bay in Marin County, in a different way.
Three years ago, he and his wife, Nancy, who also own Cline
Cellars in Sonoma, bought Lawson's Resort at Dillon Beach, a
collection of properties that includes a private beach and
parking lot, Lawson's Store and the Patio Cafe.
whose goal is to surf at least once a week, has been a
regular at Dillon Beach for almost 15 years.
I can get into the ocean is a very successful day, no matter
what part of the year and no matter what the waves are
like," Cline says.
Cafe's outdoor deck next to Lawson's Store has tall, glowing
heaters like huge, hot mushrooms, keeping outdoor diners
warm 10 months out of the year.
time we get to turn them off and leave them off is September
and October," Cline says. "Sometimes it gets so hot
out there you wish you had coolers instead of heaters.
That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's
usually in the fall."
fresco anywhere along the North Coast is an iffy proposition
most of the year, but restaurant workers and picnickers
agree your odds are best after Labor Day.
the cold that drives people indoors, it's the wind," says
Meg Kailikole of Gualala, "It's hard to enjoy yourself, let
alone eat a meal when it's windy like this," she said,
waving her arm at cypress trees bending and whipping the sky
on a blustery Sunday at Gualala Point Regional Park.
month, the winds will start to die down, the fog will stay
out there," she said, nodding toward the wind, blue expanse
to the west, "and it will be a perfect time to do stuff
of stuff to do seems to expand after Labor Day. There
are dozens of ways and places to take advantage of the
coast's brief balmy window in the fall. Just use
common sense to stay safe.
bundled up against the chill in July come back to the beach
in October to sunbathe. Some actually go swimming,
boogle boarding and surfing without a wetsuit -- although
the coastal waters can be perilous and its moods and tempers
need to be respected.
the most popular stretches for sunbathing, swimming and
general beach appreciation are Stinson Beach, Limantour
Beach and Dillon Beach in Marin County, Doran Beach, Bodega
Dunes and Salmon Creek near Bodega Bay, Wright's beach and
Shell Beach a little farther north.
watchers shed layers and stay longer in prime birding spots
like Point Reyes National Seashore, Audubon Canyon Ranch
near Bolinas, Estero Americano near Bodega Bay and Estero
San Julian near Dillon Beach.
and canoers stay out longer, plying calm, autumnal waters of
Tomales Bay, Drake's Bay and three major rivers -- the
Russian, the Gualala and the Big River near Mendocino.
Tidepooling in the summer can require insulated waders and
tow sweatshirts. In October, it's usually shorts and
bare feet braving crags and sharp rocks.
it's usually a lot nicer out here in the fall, but you go to
the beach when you have the chance to go to the beach," said
Marla Olascoaga of Sonoma, bundled up against the August
wind some weeks back and racing for the car at Gualala Point
Regional Park. Her kids are back in class now, but
they may have a chance to hit the beach again under the warm
charming time out here is summer, but that's when the
tourists come," says Ann Berger, an artist who works at The
Cotton Field gallery and boutique in Gualala.
(Note: our neighbor at Celebrations!!! ;)
mostly because of the school year, but if you don't have to
worry about school and you're making plans to go to the
beach in Northern California, make your trip sometime
between Labor Day and Thanksgiving."
WHAT TO DO
Suggestions for post-Labor Day visits to
the North Coast
Coast Artists' Guild of the Mendocino-Sonoma Coast
12th annual Studio Discovery Tour
This weekend and next,
Sept. 4-5 and Sept 11-12. Free, self-guided tours.
Reyes National Seashore
Lighthouse, Point Reyes
beaches, Tomales Bay, Tule elk reserve, hiking.
The Patio Cafe, outdoor
dining, heaters or no heaters
Lucas Wharf, The Tides,
Doran Park, Bodega Head beaches, Salmon Creek beach
Coast State Beach
19 miles of coastline,
many good hiking trails with spectacular views,
third most popular state park in California
River's End, Jenner
Inn, Sizzling Tandoor
(unlikely place for tasty Indian food at south end of Russian River bridge
south of town)
Small parking lot,
smaller sign a few miles north of Jenner offers good beach
access, beautiful views
State Historic Park
A favorite school field
Stillwater Cove County Park
Secluded feel in a
Home of Gerstle Cove
Underwater State Park, a favorite for divers
Miles of high-end
homesteaders with a few beach access trails
Point Regional Park
Access to river and
Beach trail features hidden, mystical-looking gnarled-tree
passage in stand of cypress
Art galleries, shops
Sea lion rocks popular
haul-out spot, lighthouse
Manchester State Park and Marine Preserve
Good beach access,
informative visitors center
Scenic spot where
Navarro River hits the Pacific
Art galleries, bed-and
-breakfast inns, Van Damme State Park, popular with abalone
Long, wide tidal
estuary with bicycle, kayak and canoe rental place at the
Make sure you check the tides before you set out.
*The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa,
California, Thursday, September 2, 2004.
You can reach
Staff Writer George Lauer at