by Andrew Pridgen
grassy hills around Valley Ford and Bodega Bay to the
forested bluffs north of Jenner, Sonoma County's coastline
provides travelers with some of the most spectacular ocean
vistas in California.
Winding along 76 miles of largely unspoiled coastline, Highway 1
takes travelers through pastures of sheep and dairy cows,
past the fishing docks of Bodega Bay, and through redwood
groves, and coastal villages. These historic towns
typically offer bed-and-breakfast inns for travelers plus
restaurants that depend on repeat business, which they lure
with first-rate fare and atmosphere.
With the crowds of fall and summer gone, the North Coast can be
ideal for tranquil hiking at any of parks that include 20
state beaches and the land around them.
The small city of Sebastopol
travelers who want to enjoy a detour inland can leave
Highway 1 just north of Valley Ford and head for Freestone.
At Freestone, with its historic downtown, travelers are only
a short distance west of the small city of Sebastopol (once
famous for its Gravenstein apple orchards).
These days, part of Sebastopol's North Main Street--an area
dominated by Copperfield's bookstore--also has all sorts of
pleasant coffee houses, eateries, saloons, and music stores.
An unusual shop worth visiting is Fancy That Gallery, which
specializes in Japanese art and gifts.
miles west of Sebastopol on the Bohemian Highway lies
Occidental, a onetime logging and railroad town set amid
towering redwoods. Four decades ago, the town was
primarily known for three restaurants specializing in
gourmand Italian dinners, now it too has become dominated by
small shops and cafés.
One such shop, Natural Connections, sells blown glass and garden
statuary, while Hand Goods offers locally made pottery,
furniture, jewelry, and crafts.
Traditionally known for its Italian restaurants serving huge
portions, Occidental's restaurants these days serve European
or California cuisine, seafood or steak, but it's still a
For those travelers who don't head east to Sebastopol or Occidental
but continue driving north on Highway 1, they will soon find
themselves at some of the better vantage points along the
North Coast for watching the southbound migration of
California gray whales.
Beginning around the first of December, the whale's can be spotted
from such sites as Bodega Head outside the town of Bodega
Bay, from Fort Ross State Park, and from Timber Cove Lodge
and the land around it. The whales are en route from
the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea to the Gulf of Cortez, where
they will calve. Beginning around the end of March,
adults and calves will begin heading north back up the
Sonoma County coast.
Sonoma County's southernmost town on Highway 1 is the historic town
of Valley Ford. It is named for a ford on the Estero
de Americano, that was used by Miwok Indians and Spanish
colonizers. The estuary now forms the Sonoma-Marin
county line in this region.
A potato-farming community in the 19th century, Valley Ford has
changed little since then although dairy and sheep ranching
replaced farming in the 1920s.
In 1976, Valley Ford became famous when conceptual artist Christo
Javacheff strung a 22-mile-long "Running Fence" of white
fabric from the Highway 101 freeway across the coastal
hills, through the town, and into the Pacific Ocean.
For such a tiny town, Valley Ford has an unusual amount of
services: a market, bank, several galleries, historic
Dinucci's Italian Restaurant, the Valley Ford Hotel, and The
Inn at Valley Ford (a Victorian bed-and-breakfast inn).
The Valley Ford Hotel also boasts an excellent restaurant featuring
European cuisine and a wide selection of locally-grown
oysters and produce. The restaurant offers live music
every Friday and Saturday night. For reservations,
The town of Bodega
miles north and a half mile east of Highway 1 is the
19th-century town of Bodega, which was the setting (along
with the town of Bodega Bay) for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963
film The Birds. Forty years later visitors can
still recognize Potter School (1863), which is now an inn,
and St. Theresa's Church (1860), which still holds mass;
both were featured in the film.
Because of the 40th anniversary celebration for The Birds,
Bodega Landmark Studio Gallery is showing a display related
to the filming done in town. Visitors can see old
movie props, magazines with photos from the movie, pictures
of the sets, and autographs from cast members including
leading actress Tippy Hedron, who recently revisited Bodega.
History buffs will be intrigued by the ancient cemetery along the
short road between Highway 1 and town. Many of the
graves go back to the Irish immigrations of the mid-1850s.
The town of Bodega Bay
north of Bodega on Highway 1 is the largest community on the
Sonoma County coast, Bodega Bay. This fishing port is
named after a Spanish sea captain, Juan Francisco de la
Bodega, who dropped anchor here in 1775.
From within two of the better-known bayside restaurants. The
Tides and Lucas Wharf, diners can feast on fresh seafood
while watching fishing-boast traffic on Bodega Bay.
Indeed, from their tables, they can watch fishermen unload
their catches at nearby docks.
For those who want to try their own luck at deep-sea fishing, sport
fishing boats operate year-round from Porto Bodega Marina.
Fresh fish such as salmon and halibut are periodically sold
Doran Beach, a mile south of downtown, is within a county park and
popular for windsurfing, strolling, and seaside damping.
Call ahead for information and camping reservations,
A series of scenic beaches in a 17-mile stretch north of Bodega Bay
along Highway 1 together make up Sonoma Coast State Beach.
Highlights include Salmon Creek Beach, Portuguese Beach,
Wright Beach, and Shell Beach, all of which are accessible
from more than a dozen points along the route.
Continuing north on Highway 1, just before motorists reach the
Russian River, they pass Goat Rock Beach, a park where a
colony of harbor seals can regularly be found warming
themselves on a sandbar. While the seals are on view
to see and photograph, beachgoers should know that it's
illegal to approach the animals so closely that they move
Jenner at the river mouth
Just north of the Russian River Bridge is the hillside town of
Jenner overlooking the river's mouth. A resort
community of weekend homes, B&Bs, and restaurants, the town
is perched above the waves of winter storms. The beach
at Jenner is large and good for picnicking while just
offshore stacks of rock tower above the surf.
Now a state park, Fort Ross distinctive wooden structures have been
fully restored. Among its structures are a stockade, a
commandant's house, and a Russian Orthodox chapel, notable
for its rustic cupolas. A visitor center provides
historical information on Fort Ross, using slide displays
Lodging near Fort Ross
numerous places to dine and stay north of Fort Ross:
the rustic Timber Cove Inn with its fireplaces, hot tubs,
ocean views. and fine restaurants; Stillwater Cove
Ranch, a smaller inn tucked in the redwoods; Fort Ross
Lodge which offers both oceanview and forest-sheltered
rooms, most with hot tubs and fireplaces.
Those interested in camping can find many overnight sites available
in Salt Point State Park, a 6,000-acre sanctuary of coastal
forest, rocky promontories, and pristine coves. The
park offers 109 drive-in and 20 walk-in camp-sites.
Further north is Sea Ranch, originally developed as a 5,200-acre
subdivision famous for its coastal saltbox architecture.
Although Sea Ranch stretches for 10 miles along Highway 1,
the public can use any of seven public trails to reach the
community's beaches and bluffs. Also open to the
public at Sea Ranch are a restaurant, lodge, and an 18-hole
Just inland from Jenner on Highway 116 is the former logging town
of Duncans Mills. A Depot Museum recalls the
narrow-gauge North Pacific Coast railroad which once hauled
away Russian River lumber.
Buildings on both sides of the highway have been restored,
including a general store dating back to the beginning of
the last century plus sever galleries and shops.
Jenner, Highway 1 winds along steep ocean bluffs--a
spectacular drive that climbs more than 700-feet above the
Pacific before dropping down to historic Fort Ross. In
The early 19th-century. Fort Ross was the eastern-most
outpost of tsarist Russia.
*Coastal Traveler, Winter 2004, Volume XVIII
Number 1, Tomales Bay Pulishing Co., Point Reyes Station, CA.