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This sleepy coastal town in Sonoma County, tucked in on Highway 1 about 40 miles north of San Francisco, provides a low-key locale for a quiet weekend escape. The bay, home to boat-packed Bodega Harbor, is well-protected from the wild Pacific Ocean, although you’ll find plenty of big-wave beaches in the vicinity. Even though the village itself, home to maybe 1,100 people, shuts down early, plenty of daytime activities promise fun in the sun . . . or fog.
One of the loveliest properties in town, Bodega Bay Lodge has 83 guest rooms overlooking the wetland Bird Walk trails and Doran Beach, both within walking distance. Best option: an ocean suite. These villa-style rooms front the marshes and give prime viewing for sunsets and shorebirds. The on-site pool will appeal on warm days (outdoor temps rise into the 80s during summer months); the infinity-edge spa, steaming in the cool breeze, lures folks who alternate between it and the nearby fire pit. Most rooms include a Duraflame-stocked fireplace, and suites have deep spa tubs. Mornings begin with local Taylor Maid organic coffee, and an evening wine-and-cheese hour winds down the day. Stay on the compound for dinner at Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen, where the cheese plate (packed with delights from local purveyors) paired with a Sonoma County wine starts the meal off right. When it comes time to order, one of you must go for the rib-eye.
We’re not even going to weigh in on the whole debate of who’s got the best clam chowder, other than to say that on Chowder Day this past January, the following were first-place winners in a three-category contest: Bluewater Bistro at Bodega Harbour golf course (Critic’s Choice), The Boat House (Themed Venue) and Spud Point Crab Company (People’s Choice). Second- and third-place winners included The Birds Café, Rocker Oysterfeller’s (inland in Valley Ford), Ginochio’s Kitchen and Fishetarian. These places have other seafood specialties, too: crab sandwiches, local oysters, fish and chips, fresh catch. Aside from Drakes, Terrapin Creek restaurant is the most-recommended dining option for hyperlocal and seasonal cuisine. Here’s a shout-out to one of our favorites: Gourmet au Bay, a combo restaurant/boutique down by the harbor, where wood-fired salmon and flatbreads come out perfectly and the wine-surfing (flights of three local wines served in glasses tucked into cool surfboards) is especially great on the busy patio at sunset.
Head for Bodega Head, up behind the harbor, for some of the best views of the ocean—and such a contrast to the calmness of the bay. Waves come charging in, crashing against the rocks and throwing spray. Sit back with a container of Spud Point chowder, or zip up the windbreaker and take to the trail. This is a prime whale-watching spot when the season’s right. Play a round of golf at The Links at Bodega Harbour, a Scottish-style links course, 18 holes, that runs along the coastline. Jump on a fishing or whale-watching charter boat, rent a kayak and paddle around the bay, wander barefoot in the sand on Doran Beach or any of the other Sonoma Coast State Park beaches (Salmon Creek is a great surf spot) nearby, fly a kite (hang on tight or the winds will carry it away), or taste wine at the waterfront Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Finally, pop into some of the local shops, including Candy & Kites, Eclectic Amanda and, of course, Patrick's Salt Water Taffy (the can't-miss pink building right on the highway).
The drive to and from Bodega Bay gives visitors plenty of reasons to stop and explore. The community of Bodega, for example, where one of the iconic scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was filmed at St. Teresa of Avila Church, includes a couple little shops and the always-stellar Casino Bar & Grill (not a gambling establishment but a landmark restaurant). Take a little side jog into Occidental (several family-style Italian restaurants) or Freestone (for a yummy loaf from Wild Flour Bread or a dip in the famous Osmosis cedar enzyme “baths”). More and more wineries crop up the closer you get to Sebastopol. A favorite: Iron Horse Vineyards, where the outdoor tasting shed yields fabulous views of the Sonoma hillsides. In Sebastopol, walk through The Barlow, an outdoor market with several wine-tasting rooms, craft brew pubs, the Guayaki Yerba Mate outlet, Spirit Works Distillery and numerous restaurants, including Zazu Kitchen + Farm, famous for its use of black pig pork.