Everyone knows Sonoma Wine Country for its rolling hills lined with grapevines and fertile valleys. But don’t forget the coast! More than 55 miles of spectacular shoreline form the western border of Sonoma County.
If you want to take a break from the inland heat and experience unparalleled beauty, head out River Road (off Hwy 101 just south of Healdsburg) to the coast. In less than an hour’s drive, the cool Pacific awaits, and you’ll find easy access to beaches up and down Hwy 1.
Carved out by nature among rocky bluffs, the Sonoma Coast State Park beaches run from just north of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific, to Bodega Bay and afford breathtaking ocean views, dramatic bluffs, well-maintained hiking trails and a total of 17 miles of beaches scattered with driftwood and seashells. These aren’t warm, white sandy beaches — but they are incredible portraits of natural beauty.
Search for seashells, fly a kite, spread out a picnic, hike the Kortum Trail or simply watch the waves splash the shore. There’s a good chance you’ll see white plumes in the distance. Whales migrate from Alaska to Baja from December through April, but you may see whales spouting offshore any time of the year.
Wrights, Portuguese, Schoolhouse beaches — each beach with its distinctive name also has its unique appeal and all are worth stopping at. Pull your car over, breathe in the fresh air and explore the Sonoma Coast on foot. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.
Goat Rock Beach
This northern SoCo beach lies where the Russian River meets the sea. Search tide pools for sea anenomes or find jeweled abalone shells. Goat Rock is home to numerous seals and pups who you can hear barking near the mouth of the river.
If you’re in for a gentle hike along the bluffs, park at Shell Beach. From here you can head either north or south on the Kortum Trail, named for a local coastal preservationist. The trail is marked and even has stretches of boardwalk to span marshy areas.
Salmon Creek Beach
Salmon Creek spills into the ocean and separates this beach into two. South Salmon Creek Beach with nearly two miles of sand and dunes is ideal for flying kites or long shoreline walks.
The rocky point that forms the entrance into Bodega Harbor has trails along the headland. There’s level walking if you head south from the parking lot; head north for a more robust hike. Abundant wildflowers color this area in spring and early summer. The high cliffs present great views of the coast and opportunities for whale watching.
Although the Sonoma Coast presents unbelievable photo ops, it’s best to keep your distance. The waves can be unpredictable, sometimes taking you by surprise even when the water appears calm. Cold water temps, sleeper waves and a strong riptide add to the dramatic feel of the rugged coastline. Don’t plan on swimming or even wading in the shallows. There are no lifeguards. Although not good for swimming, the beaches of Sonoma Wine Country brim with vitality of nature.
One last thing to keep in mind: summer days typically begin foggy on the coast. But don’t be dissuaded. It usually burns off by midday. The weather is variable, so bring layered clothing and enjoy your date with the great Pacific.
Check out this handy list with descriptions of dozens of SoCo beaches: