California coastal dreamin’, Bodega Bay, the Russian River, Ft. Ross and north to Mendocino

Point Arena Lighthouse, looking north along rugged CA coast.

Mendocino Headlands and unique rocky bridge.

Old church stands sentinel over Mendocino's classy seaside downtown area.

Ocean Cove, and campers aligned along the bluff overlooking the mighty Pacific.

Pink Ladies grow wild along this stretch of the CA coast.

The old Bodega School was used to film some of the scenes from Hitchcock's classic movie, 'The Birds'.

Shorebirds, sea lions, quaint towns and spectacular Pacific coastal scenery – just 2.5 hours from San Joaquin County! With arguably the most scenic stretch of California coastline and late summer/early fall the best time of the year to visit, the coast from Bodega Bay north to Mendocino is too close not to make it a near-term destination!

It’s relatively undiscovered even in the busiest of vacation months, so leave the crowds behind and enter a world where time moves a bit slower. We have been there numerous times, on day trips, extended camping trips and a few motel overnights thrown in for diversity.

This piece of California offers impressive vistas, spectacular food, great camping options and wonderful places to stop for the night, if you aren’t into camping.  Recently, we headed northwest with our Scotty teardrop trailer in tow. Bodega (the town is different than Bodega Bay) was our first stop, just off Hwy. 116 west of Santa Rosa, and offers the old school where portions of the 1963 Hitchcock classic movie ‘The Birds’ was filmed.

This cute little town is worth the short detour, for both its quaintness and cinematic history. Just six miles north, one reaches Bodega Bay (also appearing in Hitchcock’s film), on the water, home to a variety of fine restaurants and several nearby beautiful campgrounds. Stop at the Tides Restaurant for delicious breakfasts or lunches, and check out a myriad of nearby state parks for tenting or trailering options.

Our favorite campground, Wright’s Beach, between Bodega Bay and Jenner, offers tent and trailer sites right on the ocean (though, reserve well in advance, through! It’s one of two campgrounds in Sonoma Beach State Park, with the larger easier to book.

Heading north on Hwy 1, one soon crosses the languid Russian River and reaches the cute town of Jenner, where the Russian River spills into the Pacific. Stop at River’s End Restaurant for great food and stunning views; looking down from their deck above the river, a cadre of harbor seals usually is visible on a sandy spit below (the restaurant offers a telescope for a closer view). Shorebirds are also visible and swoop through the air off the restaurant deck.

If you have the time, detour off Hwy. 1, up the Russian River to Guerneville, the unofficial river headquarters with plenty of shops, restaurants, river-floating options and overnight accommodations.

Returning to the coast just north of Jenner, one soon reaches Ft. Ross, the old Russian settlement active from 1812 to 1841.  The fort was Russia’s southern-most outpost in its attempt to colonize North America, and functioned as an agricultural base, a center for ship building and was the site of California’s first windmills. The Rotchev House remains from the 1830s, with the balance of the fort, stockade, blockhouses and chapel all reconstructed as original, now a part of Ft. Ross State Historic Park.  Take the kids to get a feel for early settlements on the rugged California coast; docents lend an air of historical authenticity and hands-on experience!

A favorite private campground, where you can tent or trailer on a bluff above the ocean, is Ocean Cove Campground.  It’s fairly rustic, with showers, a small store, stunning scenery, fishing and snorkeling right at your doorstep, with reasonable pricing.

Pressing north up Hwy. 1, stop at the Stewart’s Point General Store, for a snack and drink and admire an historic outpost that looks much as it did almost 100 years ago.  Just north is Salt Point State Park, where native Americans once gathered salt that was captured in depressions on the ocean’s rocky outcroppings; hiking, birding and watching for sea lions are the attractions. Pretty campsites on a bluff over the Pacific can fetch late afternoon winds that can level a tent…beware!

Traveling north, several cute coastal towns like Sea Ranch (stop at the Sea Ranch Lodge for breakfast or lunch and spectacular if pricey overnight accommodations) and Gualala (Bones Roadhouse a fine lunch choice for BBQ or fish dishes) offer neighborly stops.  Gualala County Regional Park just south of Gualala offers very pretty and secluded campsites.

As you continue up Hwy. 1, take the detour two miles off Hwy. 1 to check out and tour the Point Arena Lighthouse for stunning coastal views and a tour of the historic lighthouse. Some of my best coastal photos were shot looking north along the rugged coast with the old lighthouse as the backdrop.

Further north, one passes through Manchester, then Elk, Albion and into Mendocino. Mendocino is the quintessential California coastal town, with trendy shops and several restaurants.  It’s old main drag is on a bluff overlooking the crashing Pacific below.  Don’t miss Mendocino Headwaters State Park, just west of town for superb ocean views and rocky bluffs. If you are camping, Van Damme State Park is just south of the city, with secluded campsites in a deep riparian forest – and the ocean beach is just steps away, including kayak rentals!  Ft. Bragg is just north of Mendocino, if you have time to extend your journey on the gorgeous California coast!

How to get there: Take Hwy. 12 west out of Lodi, then connect to Hwy. 116 just beyond Napa and Sonoma (both offer marvelous diversions if you want to extend your trip), to connect to Hwy. 1 along the coast.  Bodega Bay is 115 miles and about 2.5 hours from Stockton.

For more information: Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce,, 707.347.9645; Jenner Visitor’s Center, 707.865.9757; Guerneville, guerneville-online.com707.869.9000; Ft. Ross State Historic Park,, 707.847.4777; Ocean Cove Campground,, 707.847.3422; Mendocino,, 707.961.6300; Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau,, 707.996.1090. For camping reservations,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Continued happy travels in the west!

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