Bodega, Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast; exploring with kids the filming of ‘The Birds’, Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller

Granddaughter Jessica reveling in the glory of a first visit to the ocean along the Sonoma coast!

Jessica and grandmother Susan in front of Potter School, the school filmed in The Birds.

Naked ladies line the roads and fields around the Sonoma Coast.

Movie poster from the Hitchcock 1963 movie hit 'The Birds', filmed in Bodega and Bodega Bay.

Jessica, exploring a campground tree at Sonoma Coast State Park.

Mouth of Russian River, with cadre of harbor seals across river, from bluff above Jenner, looking south.





























Exploring with kids the coast and the filming of ‘The Birds’, Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller movie.

Our short vacation goals were several: to spend a few days on the scenic California coast, find a pretty campsite near the water and to share an exciting adventure with a 10-year-old granddaughter who had not yet been to the ocean.

We chose the Bodega Bay/Russian River area for multiple reasons. It offers close proximity to San Joaquin County and a rugged, scenic but accessible coastline for wading and exploring. And, our granddaughter, her brother and mother are fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic movie ‘The Birds’ – much of it filmed and set in Bodega Bay. Hence, exploring several film locations seemed like a fun bonus.

Additionally, Bodega Bay is a quaint town set on a quiet bay, with campgrounds on the edge of the city and nice restaurants and motels for those who don’t camp. The nearby Russian River, with towns of Jenner and Guerneville and the old Ft. Ross just further north all offered nearby places for additional exploration.

Part of the fun of getting there is taking Highway 12 through Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Hwy. 116 out of Cotati to Sebastopol, and then west on Valley Ford Road. Our route took us directly to the town of Bodega, a small hamlet set in the foothills 4 miles from Bodega Bay. We took the first left, motored two blocks up the hill and found Potter School (called Bodega Bay School in the Hitchcock movie). It dates to 1873 and was placed, with film magic, in the town of Bodega Bay. Since the film, it’s been a restaurant and is now a private residence – providing a perfect backdrop for Jessica and her grandmother Susan to pose proudly in front of the old schoolhouse.

While most of the exterior shots for The Birds were filmed in Bodega and Bodega Bay, most of the filming inside buildings, such as the post office, was done on location at Universal Studios in Hollywood (Hitchcock didn’t like filming on location).

In Bodega Bay, we had brunch at The Tides restaurant – featured in the movie. Though the movie restaurant burned in 1989 and the current restaurant is part of a much larger commercial complex – the entryway features signed movie posters by the movie’s star Tippi Hedren, scenes from the movie and restaurant staff is happy to discuss its and the town’s role in the flick.

To celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary in 2013, Hedren made an appearance at The Tides Restaurant. Actress Hedren played much of her part in a stunning green suit by Edith Head  – to accommodate her many scenes and rough treatment, Hitchcock had six identical suits made for her; Hedren’s 2013 appearance at The Tides was in similar garb.

We camped in the main campground at Sonoma Coast State Park just north of Bodega Bay, offering about 160 campsites, including two loops with pretty, treed sites just a short walk to the bay itself. It’s always amazing to me how kids can make their own excitement while camping; Jessica found a campsite tree worthy of climbing for several hours of entertainment.  Evening s’mores made for fine campfire treats, as well. Wrights Beach Campground, a few miles further north in the same state park, offers a dozen sites right on the beach itself – though they book months in advance.

North up the coast we toured, stopping at several beaches, allowing Jessica to revel in the surf and the cold waters of the north Pacific (the water’s too cold for swimming except for the hardest core swimmers). For a 10 year old making her first ocean introduction, her sheer delight in romping through the surf is not an overstatement!

Just a few miles further north, we crossed Hwy. 1 over the Russian River, and headed west to the town of Jenner, located on the bluffs above where the river meets the ocean. We stopped at our favorite restaurant, the Rivers Edge, with an outside deck offering views of a colony of sea lions that live near the mouth of the Russian River.

If you have the time, only a few miles further north is the historic Fort Ross, established by the Russians in 1812 to 1841 as part of their southernmost occupation to colonize the Americas (the Fort Ross State Historic Park does a fine job showing off life in the early 1800s on the windswept coast).

Returning home, we toured east up Hwy. 116, through charming Russian River towns of Duncans Mills, Monte Rio and Guerneville, each stocked with cute shops and eateries; we made a mental note to return for a vacation outing in the Guerneville area!

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 Sebastopol, then Valley Ford Road to Bodega, and connect to Hwy. 1 along the coast.  Bodega is 110 miles and about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Stockton.

For more information: Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce,, 707.347.9645; Ft. Ross State Historic Park,, 707.847.4777; for camping reservations for Sonoma Coast State Park,

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Happy travels in the west!

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