California coastal road trip; Bodega Bay, the Russian River and north to Mendocino

Take a California coastal road trip; Bodega Bay north to Mendocino

Spectacular Pacific coast scenery, thousands of shorebirds, sea lions, quaint towns and fine food – just three hours from San Joaquin County! With a most scenic stretch of California coastline and 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 road trip destination! Relatively undiscovered even in the busiest of vacation months, enter a world where time moves a little slower. We have been frequent visitors, both as campers and spending nights in some of the area’s comfortable B&Bs and motels.

A week ago, packing pandemic rations and plenty of snacks, we road-tripped northwest with our 64 Scotty trailer in tow. Bodega (the town is different than Bodega Bay) was our first stop, just off Hwy 116 west of Santa Rosa, and features the old school where portions of the 1963 Hitchcock classic movie ‘The Birds’ were filmed. Now a private residence, it still makes a great backdrop for photos (and rent the film for inspiration prior to your trip)!

Our 64 Scotty trailer poses in front of old Bodega School, feature in ‘The Birds’.

We continued six miles north to reach Bodega Bay (also featured in Hitchcock’s film), on the water, home to a variety of fine restaurants and several nearby beautiful campgrounds. We stopped at the Tides Restaurant mid-afternoon and found the expansive outdoor deck lively with guests (and a 30 minute wait) and discovered the Tides Deli offered grab and go fish and chips, wine and beer and an outdoor seating area. So, we enjoyed a late lunch without the wait.

Nearby are a host of campgrounds, part of the far-flung Sonoma Coast State Park. Our favorite campground, Wright’s Beach State Park, between Bodega Bay and Jenner, had a cancellation, so we got a treasured campsite right on the ocean (better, reserve well in advance, through and listened to thundering surf all evening and through the night!

Surf crashes on Wright’s Beach, just beyond our scenic campsite.

Heading north on Hwy 1, we crossed the languid Russian River to reach the town of Jenner, where the river spills into the Pacific. Another favorite, River’s End Restaurant, was doing a lively takeout business, with limited outdoor seating offering stunning views; looking down from their deck above the river, a cadre of harbor seals sunned themselves on a sandy spit (the restaurant offers a telescope for a closer view). Thousands of shorebirds are also visible and swoop through the air off the restaurant deck. Café Aquatica, at the town’s east end, does a brisk business for lunch on the river.

Continuing north on Hwy. 1, Fort Ross, the old Russian settlement active from 1812 to 1841, is now a state historic park.  Russia’s southern-most outpost in its attempt to colonize North America, it functioned as an agricultural, ship -building and fishing base. Though the historic Rotchev House remains, the balance of the fort, stockade and chapel was reconstructed as original.  Check for pandemic opening details, when fully open, docents lend an air of historical authenticity and hands-on experience.

Thousands of pelicans and other shorebirds where Russian River merges with the Pacific.

We passed by another favorite campground, where campers perch on a bluff above the ocean, Ocean Cove Campground (open ‘til end of November).  It’s a private campground and store, with stunning scenery, fishing and snorkeling right at your doorstep, with reasonable pricing for basic but picturesque campsites.

Just north is Salt Point State Park, where Native Americans once gathered salt that was captured in the ocean’s rocky outcroppings; hiking, birding and watching for sea lions is the attraction. Pretty campsites dot the bluff over the Pacific, though late afternoon winds that can level a tent…be forewarned!

Point Arena Lighthouse, worth the short detour off Hwy. 1.

Traveling north, coastal towns like Sea Ranch (the Sea Ranch Lodge offers delicious meals and spectacular if high-end overnight accommodations) and Gualala offer restaurant and lodging options.  Gualala County Regional Park just south of Gualala offers secluded campsites on a stream flowing into the ocean.

Detour two miles off Hwy. 1 to see and tour the Point Arena Lighthouse, for picture-perfect coastal views. Further north, one passes through Manchester, then Elk, Albion, and into Mendocino.

Our three day tour took us north to Mendocino, the quintessential California coastal town, with trendy shops and several restaurants along historic Main Street on a bluff overlooking the crashing Pacific.  Find Mendocino Headwaters State Park just west of town, with superb ocean views, a natural bridge and rocky bluffs for hiking. If 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! 

Mendocino Headlands State Park and natural bridge.

Homeward bound, we followed California Hwy. 128 along the Navarro River, passing through miles of stately stands of redwoods in Navarro River State Park, and ascending into the Alexander River Valley, lush with vineyards for miles and miles.

For more information: Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce,; Ft. Ross State Historic Park,; Mendocino,; Sonoma Coast State Park (and Wright’s Beach campground),; Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau, For camping reservations,

Navarro River redwoods provide towering backdrop to our Scotty trailer.

Contact Tim at, follow him at travels in the west!

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