Ultimate Guide to the Sonoma Coast
Whether you like to start your day with an espresso and pastry or eggs benedict and grits, our area provides plenty of local breakfast spots that we highly recommend. Head down the street to the village of Jenner for an amazing cup of hand-brewed coffee at Cafe Aquatica. Sipping coffee on the Aquatica deck is as close to the Russian River as you can get without a kayak. For guests in the mood for more traditional breakfast fare, we recommend a short (5.5 mile) drive east on highway 116 to the nearby hamlet of Duncans Mills. The Cape Fear Cafe in Duncans Mills serves up local cuisine with a southern flair. Try the Sanford benedict with house-smoked salmon and peppered grits. Across the way you’ll find the Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery, where a latte and savory galette make a perfect light breakfast. Adventurous breakfasters will enjoy driving a bit farther afield to Howards Station Cafe in the historic town of Occidental, which is 6.5 miles south of Monte Rio along the redwood-lined Bohemian Highway. Howards Station serves the best fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices and smoothies in the area.
Kayaking, Spas, Culinary Artisans, Wine Tasting, Nature Preserves & Hiking
Relaxation begins in a quiet cabin with the sounds of nature. All of our accommodations feature beautiful views of crashing waves, playful seals, and soaring gulls. If that’s not enough, let us recommend some of our favorite local attractions to help you unwind and rejuvenate.
The perfect day for many visitors is one spent paddling on the wide and tranquil expanses of the Russian River estuary. Rent kayaks by the hour from WaterTreks, a local company owned by long-time nature enthusiast and educator Suki Waters. A guided tour from Suki and her team will provide you with a wealth of knowledge about our delicate coastal ecosystem.
And speaking of the amazing ecology of our area, the most other-worldly experience available to you during your visit is an evening on the water during the season when bioluminescent algae accumulates in the estuary. On occasional moonless nights from mid-August to early October, the entire water column glows and glitters when disturbed. Nocturnal activity of fish and seals, as well as the path of your boat, is illuminated bright yellow-green against inky darkness.
To explore more upstream reaches of the river, book a full or half day self-guided trip with Russian River Adventures. You can paddle or float downstream through nine miles of completely undeveloped riparian habitat between the historic Healdsburg Avenue truss bridge and the Wohler Bridge in Forestville.
The nearby hamlet of Freestone is home to the world-class Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary. This is more than a place to get the spa treatment of your choice—it’s a Zen retreat designed to reinvigorate your entire being. Share a Cedar Enzyme Bath, where you and your partner will spend 90 minutes immersed in the intense enzymatic activity and healing warmth of naturally fermenting cedar fiber. After experiencing this centuries-old Japanese tradition, many guests enjoy a 75-minutes massage or—our personal favorite—an organic aromatherapy facial. Before you finish your visit, find a moment to rest in the spa’s peaceful meditation garden.
After you’ve spent a few hours at Osmosis and are heading back to your car, you may notice that your mouth is watering and that people are gathered across the street at the local bakery. Take our advice and join the crowd! The aroma of fresh-baked bread from the Wild Flour Bakery is an irresistible feature of Freestone every Friday morning through Monday evening. Owner/Baker Jed Wallach is often found baking rustic delicacies in his wood-fired brick oven. We recommend the cheese fougasse for an out of body experience. But be warned, many of our favorite baked goods—especially the amazing rye bread—sells out before noon.
Don’t leave Freestone without visiting Omar Mueller’s Freestone Artisan Cheese shop. Omar sells hand-crafted cheeses, locally grown and pressed olive oils, and speciality vinegars from farmers with whom he has developed long-term relationships. Enjoy a crepe made with cheeses from sheep, goats, or cows living no more than twenty minutes from the shop. The local water buffalo ice cream is a treat not to be missed.
If you are ambitious enough to enjoy a long lunch at River’s End followed by local wine tasting, our area will not disappoint. Begin your wine tasting afternoon with the Fort Ross Winery, located high on the coastal ridges just five minutes north of Jenner. Floating above the clouds even on the foggiest day, you’ll sip 100% estate grown vintages in a rustic barn-style building that is the first and only tasting room in the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. We believe winemaker Jeff Pisoni has succeeded in elevating Fort Ross Vineyard pinot noirs and chardonnays to new heights of excellence.
If you can devote an entire day to wine tasting, we suggest you explore the twelve miles of Westside Road connecting the town of Healdsburg to River Road near Guerneville. You will find wineries large and small, new and old, and ranging in style from picnic-friendly to formal. Some of our favorite tasting rooms include Thomas George Winery, Gary Farrell Winery, Arista Winery and Moshin Winery.
Another up-and-coming area for wine tasting is south of River Road, in the area between Forestville and Sebastopol. Make an appointment for a tasting on the patio of the renowned Iron Horse Vineyards, where you’ll sample sparkling wines that have been served at the White House for over thirty years. Visits to Hartford Family Winery, Lynmar Estate Winery, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, and Merry Edwards Winery are well worth your time for the beautiful wines you’ll discover as well as the warm welcome from local wine experts. A great resource for explorations of the entire Sonoma County Wine region is The Wine Road website.
Nature Preserves & Hikes
A trip to the Sonoma Coast should certainly include hours spent communing with nature. Our coastline is famous for long sandy beaches below rugged headlands. Fins of shale jutting out from the cliffs create natural arches over secluded coves all along the Sonoma Coast State Park, which extends seventeen miles from Bodega Head in the south to Vista Point four miles north of Jenner. A walk along wind-swept bluffs inspires a feeling of total escape from civilization. Heading inland from this wild seascape, you can hike the Pomo Canyon and Red Hill trails, which are accessible from the east side of Highway 1 at Shell Beach. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of Pomo and Coast Miwok people who hunted in these hills and redwood-filled valleys for over three thousand years.
From the deck here at River’s End you can see the iconic Goat Rock—gatekeeper of the Russian River estuary. The base of the massive outcropping forms the southern end of Goat Rock State Park, which extends north along a crescent of sandy beach to the narrow opening where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Visitors to the park are regularly charmed by sea otters and the colony of harbor seals that congregate on either side of the river mouth. Don’t confuse those lounging seals with the silvery driftwood logs that wash up on the same sandy shores.
A day of outdoor adventures in our area would be incomplete without a visit to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where 805 acres of old-growth Sequoia sempervirens (the majestic coast redwood) have been preserved since the 1870’s. Crane your neck back as far as you can to gaze up at the mighty Parson Jones Tree standing 310 feet above the forest floor. The oldest tree in the grove, named after Colonel James Armstrong who saved these tree from the lumber industry, is estimated to be 1400 years old!
Bikes, Horses, Zip Lines, Golf & Sport Fishing
Visitors to our area are the type of adventurous spirits who thrive on being active and sometimes crave a thrill. When the sun is sparkling on the estuary and hundreds of birds are soaring on the marine breezes, you want to get outside and be a part of the environment teeming with life. We have some fun ideas that will fulfill your desire to play, to explore, and to enjoy your vacation to the fullest.
Get ready for two-and-a-half hours of heart-pounding adventure high above the redwood forest! Sonoma Canopy Tours at Alliance Redwoods will get you outside your comfort zone with seven high-flying zip lines, two sky bridges, a spiral staircase, and an exhilarating rappel. The guides help foster an experience of “re-creation” for their guests through education about the unique ecosystem of the redwoods and an emphasis on rediscovering the spiritual in the natural world. Take the opportunity to bond with new and old friends in your tour group between brief, thrilling moments spent flying through the canopy.
Horse Back Riding
Few experiences are as memorable as a sunset stroll down a long stretch of beach—on horseback. The wranglers at Chanslor Ranch, a 378-acre private guest ranch and nature preserve just north of the fishing town of Bodega Bay, are happy to make an equine excursion exciting for your whole family. They’ll provide each rider with a comfortable Western saddle and a special horse for any experience level.
Golf enthusiasts visiting our area will fall in love with the Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio. Designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1928, the 9-hole public course is a masterpiece from an era before large-scale earth moving was possible. Sensitivity to the natural environment, in this case the presence of towering redwood trees, provides a unique golfing experience. A golf-themed trip to our area should also include a visit to The Links at Bodega Harbour. The original back nine of this Scottish style links course were designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1978.
It is impossible to get bored with biking in Sonoma County. The terrain is so vast and varied that cyclists of all types can follow their bliss whether that means exploring a country road winding through a valley of vineyards, conquering a steep stretch of Highway 1, or pedaling up a trail into a deep forest.
If you arrive at River’s End travelling light, the first thing you’ll need is a bike. Any true cyclist wants to bring her own bike, but that’s not always reasonable. Recently, friends of River’s End have had good experiences renting demo bike from Trek Bicycle Store Santa Rosa. The team at Trek will fit you with the right gear for comfort and performance.
If you’ve decided to rent a mountain bike and you’re ready to explore an area beloved by locals, spend some time studying the Willow Creek Trails map. Protected by a partnership between public and private conservation groups, the Willow Creek People Powered Park covers hundreds of acres of rugged terrain perfect for mountain biking. Trail names like “Islands in the Sky Vista Loop,” “Fern Tree and Badger Hill Trail,” and “Upper & Lower Old Barn Trails” give a sense of the human and natural history of this treasured area.
Highway 1, and the steep country roads connecting it to quaint towns scattered through the nearby hills and valleys, has become a mecca for avid cyclists. Road bikers come from all over the world to tackle the sixteen miles of King Ridge Road near the town of Monte Rio. Described by pros as both “God’s cycling theme park” and “a death march,” King Ridge is an epic ride with both eye-popping scenery and quad-popping ascents.
A few miles north of Bodega Bay, you can also access Coleman Valley Road for another amazing road biking challenge. Climb over 1,000 feet through open pasture to some of the most spectacular coastal vistas in Northern California. Don’t worry, the cows won’t be offended if you’re too winded to moo back as you pass.
Perhaps the most fun day of the year for many cyclists in our area happens during the first week of October. Thousands gather for Levi’s GranFondo—a non-profit bike event perfect for families and hard-core cyclists alike. You can join professionals on the “Gran” 103-mile course that summits King Ridge. Or, you can join members of the River’s End staff and our families as we pedal along at a more leisurely pace on the “Medio” (65 mile) and “Piccolo” (32 mile) courses.
Fishing in the open ocean is an exhilarating adventure in any season, but especially in the late summer and fall when Chinook (King) and Coho salmon and Steelhead trout gather at the mouth of the Russian River. The town of Bodega Bay, eight miles south of River’s End, has a long history of commercial fishing and we recommend the Bodega Bay Sport Fishing Center for chartered recreational trips. As a side note, salmon runs have been robust enough in the past few years to allow for a re-opening of the commercial season, which in turn has allowed us to put locally-caught salmon on the River’s End summer menu—yum!
From mid-November to March, locals and visitors alike head out with crab pots to harvest a local delicacy—dungeness crab. Adventurous fisherfolk enjoy the combination of crabbing and paddling offered by guided kayak fishing trips running out of Bodega Bay. Dungeness crab season overlaps with the spectacular southward migration of more than 20,000 Pacific grey whales, and many crabbing charters also serve as whale-watching expeditions.