It would take at least a week to explore all the charms and outdoor activities Sonoma’s coastline has to offer. But as the days of fall grow shorter and cooler, and with pandemic precautions keeping the majority of us outdoors, a one-day, wine-friendly trip to the seaport town of Bodega Bay can be just what the doctor ordered – with facial masks and physical distancing in place when required.
In Bodega Bay, ocean scents and brisk breezes greet previously landlocked visitors. Escaping to the coast can be invigorating and sanity-saving, and with some excellent wine-tasting opportunities along the way.
Bodega Bay is just 23 miles west of Santa Rosa, via Highway 12, Bodega Highway and Highway 1. In a straight-through drive, the landscape changes from downtowns and housing developments in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, to vineyard-studded hillsides and the last vestiges of Gravenstein apple orchards, to oak, fir and redwood forests, to the rocky Pacific Ocean and its pockets and spits of sandy beach. Yet a few stops along the route deliver a more leisurely and delicious way to Bodega Bay.
This itinerary isn’t for golfers, surfers, hikers or bicyclists, but rather for wine lovers craving a relaxing, don’t-break-a-sweat day. The overlapping Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley winegrowing regions near Bodega Bay are widely known for vibrant chardonnays, rosés, pinot noirs, syrahs and sparkling wines, all of which thrive in vineyards exposed to the cooling winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean. Fasten your seat belts, sip and spit, and rehydrate often with water for a safe journey.
Depart Santa Rosa, driving west on Highway 12 through Sebastopol. Continue west on 12, which turns into Bodega Highway. In approximately 6 miles from Sebastopol, near the intersection of Bodega and Bohemian highways, you’ll find Freestone Artisan Cheese, where owner Omar Mueller and his team offer goodies for the perfect picnic basket. While waiting for coffee and a hot crepe (sweet or savory) or gluten-free buckwheat galette, shop from the small but carefully chosen selection of local cheeses, charcuterie, oils, vinegars, nuts, jams, crackers and other condiments. Mueller’s house wines include a vineyard-designated chardonnay from nearby Freeman Vineyards and a blanc de blancs bubbly made by Norm Yost of Flying Goat Cellars. Open Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
380 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, 707-874-1030, freestoneartisancheese.com
From Freestone Artisan Cheese, drive northwest on Freestone Road and merge onto Bohemian Highway. In 3.2 miles, turn right onto First Street, then take a quick left onto Occidental’s charmingly rustic Main Street. There, you’ll find Bohème Wines Cellar Door, where owner and winemaker Kurt Beitler pours his wines, for no-appointment-needed walk-ins. Beitler focuses on small-production pinot noirs and chardonnays, vineyard-designated and of excellent quality. Bohème largely flies under the radar, although it’s surprising that this is the case, given the charm and finesse of Beitler’s coastal-influenced wines. Those looking to discover a brand to tell others about visit Beitler’s tasting room, open noon-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday ; and noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Or call to schedule a private tasting and vineyard tour, a fine way to fill a mid-morning before hitting the coast.
3625 Main Street, Occidental, 707-874-3218, bohemewines.com
On to Bodega Bay
Reverse course and drive south on Bohemian Highway, then turn right onto Bodega Highway/Highway 1, for the cruise into the village of Bodega Bay. Take a left on Doran Beach Road and you’ll find Doran Regional Park; it covers 127 acres on the spit separating Bodega Harbor and Bodega Bay, and its beach is ideal for picnicking, walking, sticking toes into the frigid water and surfer-watching. Or go fly a kite. The entrance closes when day-use parking ($7) is full, although visitor numbers are likely to drop in late October and early November.
201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3540, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Doran-Regional-Park
Barbara and John Drady founded Sonoma Coast Vineyards in 2001, with winemaker Anthony Austin specializing in pinot noir from, you guessed it, the Sonoma Coast region. They eventually sold the brand to Vintage Wine Estates, which has expanded the range of wines to include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, red blends and bubbles, and maintained the “SCV” tasting room in Bodega Bay. Wines by the glass start at $10, served on the outdoor patio. A grab-and-go artisan cheese and charcuterie box, which serves two, is available for $35. Open daily from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; reservations required.
555 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-921-2860, sonomacoastvineyards.com
For those who don’t gorge themselves on Freestone Artisan Cheese picnic fare or cheese and salumi from Sonoma Coast Vineyards, there is The Birds Cafe. The comfy patio and porch areas of Melissa Freeman’s casual eatery overlook Bodega Bay, and the menu includes fish tacos, oysters, clam chowder, fish and chips, chicken tenders and other items that are as good as any served in Bodega Bay. The fish tacos and artichoke fritters are standouts; vegetarians will be happy with the artichoke tacos. The wine list is small yet smart, with La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rosé; Ferrari-Carano Sonoma County Fume Blanc; and a syrah-carignane blend from Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Photos from “The Birds” filming in 1963 are on the walls; Freeman’s parents were extras in the movie. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
1407 Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2900, thebirdscafe.com
Early takeout dinner
For a more upscale meal, though with takeout only, visit Terrapin Creek Cafe, which doesn’t have outdoor seating to meet coronavirus protocols. Open 4-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, the restaurant of Liya Lin and Andrew Truong offers a menu that typically includes pan-roasted Hokkaido scallops with sweet potato and ginger purée; poached halibut with baby bok choy; braised lamb shank; and beef ribeye with potato puree, sautéed broccolini and trumpet mushrooms. Local sourcing of ingredients is a signature of Terrapin Creek.
1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700, terrapincreekcafe.com
Alternate stop on the return to Santa Rosa
The Region wine bar in The Barlow in Sebastopol is open from 1-8 p.m. daily, with options for ordering food from Barlow center eateries. For those who haven’t had enough wine tasting, stop at this new venue with push-button pours of wines from approximately 25 Sonoma producers, most of them small and with otherwise hard-to-find bottles.
180 Morris Street, Suite 170, Sebastopol, 707-329-6724, drinkyourregion.com