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A visit to Sonoma Coast State Park, California

The following is a guest post by Shreeyeh Rajan.

California has a rich history, gorgeous nature, excellent landmarks, cities full of interesting places to visit, and much more. The state has nine national parks and 280 state parks so there are so many natural sites to explore. If you’re looking for a park that includes multiple beaches, viewpoints, and a scenic drive, try out Sonoma Coast State Park.

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Text: Sonoma Coast State Park: What to see and do in this beautiful northern California Park. Image: a view of a beach framed by rocky cliffs.
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What Is Sonoma Coast State Park?

Sonoma Coast State Park is a northern California state park that stretches 17 miles (approximately 27 km) from Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River, south along the coast to Bodega Head. The park covers rugged, craggy coastline, with numerous beach access points. It includes many types of coastal habitats, including sandy beaches and rocky outcrops, emergent marshes, mudflats, and wetlands, redwood forests, grasslands, and chaparral. The park is on the Sonoma Coast and it has many natural attractions including beaches, tide pools, and sand dunes.

A view over a beach at the sunset over the sea.
Photo copyright Shreeyeh Rajan of Bae Area and Beyond.

Why should you visit Sonoma Coast State Park?

Sonoma Coast State Park features panoramic views of the rugged Northern California coast with coastal terraces and bluff tops that rise above the Pacific Ocean. You can spend hours just admiring the views from different viewpoints in the park but there are also other things to do here.

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One of the best ways to explore Sonoma Coast State Park is through hiking. The three best trails along the coastline at this park are the Bodega Head Trail, Sonoma Coast Overlook Vista Trail, and the Kortum Trail, while Poma Canyon Trail is inland.

  • The Bodega Head Trail provides 360° views from the 4-mile-long Bodega Head. Bodega Head is a peninsula which almost entirely closes off Bodega Harbor, site of the town of Bodega Bay, from the larger Bodega Bay. The trail is 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long and considered easy.  
  • The Sonoma Coast Overlook Vista Trail is located in Jenner and provides a dramatic view of the majority of the Sonoma Coast. It’s less than a mile long and an easy walk.
View from a hill looking at the coastline, which from here looks extremely rocky, and the sea.
The Sonoma Coast Overlook Vista Trail. Photo copyright Shreeyeh Rajan of Bae Area and Beyond.
  • The Kortum Trail is a long trail that starts at Bodega Bay and ends in Jenner. You’ll walk along the Sonoma coastline on this trail and find unique attractions along the way. It’s about 4.6 miles (7.4 km) long but still relatively easy.
  • Pomo Canyon Trail leads inland starting from Route 1 above Shell Beach. You can walk it as a loop back to the start, or continue as far as Pomo Canyon Campground. It’s 6.2 miles (10 km) long and is a bit more difficult than the others.

The park also has some lovely beaches to enjoy, but none of them is safe for swimming: there is heavy surf and strong rip currents. Don’t even wade. But the beaches are beautiful and perfect for things like walking, running, sunbathing, picnicking or beachcombing. Here are the main ones, listed north to south:

  • Goat Rock Beach has a pretty, sandy beach. A colony of harbor seals lives there – but don’t get too close. Blind Beach next door is one of the places in the park where you can walk your dog, but only on a leash.
  • Shell Beach is great for tidal pools. It’s also a popular fishing spot.
  • Duncan’s Landing isn’t really a beach. It’s a rocky outcropping where you can see dramatic and dangerous surf, but it also has the best wildflowers in the spring.
  • Portuguese Beach, like Goat Rock, is a sandy beach between rugged headlands. It’s popular for rock fishing and surf fishing.
  • Schoolhouse Beach is like Portuguese Beach and Goat Rock Beach: a sandy beach tucked between rocky points.
  • Salmon Creek Beach is a sandy beach at the point where the mouth of the Russian River forms a lagoon. North Salmon Creek Beach is the part across the creek mouth from South Salmon Creek Beach. Both are popular with experienced surfers, and the beach is also used for surf fishing.

Other than hiking and spending time on a beach, there are other activities including kayaking, sailing, whale watching, bird watching, and surfing. Bodega Bay is a great place to visit for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and it has many cultural attractions and delicious seafood restaurants. There’s a Sonoma Coast State Park Visitor Center in Jenner.

Sonoma County is especially known for its wines, and there are plenty of ways to explore the wine country and enjoy tastings. Click on the banner below to see some options:

If you’re also planning to visit San Francisco, make sure to read these articles as you plan!

A view down on a curved beach framed by rocky outcroppings and the sea.
Photo copyright Shreeyeh Rajan of Bae Area and Beyond.

Where Is Sonoma Coast State Park?

The park is located in Sonoma County in Northern California, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. It takes less than two hours from San Francisco to the park via Highway 101. However, if you’d like to drive along the Pacific Ocean coastline, you can drive entirely on the scenic Highway 1. That’ll take a little more than two hours.

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Sonoma Coast State Park is situated between two charming seaside towns, Bodega Bay and Jenner. It is right off Highway 1 so it’s easy to access many of the lookout points. There is an $8 vehicle fee per day to visit the park.

Flying into California? The closest airport is the Sonoma County Airport (41 miles/66 km.), but the nearest international airport is the San Francisco International Airport (79 miles/127 km.).

A rocky outcropping into the sea, with smaller rocks or islands visible in the water in the distance.
Photo copyright Shreeyeh Rajan of Bae Area and Beyond.

Where should you stay?

The best place to stay in or near Sonoma Coast State Park depends on who you’re travelling with, your budget, and your comfort level. If you’re interested in getting the coastal experience to the fullest extent, you can camp at the park. There are four campgrounds in different locations in the park. 

  • Bodega Dunes Campground has a potable water fill station and dump station. Hot showers (paid), flush toilets and running water. In peak season, you’ll need to reserve a campsite ahead of time.
  • Pomo Canyon Campground is on the Russian River. It has only 27 campsites, all with fire rings and picnic tables. The toilets are port-a-pottys and no water is available. It’s a short walk in from the parking lot. First come, first served. No dogs allowed.
  • Willow Creek Campground is in a forest of redwoods. Like Pomo Canyon, it is a primitive campground, with only 11 campsites, each with a fire ring and picnic table. The toilets are pit toilets and no water is available. First come, first served. No dogs.
  • Wright’s Beach Campground has running water and flush toilets, but no showers and no water fill station or dump station. You would have to go to Bodega Dunes campground for these services. But each campsite has a fire ring and a picnic table. Like Bodega Dunes, you’ll have to reserve your campsite ahead here.

If you prefer hotel accommodations, you will find lodging options in Bodega Bay and Jenner. If you’re looking for a resort experience, the best hotel to stay at is The Lodge at Bodega Bay. This is a 4-star hotel with an on-site restaurant, spa services, and a fireside lounge with outdoor fire pits. Walk out of the lodge and experience beautiful sunset views.

Use the map below to explore your options along the coast and inland:

What is the best time to visit?

The best time to visit Sonoma Coast State Park is from June to October. This is when the weather isn’t as rainy, foggy, or muddy compared to the rest of the year. You can expect temperatures to be between 50-80°F or 10-26°C. Crowds are the highest during this time due to the weather being comfortable, so plan to start early, especially for attractions that get high crowds.

Hotels and campgrounds are also busier during this season so plan to book your preferred accommodations in advance. Between June and October, there are many events in Sonoma County to check out including Fort Ross Festival, Sonoma County Harvest Fair, BeerFest, and Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.

Conclusion: Sonoma Coast State Park

Sonoma Coast State Park shows you a portion of the California coastline, with rocky cliffs, beaches, and abundant hiking trails. I hope this guide has persuaded you to check out this national park on your next visit to California, especially if you love foggy weather, ocean views and beaches!

About the author: Shreeyeh is the owner of the travel blog Bae Area and Beyond. She is from the Bay Area and her blog covers California destinations. She hopes that her readers will fall in love with California, just like she did.

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • Get a Priority Pass if you fly a lot so that you can use airport lounges while you wait for flights. Plan your visits around meals and/or drink times and it’s definitely worth the investment!
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
  • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more…
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