Where to go in California? Mountains, beach or desert? Such a dilemma. We live in the mountains and often choose to visit the desert, but sometimes you just gotta eat oysters. Our beach of choice for an early October getaway was located on Bodega Bay - situated on the Sonoma Coast north of San Francisco and the filming location of the 1962 Hitchcock horror film, "The Birds". I was so excited to see a new place in California with a storied history - did "The Birds" terrify you as much as it did me when I was a kid? We hosted a pre-trip screening where Ted promptly fell asleep, but I again imagined myself as the hapless Melanie Daniels terrorized by crazed seagulls while sporting my mink coat on Bodega Bay. What I didn't quite realize is that I would be eating oysters for four days straight and swooning over the beaches and countryside of the bucolic setting that is the Sonoma Coast. The drive on Highway 1 takes you alongside Tomales Bay, a calm finger of ocean between Point Reyes and the rest of California that produces incredibly tasty oysters at oyster farms overlooking the bay that proves irresistible to travelers. We drove through the Central Valley and over San Francisco Bay to Marin County where we took an lunchtime constitutional at Hog Island Oyster Company with some Anchor Steam beer, a charcuterie plate, along with raw and BBQ oysters. The service was laid-back and friendly - vacation was well underway.
Before lunch we had stopped in Point Reyes Station, a tiny agricultural town near Point Reyes National Seashore (which was closed due to the government shutdown), to stock up on supplies for camping. At Toby's Feed Barn we found wonderful produce and the fixings for cioppino, among other things.
We had plans for dinner in the town of Jenner, 10 miles north of Bodega Bay, but first we set up camp at Bodega Dunes Campground. The tem winding miles of Highway 1 was a spectacular sight at sunset as we passed cove after cove carved by the cold Pacific waters. We loved our dinner at River's End, a gourmet restaurant perched picturesquely above the meeting of the ocean and the Russian River. However, we did not love the ridiculous parking situation, the odd layout of the restaurant's tables in order to cram more people next to the windows and the slow (but friendly) service. The food almost makes up for these idiosyncracies, but we were also employing a generous gift certificate from our friend Jack. If I had paid the original bill, the food would not have tasted as good. But if you find yourself in Jenner and in need of a meal, go to River's End and assume any business can have an off day, because the Duck Confit Salad is really one of the more incredible things I've eaten in this life.
We were accompanied on this trip to the coast by our newly-adopted dog, Belle, and took pains to scout out dog-friendly spaces to take our new friend. Though California state parks are generally very dog-friendly, not all beach parks accommodate dogs due to native wildlife habitat. Our first stop was a county park - Doran Beach - which we accessed via a wetlands trailhead just off Highway 1. The trail wound past Bodega Bay and then took you to the open ocean outside the bay on Doran Beach. Horses and dogs are allowed here. After a morning in the sun, we looked for lunch and oysters and the first Birds filming location at the The Tides Wharf in the center of town. In 1960, the original Tides wharf was the location of the restaurant attack and gas station explosion in "The Birds", but the original buildings burned down long ago. We spotted some likely looking original buildings next door. At The Tides restaurant, we dined at a sunny window overlooking the bay on local mussels and oysters with french bread for mopping and were treated to a sighting of a small pod of sea lions enjoying Bodega Bay. The Tides Wharf includes a seafood market and we stocked up on provisions for cioppino and BBQ oyster dinner at camp. I also scored the most brilliant Sonoma County sauvignon blanc ever and I'm very sorry that I don't recall the vineyard. I believe Sonoma County is turning out delightful sauvignon blanc because it pairs marvelously with oysters, so I'm sure you can't go wrong with any vineyard in the vicinity. At The Tides gift shop I picked up a a copy of "The Birds by Hitchcock Sonoma Coast Guide", a sort of home-printed affair that serves as a guide to the making of the film in Bodega Bay.
Belle waited patiently for us in the Landcruiser as we ate lunch, so we needed to get back outside. Of the dog-friendly Sonoma Coast beaches, we chose Schoolhouse Beach for some wide open space. Ted was prepared for swimming the frigid Pacific with his wetsuit, though I felt the waves were too rowdy (for him - I don't swim in the Pacific unless I am in much farther south, like say, Mexico). Belle patrolled the beach to protect us from other dogs and rogue waves until it was time to nap. Unlike Melanie in "The Birds", the only aggressive seagull behavior I had witnessed so far was the clever guy who snatched a fish dinner from his bird companion.
And speaking of fish dinner, we wrapped a perfectly lovely day at the coast with a killer seafood meal at our campsite: cioppino with shrimp, mussels and bay scallops, along with grilled oysters shucked by Ted in a display of new-found skill, a loaf of local Brickmaiden bread, green salad with heirloom tomatoes & lemon herb aioli dressing and the aforementioned heavenly sauvignon blanc. We relaxed around the campfire until bedtime, where we were lulled to sleep by the sound of a foghorn on the bay (which Ted lovingly nicknamed "David Buoy") and the occasional barking of sea lions. The next day, we would be forced to spend another day at the beach.
Hog Island Oyster Company: Junk in the Trunk!
Toby's Feed Barn: Junk in the Trunk!
River's End: Junk-O-Rama
The Tides Wharf Restaurant: Junk-O-Rama