Discover this quiet California community along the Pacific Coast Highway, where the views are unobstructed and the simple life rules.
Photo: Walter Bibikow/Getty Images
Though it does have the dubious distinction of being the setting for Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds, it's Bodega Bay's rugged beauty that has everyone flocking to its windswept shores. The town's miles of sandy coves are separated by rocky bluffs—the headlands as jagged as puzzle pieces, with giant boulders strewn about in the churning surf.
A 90-minute drive north of San Francisco on Highway 1, past lazy sheep meadows and clapboard cattle ranches, this small fishing village charms with its sea-weathered candy shops and surf shacks welcoming visitors with hand-painted wooden signs.
Pictured left: Bodega Head, known for its hiking trails with sublime vistas, at dawn
Photo: Chris Leschinsky
In fact, the town might as well have been plucked from another era. But it's living in vivid color, from a painted pink-and-white striped cottage to the vast expanses of golden grasslands. Around town, new development is a rarity, with much of the land protected by the state.
Homes are passed down through generations to some of the 1,000 year-round residents, while other locals have relocated here for the natural wonder, says resident and real estate broker Scott Adams. "And we're close to wine country," he adds, a definite draw for vino lovers who work—and play—in the rich inland and coastal vineyards nearby.
Pictured left: SIMI Winery's Goldfields Vineyard in Sonoma County
Photo: Heather Ann Photography/Getty Images
Bodega Bay also offers more affordable real estate relative to the pricey San Francisco Bay area, with homes—from cozy one-bedroom bungalows to glass-fronted contemporary abodes—ranging from $450,000 to $2 million.
And while the warmer months tend to bring an influx of visitors, it's mostly quiet here. "I love being able to walk the beach—especially in off-season—and be the only footprints I see in the sand," says Adams. "There are no traffic lights, there are no honking horns. It's just wonderfully peaceful."
Pictured left: Playtime on the beach
Photo: Kristen Shelton Fielder
The Wine. The Sonoma coast as a premiere vino destination makes this a hot address, with more than 200 wineries dotting the lush landscape from the Russian River Valley to the southern seaside towns of Tomales Bay and Point Reyes. The latest trendy tasting stop is in the Barlow area.
The Wildlife. In this habitat hot spot you'll find migrating gray and humpback whales, seals, and rare birds, especially when strolling through Doran Regional Park Bird Walk: the one-mile salt-marsh loop is home to white and blue herons, snowy egrets, loons, and bald eagles.
The Folks. "I love the people—it's such a diverse mix: Silicon Valley power players, researchers from the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab, and fishing families who have been here forever," says lifelong resident and The Birds Café owner Melissa Freeman. "When we have our events, everyone pulls together."
The Festivals. One of the most-beloved fetes is the annual Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival in April honoring the start of salmon season and the community's deep fishing roots. Thousands of revelers enjoy the flag-adorned fleet parade.
Left: Patrick's Salt Water Taffy has been a colorful institution here since 1960.
Photo: Kristen Shelton Fielder
Main Street. Unique wharf and roadside shops abound: Patrick's Salt Water Taffy (of the pink-and-white striped fame) satisfies a sweet tooth in flavors like apricot and cinnamon (hot!). Just outside town, Hamilton Trading Company is an antiques paradise.
Restaurants. At Spud Point Crab Company, the crab and wild king salmon are just caught from the waters surrounding the restaurant. For crisp fish-and-chips, new harborfront eatery The Birds Café serves fried treats and comforting clam chowder.
Beach. Doran Beach, a two-mile stretch, has gentle waves perfect for swimming; picnic tables, campgrounds, and horseback riding in the ocean are also part of the beach culture. Salmon Creek, on the north side of town, draws families and surfers.
Activities. Bodega Head, a rocky peninsula jutting between the ocean and bay, has hiking trails with sublime vistas and picnic spots overlooking the water. Golfers will want to try the Links at Bodega Harbour, perched along the coast.
Just Visiting? For zoom-worthy sights of Doran Beach and its bird sanctuary, check in to Bodega Bay Lodge and put the in-room binoculars to good use. Rates start at $179; bodegabaylodge.com.
Pictured Left: Sonoma Coast State Park boasts long, sandy beaches for relaxing, and hiking trails for exploring.