Bodega Bay, located about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, is one of the best-kept secrets of Northern California. At Bodega Bay, massive cliffs perfect for whale watching overlook rocky shores. Trails wrap all around the rolling green hills and even lead down to secluded beaches where you’ll be the only human being walking on the sand. Simply put, this place is full of unique beauty at every turn.
Here’s a list of things to do at Bodega Bay, California:
Stop by the Visitor Center
As you pull into Bodega Bay, you’ll see the visitor’s center signs on the main road. Take a second to stop by one and ask them any questions you might have. They are super nice and have a lot of helpful information for you. Be sure to grab a map while you are in there as well. The area is pretty easy to navigate, but it’s always nice to have a map on hand to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and to find out where the good spots are to do things like whale watch.
Explore the beach areas
There are a few beach areas to go down and explore. The waves are usually crashing on massive rocks pretty close to the shore so you’ll be able to catch the sights and sounds of roaring waves as soon as you step foot on the beach. Just be a little careful when the tide is high. Don’t get too close and don’t lose your focus when walking along the beach area. Rogue waves are a real danger out here, especially if there is a swell.
One of my favorite things to do out there is to just climb around on all of the giant rocks. The rocks are usually a reasonable distance away from the breaking shore so you don’t always have to worry about rogue waves. I usually see families with their little ones exploring the rocks out there, so you should feel okay about bringing your kids out there.
Scramble down to the secluded beach
This is only recommended for those confident in their scrambling abilities. If you look closely at the beach pictured below, you will notice a trail leading from the cliffside that just seams to vanish into a wall of sandstone. You might see some people on the beach down there as well, though I’ve gone several times and seen it empty.
If you are feeling a little adventurous then you can hike down to the sand. At first, you’ll head down a narrow trail but soon it will become a steep, rocky cliff-side that you will have to scuttle/down climb on (don’t forget you’ll need to make it up as well). If you don’t think you’re confident in making it down there or back up then don’t put yourself in a situation by trying it. As you can tell from the photos below, the scramble at the bottom of the trail is quite steep, especially looking back up.
Once you make it down to the beach you will likely have the whole area to yourself. There’s more rocky areas to climb around at over there and you will quickly feel overwhelmed with solitude as you approach the areas out of the sights from those above.
Whale Watching at Bodega Bay
Whale watching season is at its height from January to May but you can also see whales year round. Most commonly seen are Gray Whales as they tend to find their routes closer to the shore. A great place to whale watch is the ocean overlook at Bodega Head. Make sure to bring your binoculars if you plan to whale watch. Also, from January to May on every Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting) from noon to 4pm, you can catch a group of volunteers at Bodega Head to assist you with your whale watching.
And when you’re not on the lookout for whales then just relax on the cliffs and enjoy the sounds of the crashing waves below you. It really is therapeutic and a great way to forget about the stressors of everyday life.
Be careful about getting too close to the edges of the cliffs because the sandstone cliffs are fragile and there is no guarantee that they will hold your body weight.
Walk along the trails south of Bodega Head and in the distance you’ll likely hear the bark of seals from Seal Rock. If you have binoculars you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of what will look like hundreds of seals sprawled out over a small rocky island. If you want photos, you’ll definitely need a telephoto lens.
I encourage everyone going to Bodega Bay to do their best to catch a negative or low tide, because there are ample opportunities to tide pool in the area. Also, if you go just a little bit north to beach, there are tons of other areas that offer exceptional tidepooling when the tide is low. Out here you will see some huge seastars of all colors (orange, purple, maroon, etc.) and also a ton of other brilliantly colored creatures. See my article on tips for tidepooling to make sure you are prepared when you decide to go.
Do be prepared for potentially windy conditions. Like most beaches in Northern California, the wind can be pretty harsh, though the last time I was there I don’t think there was any wind at all. Just be prepared. It’s not uncommon to see locals suited up in ski jackets and gloves as they hike along the coast only to be followed by tourists with shorts and flip-flops shivering in the wind.
Restaurants near Bodega Bay
There are a number of great restaurants in the area, too. If you are in search of a romantic experience then I recommend the Bay View Restaurant and Lodge. They serve Italian food and seafood and it’s delicious. You’ll also have a great view of the ocean as you dine. All along the main road at Bodega Bay you will find a number of other restaurants, and I encourage you to be adventurous with your taste buds because the seafood in that area is great.
The town of Bodega
While the beach is in Bodega Bay, the nearby town of Bodega (only about 10 minutes away) is also worth stopping by. You’ll find little shops and restaurants in this antique town full of rich cinematic history. Try some of the clam chowder while you are in town and you will not be disappointed! Also, if one of the buildings — a schoolhouse — looks a little familiar to you that’s because its the schoolhouse used in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie, The Birds. When I visited the town, thick fog rolled in and gave the town a very ominous feel that added to the experience — it was really cool and I highly recommend it.
Hotels near Bodega Bay
There are a lot of options for hotels around Bodega Bay. If you want to say somewhere nice then my recommendation is the Inn at the Tides. It’s connected to the Bay View Restaurant and so delicious meals will be a convenient walk for you. They also have a host of other amenities that you’d want at a quality hotel (pool, hot tub, etc.). If that doesn’t suit your budget then be sure to look into all of the other hotels at Bodega Bay, including Bed and Breakfasts.
That’s all I have right now. If you have your own recommendations for things to do at Bodega Bay be sure to leave your comments below!