Where can you go on a day trip from the SF Bay area that’s less than two hours from the city, has breathtaking ocean views, amazing local food, an easy hike, and wildlife viewing? Bodega Bay, of course! We usually visit Bodega Bay when we stay at our vacation home Lucky Bend Lookout because it’s nearby, but recently we took a day trip and we were surprised to find that we could do all the things we wanted and still get back home to San Francisco by a reasonable hour. We had such a great time on our day trip from San Francisco that we decided to share this itinerary with you so you can be inspired to get outdoors and have fun too!
The drive from the bay area to Bodega Bay is guaranteed to be beautiful. You can take the coastal route via the Marin County coastline with an ocean view, or you can take a more inland route through rolling hills and farmland.
10:00 am Bodega Head Trail
This fabulous hike around Bodega Head is one of the best Bodega Bay hikes you can find. It is only 1.7 miles, easy and flat, and is perfect for most kids. I remember the first time we took our kids here, they were besides themselves with joy as they found dozens of Roly Polies on the trail. Fun fact, Roly Polies are actually crustaceans! Yeah, that’s right, they have more in common with the crab sandwich you’re going to be noshing for lunch than they their other nickname, pill bugs, might lead you to believe.
The sea cliffs here are no joke so be sure to hold your little’s hand when the trail nears the edges. They will definitely enjoy watching the big waves crashing below (from the safety of your arms).
Bring binoculars! There is a large seal and sea lion colony on Bodega Rock that you can see from about the halfway point on the hike. Sea life abounds from sea otters to whales. Bodega head is also a prime location for sea birds and birds of prey. Northern Harriers are easily identified by the bright white stripe at the base of their tail and low flying acrobatic hunting behavior. This hike also has tons of native wildflowers in early spring.
Bring a jacket! It is always breezy and frequently downright windy but the weather definitely adds to the wild character of this spot. For a slightly longer excursion, add a quick out and back to the Bodega Marine Laboratory overlook by heading north out of the parking lot over the headlands.
12:00 pm Whale Watching with Stewards of Coast and Redwoods
After your hike you can chat with some friendly docents from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods about the local wildlife during whale watching season. The Stewards have trained staff just off the parking lot area from their whale watching program every weekend from 12pm-4pm from January through May.
1:00 pm Clam Chowder and Crab Sandos for Lunch
A hotly contested debate rages between two neighbors for who has better clam chowder and who has better crab sandwiches. For sure you are going to have an an amazing lunch but my votes go to Spud Point Crab Company for the best clam chowder. It has a very robust herby flavor profile that balances with rich thick chowder base and is loaded with plenty of delicious clams. My son Dean agrees and his Grandma does too. She will no longer eat anyone else’s chowder and sometimes drives an hour and half on a whim just for this chowder. Don’t forget to order a loaf of sourdough to dip. The seating is exclusively on outdoor picnic tables so bring your jacket. On nice days the tables can be packed so here is your pro-tip: there are secret picnic tables across the road at the marina that are usually unoccupied.
But if a crab sandwich is more your style, my recommendation is to head next door to Fisherman’s Cove. A big ol’ pile of fresh off the boat crab dressed in melted butter on a nice torpedo roll. Oh so nice!
2:00 pm Afternoon Activity Sea Creatures or Wine Tasting
There are two really good options for the afternoon activity. Both are good for kids and grownups. The deciding factor here is going to be whether it is a Friday or not.
UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory Tours
UC Davis setup the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute (CMSI) to Transform Scientific Understanding of Coastal and Marine Systems; Educate and Inspire Future Leaders; and Engage Stakeholders, Colleagues, and Policymakers. Sounds lofty doesn’t it! The best part is they have cool docent-led public drop-in tours on Fridays from 2-4pm where you can “experience a 24-foot-long display, containing many colorful local fishes and invertebrates, and a small kelp forest. Past that is a harbor aquarium, holding residents of our local estuary, Bodega Harbor. Next to that is a round aquarium that displays anemones and other organisms in our nearshore subtidal habitat. Elsewhere around the facility are smaller display aquaria featuring local and, occasionally, unique marine creatures. A tidepool mesocosm display allows visitors to experience the biodiversity and dynamic energy of the northern California coast.”
Sonoma Coast Vineyards
For all the other days of the week this kid-friendly winery is a great spot to relax. Outdoor wine tasting seating at Sonoma Coast Vineyards is a welcome alternative for parents rambunctious kids who just love to touch every tchotchke in the gift shop. Besides, you’re going to want to be outside enjoying the view of Bodega Bay. Plus there are no reservations required.
At this point in the day, the littler kids are probably ready to head home. If you don’t already have dinner plans consider stopping by Fisheterian Fish Market (599 HWY-1, Bodega Bay) to pick up some fresh dungeness crabs for festive dinner to cap a seaworthy day. But for those who are unencumbered by littles or who have more mature teens, Bodega Bay still has some more epicurean delights to reveal.
4:00 pm Happy Hour at Gourmet au Bay
Gourmet au Bay is the premier wine bar in Bodega Bay featuring local wines from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River AVAs, while still maintaining that chill beach town vibe. Happy hour is 4-6 pm on Monday to Friday but watch out they are closed on Tuesday. If you missed the UC Davis Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory tour, assuage your inner-nerd with the popular science lecture series hosted by Gourmet Au Bay featuring scientists from the lab. Dates and topics vary so check their website for details.
6:00 pm Dinner at Terrapin Creek Cafe
West Sonoma County is truly the heart of northern California gourmet cuisine. Organic produce and dairy, artisanal meats, craft cheese, and world class bread all originates here and supplies the thriving Bay Area and Wine Country restaurant scene. Terrapin Creek sources all this amazing local food and crafts “both local and global cuisines using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients,” but in a super approachable and casual setting. The menu is succinct and seasonal and capitalizes on the Chef Liya Lin’s relationships with local producers.