Ready to set out on the perfect Northern California road trip? Mark your maps for a cruise from Sonoma to Bodega Bay. Follow our detailed guide to ensure that the experience is one never to be forgotten.
Sonoma’s Wine Country
Start in Santa Rosa, Sonoma county’s most vibrant city. You’ll want to head out early, ideally just as the sun is rising. There’s no better time to see the beauty of Sonoma, with its mist-shrouded farmlands and vineyards lit aglow by the warm morning sun. Depart from Santa Rosa on the US 101 N, then exit onto River Road. The scenic one-lane highway will take you through some of the most enchanting parts of wine country. You’ll come upon the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, where we recommend stopping for Sonoma’s best gourmet breakfast. Treat yourself to its custom-blend coffee, famous Farmhouse scones, and scrumptious eggs benedict. Breakfast is served by reservation only, so be sure to call ahead.
The Forests of Sonoma
When you continue your trip west on River Road, getting closer to Guerneville, you’ll become surrounded by tall redwoods and clean mountain air. The road begins to wind and wend, and the light sifting through the trees makes the drive feel all the more magical.
Once you’ve reached Guerneville, you may notice that the downtown area is bustling. In the spring and summer, an abundance of visitors makes the town feel livelier than ever. With music festivals, car shows, art walks, and other events flooding the high-season calendar, there’s plenty of opportunities for mingling and entertainment. This can be great for social butterflies, but may be off-putting to those who are looking for solitude on their road trip. Come October, the main tourist crowds thin out, and the town takes on a calmer ambiance.
Guerneville is home to many excellent eateries, including Boon Eat + Drink, Big Bottom Market, the Applewood Inn Restaurant, and the Garden Grill burger house. Those who are on a budget or unsure of the selection may be tempted to stick to the familiar fast food chains in town, such as Subway. Don’t do it! There are plenty of affordable options, and they all make use of delicious ingredients brought in fresh from local farms.
Visit the forest by turning right (north) on Armstrong Woods Road. In just minutes, you’ll be in the depths of the Armstrong Redwoods. You can either walk the trails from the park head, or drive through. Go in deep enough, and you’ll be able to go up the mountain, where inspiring views await.
The Sonoma Coast
To move out toward the coast, keep going west on River Road, following it as it turns into CA 116. You’ll drive through rolling farmland hills that occasionally offer peeks of the Russian River. Stay cautious while driving this curvy road – sharp turns can come up unexpectedly, as well as bicyclists and even wandering cattle from the nearby ranches!
A fork in the road will come up: stay to the left to go on toward Bodega Bay. You’ll now be on the famous Highway 1, known as one of the world’s most scenic routes. The first beach entrance will be Goat Rock. If it’s the weekend in the high season, we recommend skipping it. The steep road to the beach can be difficult to maneuver, especially when crowds of tourists are present. Instead, stop in at the next entrance: Shell Beach. This gorgeous location offers a great lookout point, as well as plenty of space on the beach to picnic in the sand. Large rocks make excellent raised seats to rest on while watching the surf, and you may be lucky enough to spot a few seals and otters close to shore. If you do a bit of climbing, you can make your way over to some of the beach’s more secluded spots and rock formations.
Another breathtaking beach to stop at is Wright’s Beach. Far more expansive than Shell or Goat Rock, it provides plenty of space for sunbathing, and is dog friendly. Duncan’s Point is also a must-see spot with breathtaking vistas. When you come upon it, you’ll be less than 10 minutes away from Bodega Bay.
Feeling tired? You’ll have plenty of options for lodging if you choose to stay the night. For true pampering, try the Sonoma Coast Villa & Spa, or the Inn at the Tides. If you’re in need of more affordable accommodations, cozy rooms can be booked at the Bodega Harbor Inn or the Bodega Bay Inn.
When it’s time to wake up and head home, stop by Roadhouse Coffee or Momo’s Galley to get a satisfying breakfast. Be sure to get up early! You won’t want to miss a view of the seaside sunrise before beginning your drive. To get back to Santa Rosa, drive inland on Highway 1 then turn left on Bodega Highway. You’ll eventually get onto CA 12, which you’ll follow until reaching Santa Rosa. This scenic drive will take you through Bodega and Sebastopol, home to some of the wine country’s most picturesque sights.
Once you’ve returned home, we guarantee you’ll be feeling brightened and renewed. So much so, that you may even end up planning this special road trip again soon!