Hugging the Coast, Sonoma Style

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By Robert P. Farmer

No matter which wine country you're referring to, describing it as 'beautiful' is usually accurate. But in California, there is a region that has an edge on all others. The Sonoma Coast, hugging the left side of the continent, has features that no other wine region in the world can duplicate. With rugged beauty and bucolic charm, rolling hills and sweeping water vistas, the Sonoma Coast is unique and impossibly gorgeous. It's a special part of the world. The fact that world-class wines are also produced here gives it an almost unfair advantage. Quaint small towns, tucked-away state parks, and excellent spots to find good wine and great food characterize the Sonoma coast. From Bodega Bay to Mendocino, Jenner to Fort Bragg, there is no shortage of postcard-perfect spots to stop and settle in for a while. With abundant recreational opportunities, historic points of interest and of course world-class wineries, the Sonoma coast surely beckons you to live life on the edge.
Bodega Bay
Whether for whale watching or "birds"-seeking, Bodega Bay can point to several good reasons for its popularity. The thriving coastal town was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "The Birds" and the town still plays to those interested in making the connection. The Potter Schoolhouse, which played a key part in Tippy Hedron's feathered nightmare, still looks much as it did in the 1963 film. But the gulls are much tamer than depicted and generally keep their beaks to themselves. Whales, meanwhile, can usually be spotted through winter from shoreline vantage points on the peninsula of Bodega Head. The natural beauty and wildlife denizens of Bodega Bay are just part of the attraction. Great seafood restaurants, charming inns, hiking and kayaking and even golf, complete the picture of the perfect seaside town.

Salt Point State Park
A favorite among cove-explorers and abalone divers, Salt Point is home to Gentle Cove Marine Preserve, where starfish, anemone, and other sea creatures enjoy protected life interrupted only by human observers in wetsuits. Landside attractions of the park include hiking and horseback trails, and a massive rhododendron reserve, which blossom in brilliant shades of purple and pink and draws visitors from the world around.  

Fort Ross.jpgFort Ross State Historic Park
The former Russian trading post known today as Fort Ross State Historic Park is perched on a windswept headland near Jenner, recalling an era when California was in its formative stages. Among the highlights of the park is the house, built in 1836, which housed the manager of the Russian-American trading company that looks today much as it did when it was occupied. Other relics and artifacts from the era are also intact, including the iconic chapel, built in 1824 using local redwood.

The wineries along the Sonoma Coast are quite a bit different than their inland counterparts. Typically small in terms of size and production, the coast wineries are nevertheless beneficiaries of their excellent terrior. The wines reflect the cool ocean climate, with foggy mornings and afternoon sunshine - ideal for chardonnay and pinot noir. Many wineries are open for tastings without fees, though mostly by appointment only and a few are closed to the public.

Flowers Vineyard & Winery

Producing from the coolest regions of the Sonoma Coast AVA, Flowers is a precious seaside winery with small-lot, handcrafted wines. The family-run winery just north of Jenner grows grapes in three estate vineyards ranging in elevation from 1100 to about 1900 feet above the sea - which is within a mile or so away. Pinot noir and chardonnay are the hallmarks of this excellent producer.
Open by appointment only
 (707) 847-3661; 28500 Seaview Rd., Cazadero;

Annapolis Winery

This small, family-owned and operated winery on the coast is typical of most wineries in the AVA, but also features a setting and grounds that you might expect from a Sonoma Valley establishment. The beautiful, wooded grounds are situated at about 1000 feet elevation and just a few miles from the ocean. The setting is popular for weddings, picnics, and special occasions. The winery is popular for its superb handcrafted pinot noirs and zinfandels.
Open daily 12-5pm
(707) 886-5460; 26055 Soda Springs Rd., Annapolis;

timbercove.jpgWhere to Stay
Timber Cove Inn
Location and large, comfortable rooms with either an inland-facing or sweeping ocean view (opt for the latter), make this perched-on-the-cliffs inn one of the top accommodations on the Sonoma Coast. The onsite restaurant and lounge and outdoor fire pit will make it difficult to the leave the premises.
(707) 847-3231; 21780 North Coast Highway 1, Jenner

Inn at The Tides
Most of the 86 rooms offer commanding vistas of the Pacific Ocean - ever see a whale breach from the comfort of your hotel room? Among the most well known of places to stay on the Sonoma Coast, the reputation is not without merit. Spacious accommodations, luxurious full-featured amenities, and proximity to everything for which Bodega is beloved make Inn a the Tides tough to beat.
 (707) 875-2751; 800 Coast Highway One Bodega Bay

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I believe that "The Birds" was filmed in the nearby town of Bodega and not Bodega Bay.

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