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Bodega Bay: Feathers and Fins

The seagulls here may command a little more respect than those in other places thanks in no small part to Alfred Hitchcock. Beyond the Hollywood memories is a town with its history rooted in the sea.

Bodega Bay seen from Dillon Beach, image
Photo caption
Standing on Dillon Beach, you can see the wide sweep of Bodega Bay.


The seagulls of Bodega Bay may command a little more respect than those in other places thanks in no small part to Alfred Hitchcock. The famous director of suspense films chose this small Sonoma coast hamlet for the setting of his 1962 thriller The Birds, in which seemingly everything with feathers decides to pay mankind back for years of mistreatment. Not surprisingly, it is usually what draws people here.

One of the more famous locales seen in the film is the Potter School House, now a private residence in the neighboring community of Bodega, where Tippi Hedren and a group of schoolchildren are attacked by crows. The bar of the Tides Wharf & Restaurant (835 Hwy. 1) served as a model for another film setting. The original restaurant burned down, but has since been rebuilt.

Beyond the Hollywood memories is a town with its history rooted in the sea. Early Miwok and Pomo Indians fished and hunted seal in these waters. In 1775, Francisco Bodega y Cuadra, a Spanish mariner, became the first European to anchor in the harbor. Whether the bay was named for him or the bodegas (warehouses) which later lined the bay is still disputed. Regardless, it wasn't the Spanish who set up shop along the coast, but rather Russian fishermen and traders, who made use of the bay as a port in the early 1800s. Captain Stephen Smith, a New England sea captain, acquired the port in the mid-19th century, as part of his ranch. He helped develop it into a commercial and fishing port which it continues to serve as today.

Sonoma Coast State Beach, a series of beaches extending 16 miles from Bodega Bay north to the mouth of the Russian River, occupies much of the present coastline. Spring brings Indian paintbrush, lupine, western iris, and other wildflowers. The sea breezes create great kite-flying conditions and make for "sweater weather."

Bodega Head, the headland that forms the harbor entrance, marks the southernmost part of the system. Trails lead to the high cliffs on the ocean side and views of the town on the harbor side. To the south is Bodega Rock, a hangout for sea lions enjoying the breakers.

Salmon Creek Beach, two miles of unbroken sand, lies just to the north. Park headquarters and the Bodega Dunes campground are located here. A grove of eucalyptus trees, on private property adjacent to the dunes, serves as a winter haven for what is thought to be the second-largest colony of monarch butterflies in the U.S.

The Bodega Marine Laboratory is between Bodega Head and Salmon Creek. Administered by the University of California, Davis, the lab conducts research on marine and coastal habitats. Public tours, which last an hour and a half, are given Fridays, 2-4 p.m. Reservations for groups are required; phone (707) 875-2211.

If you're looking to stay active, but give your feet a break, try a horseback ride on the beach, or elsewhere, with Chanslor Horse Stables; (707) 875-2721. Bicyclists can use a path on Westshore Road leading to Bodega Head or Doran Beach Road south of town. Take a leisurely drive over Bay Hill Road, past the cows and sheep grazing on the rolling hills of west Sonoma County. Local artwork may be found at the Ren Brown Gallery and Frankie Water's Fine Art Gallery. Or squeeze in 18 holes at Bodega Harbour Golf Links, 21301 Heron Drive; (707) 875-3538.

Water related activities include fishing for salmon, rock cod, and halibut. Boat charters are run by the Bodega Bay Sport Fishing Center, (707) 875-3344, and the Boathouse, (707) 875-3495. Diving for abalone, clam digging, crabbing, or tidepool exploring are other options. Check locally for the best locations.

Doran County Regional Park occupies the peninsula enclosing the southern part of Bodega Harbor. It provides access for kayakers on both the bay and ocean sides. North Coast Kayak Company offers tours of the area; (800) GO-KAYAK. Just north of the park is the Bird Access Walk, a small loop trail favorable for viewing shorebirds as well as deer and rabbit.

Photography courtesy of Emily Bryden/Wikimedia Commons


This article was first published in May 1996. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.