Moving from Los Angeles to the tiny town of Mendocino (population 855) in the middle of a pandemic turned out to be one of the most unusual decisions I have ever made. The natural beauty and tranquility act like a balm to the world’s troubles (politics! fires!), but, it should come as little surprise, meeting people while masked up and social distancing has proven difficult.
On the other hand, as the world opens up a bit, traveling in both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, two astonishingly stunning landscapes, could not be more convenient. Taking a couple of days to visit Bodega Bay, especially during the week, feels incredibly safe, with few people about and lots of safety precautions in place.
Driving down the coast, an undeniably scenic stretch of road, is a journey best taken slowly, with many stops. With much to enjoy along the way.
My husband and I drove slowly, stopping for a few photo opportunities along the way, at Irish Beach, and the Point Arena lighthouse. Hunger pangs stopped us in Gualala, at the Seafood Shack, tucked away in an unprepossessing mini-mall, just steps from the Pacific. The adorable spot serves up burritos bursting with seafood, like Dungeness crab or plump shrimp. Try it with a side of the unusual and spicy seaweed sauce. I ordered a traditional crab Louie salad, a crunchy pile of veggies piled with fresh crab and topped with Louie dressing. The Shack is one of those secret spots you stumble into on vacation and immediately begin planning your return.
Another unexpected bright spot in Gualala is Surf Market. We moseyed in for Chai and ended up staying to browse. The local artisanal goods section includes items to eat, gift and savor. The Monsieur Philippe cheese from Pazzo Marco Creamery paired with a local wine from Wild Hog Vineyard make for an afternoon to remember. Pick up some of Lisa’s Luscious Preserves’ apricot chutney and a Bonnano Family white peach balsamic vinegar to remember your travels by.
Surf Market also boasts the best book selection I have ever seen in a grocery store. Curated by the local shop, Four-Eyed Frog, the fiction titles included The Dutch House, the latest Tana French, and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.
Salt Point State Park, just fifteen miles south of Gualala, boasts rocky promontories, pygmy forests, and spectacular views. The sandstone, prevalent in the area, was actually used to pave the streets of San Francisco. Salt Point sports over twenty miles of hiking area to explore at your leisure, with photo ops galore. The trees surrounding the park include Douglas Fir, bishop pine, coast redwoods, madrone, Mendocino cypress, and tanoak.
After our drive, and walk, and ready for some pampering, my husband and I found ourselves at The Inn at the Tides, in Bodega Bay. The guest lodges provide loads of privacy, making them quite safe in these changeable times.. Our balcony looked out on a field of cows, some of them nearly close enough to touch. In fact the occasional “moo” could be heard in our room. The Inn’s theme of rustic elegance is apparent in all the small touches, like the complimentary bottle of Chardonnay, the massive shower, and the included breakfast.
Amenities at the Inn at the Tides include a heated pool and a gym. The view from our suite was truly breathtaking. The expansive windows looked out, unobstructed, at the Bay. The pleasure in looking out at the boats, birds and sunset was simply restorative.
The Inn boasts two places to eat, the Tides Wharf and Restaurant and the Bayview Restaurant and Lounge. We ate at the Tides. Our table sat up against a window looking directly at the water, with flocks of birds flying to and fro – you can understand why Hitchcock chose to film “The Birds” right here. We ordered half a dozen oysters on the half shell and margaritas on the rocks, and all felt right in the world. Sometimes, a little time away helps to right the rest of the pieces of your life, offering a little perspective.
On the way out of town the next day, we had the good fortune to stumble on Spud Point Crab Company, tucked away in the Marina. Reminiscent of New England, the little eatery’s menu is small but mighty. Try Carol’s world famous clam chowder, in either white or red, perfect for a foggy afternoon. The crab sandwich possessed a full 1/4 pound of fresh, succulent meat, augmented with a mild sauce and soft roll to further let the crab shine.
Homeward bound, our drive did not afford the luxury of time. Luckily for us, the natural wonder continued to abound as we made our way back north. The books and snacks in hand, from Surf Market, our bellies full of seafood, our shoes full of sand.
For more ideas on places to stay, visit and eat visit SonomaCounty.com