Autumn by the Sea: Shelter Cove Bodega Bay, CA

Genie Davis October 19, 2010 2 Comments


My family and I had a great autumn get away to the coastal towns of Central and Northern California, and traveling inland to the Avenue of the Giants, the mecca of redwood trees

Garberville California is a roughly 4 hour drive north from San Franscisco on the 101 freeway. Shelter Cove is a short drive on a narrow road from Garberville and the 101 and the luxurious, English manor style accommodations available there at the Benbow Inn.  Drive ninety minutes and you’re in a different world, near to beautiful, untouched nature that had our kids actually go silent when they saw the vast beaches of the so-called Lost Coast. 

The small fishing-oriented town is a bit of an oddity; with a great number of developed lot sites sitting empty on picturesquely named paved streets outside of the main part of town. 

We stayed at the friendly Shelter Cove Tides Inn. As advertised, every room had an incredible ocean view, and we were able to watch sea otters, look for whales, and admire star fish and hermit crabs in the tide pools just steps away. We also saw harbor seals and sea lions near the hotel. Sunsets were splendid, and we saw osprey and eagles. The black sand beach a short drive or a longer but easy walk away is a spectacular sea scape. This was where the kids just stood and stared. Looking away from town, you see nothing but the ocean, the sand in drifts and dunes, and the sea, for over twenty five miles. The fact that long ago Route 1 looped inland and avoided this stretch of the coast as too difficult to build on had left a legacy of beautiful isolation. Behind the beach, the mountains are close enough that you have an illusion that they reach right down into the shore. Kings Peak towers over the others, just three miles from the shoreline. 

In town, you can see the original Cape Mendocino lighthouse the foundation of which was viewable on Mattole Road south of Ferndale. There are several small cafes, the best is the Mendocino Tea House with home made soups, and yes, small tea sandwiches perfect for little fingers but filling enough for adults. The Tea House is warm, relaxed,and welcoming; a nice place to linger over lunch on a crisp fall morning. 

Nearby, our kids enjoyed watching the fishermen get ready to set sail from the boat harbor – Shelter Cove is a prime fishing spot for both commercial enterprises and tourists. 

When we left Shelter Cove we picked up Highway 101 and went south for awhile before rejoining coastal Highway 1 near Bodega Bay. About fifteen miles north of Bodega is Fort Ross State Historic Park. There are more great tide pools here and best of all, the recreation of a Russian fort. Large grassy lawns, cannons, look out towers, bunkers, wild flowers, and a small historic museum to learn about the life of Russian trappers, traders, and soldiers who’d settled here in the early eighteen hundreds. Built by a hunting and trading company under the guidance of the Russian tsarist government, the former residents included many crafts people and Alaskan natives transported to California to hunt sea otters. It’s an interesting story and the Russian architecture is unique and fascinating. You can park by the Fort, explore it, and make an easy walk down the paved road to the tide pools. We found purple sea stars here and many, many sea anemones. 

Bodega Bay by the Russian River Northern CA

We enjoyed the beach north of Bodega Bay where the Russian River meets the sea.


If you head inland from here toward Guerneville and the Russian River, you’ll find a community filled with shops and restaurants – and a wonderful activity – renting a large inner tube, kayak, or paddle boat to float in along the river. Choose your river going vehicle depending on the weather – inner tubes are great in the summer, but not an autumnal choice. You can spend a delightful sun dappled afternoon along this gentle stretch of the river. We rented from Johnson’s Beach Resort, a folksy river front sand spit in downtown Guerneville in walking distance of cafes, restaurants and shops. Trees along the banks were sporting leaves turning gold, but the sun was pleasant and warm. Life jackets are provided, the paddle boats feel and are stable, safe, and great fun for all ages. 

Heading down to Bodega Bay you’ll find Bodega Head, the rocky point that marks the entrance to the boat harbor and a well known crabbing area. From the bluffs, great ocean views; along the coast, small sandy coves that are easy to reach. We liked the Salmon Creek area for taking a family walk and collecting shells and stones. 

Salmon Creek and Bodega Bay CA Beaches

Great to run on - one of the beautiful beaches near Salmon Creek and Bodega Bay, CA


We stayed at the quiet Bodega Bay Inn, large rooms with a sitting area and a small patio made this a pleasant stop. Bodega Bay and inland a few miles in the town of Bodega you’ll find several sites used by Alfred Hitchcock in the filming of the classic, The Birds. Not a story you’d want to share with your youngest children, but for those eight and up, yes the movie is available all around town to rent, buy, or gratis at your accommodation for the night, and it’s a lot of fun to see the actual shooting locations, including the old church and the Potter school house in town. There’s also an interesting old general store with souvenirs, ice cream, and an adjoining surf shop. Bodega also houses two not-to-be-missed kite stores – and the windy conditions around town make this the ideal place to try out a purchase. Both Candy & Kites and Second Wind have excellent selections and friendly staff. In the spring, there’s a kite and sand castle building festival at Doran Regional Park. Any time of year, the park is a great place to take a test flight. 

Another must-do in the Bodega area is the children’s bell tower, an eighteen foot fragile looking construction of steel pyramids hung with one hundred and forty bells, school, ship, cow, church bells and in the center a thirty inch creation made by the Marinelli Foundry in Italy. Built by a San Francisco sculptor, the bell tower is dedicated to the child who was an organ donor and his seven organ recipients. This is a touching spot, and the sound of the bells chiming in the wind is lovely. 

After sharing some quiet time in this moving place, we returned to the water front where we dined on amazingly fresh crab and clam chowder at the Spud Point Crab Company. This is casual take out style dining; we took our order to go and ate at public picnic tables over looking the boat harbor before heading on down the coast toward San Francisco.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: Travel Excursions
2 Comments to “Autumn by the Sea: Shelter Cove Bodega Bay, CA”
  1. avatar Point Reyes and Tomales Bay California Parks and Beaches says:

    [...] we left Bodega Bay, stuffed with fresh crab and carrying kites with our luggage, we weren’t quite ready to [...]

  2. avatar Ferndale and Mattole Road - Verdant Northern California Road Trip says:

    [...] Along the way you’ll climb over two thousand feet in elevation to take in absolutely deserted, wind whipped coastal views, green pastureland, and what remains of the ruins of the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. A gravel path can take you toward the foundation. There’s a road pull out with a plaque that describes the lighthouse’s history; when it fell apart it was transported to the town of Shelter Cove near by in miles but a half day’s drive away, most easily accessed from the 101 at Garberville. [...]