Sonoma Coast State Park is a scenic, coastal park extending 27 km in Sonoma County, Northern California. It’s located about 75 km north of San Francisco. The Park is made up of several disconnected sections of hike-able coastline prairie and beaches, all accessible via the famous California Route 1 along the Pacific Ocean coast. Not only is it a spectacular location for hiking, picnicking, surfing, diving, and other outdoor activities, it also offers the opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife. Here you can spot bald eagles year-round, catch whales migrating from October to May, witness harbour seals giving birth and feeding their pups every Spring and Summer, and find migrating hawks that can only be observed in this part of the world from late August to early December.
Different parts of the park are ideal for different activities. Some of our favourites (organised from North to South) are set out below:
- Goat Rock – for watching seals (please stay at least 50 ft / 15 m back), whales, and several large colonies of seabirds. Also great for paddleboarding and kayaking at the mouth of the Russian River when conditions allow.
- Shell Beach – for tide pooling and beachcombing.
- Duncan’s Landing – for wildflower blooms in Spring, make sure to watch out for dangerous and unpredictable surf.
- Portuguese and Schoolhouse Beach – for rock and surf fishing.
- Salmon Creek Beach – for beach hangouts, surfing, and its protected habitat that supports the western snowy plover.
- Bodega Head – for crabbing and whale watching. It’s considered one of the best locations on the coast to watch seasonally migrating grey whales.
- Kortum Trail – hiking, bird watching, climbing/bouldering, and running your hands on the smooth face of ‘Mammoth Rocks’ (or ‘Sunset Boulders’). These are rock faces that have been polished by mammoths rubbing their backs after mud baths!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: the Park can be visited year-round, however in Summer it can be very foggy. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular from any of the various lookouts throughout the Park – it’s also the best time to see wildlife.
How to get there: to get to the Park you need your own vehicle. The entire Park is accessible from Highway 1, starting on the northern end from the town of Jenner (and ending on the southern end at the town of Bodega Bay). If you’re coming from inland, you can access it via Highway 116 by turning left (South) when it meets Highway 1. For detailed information about accessibility, trails, parking lots, and campgrounds see here.
Typical activities: bird watching, bouldering, camping, hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, tide pooling, and whale watching. Swimming is not advised due to the extremely dangerous rip currents and unpredictable surf.
Number of reports: 1
Last update: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Sonoma Coast
According to reports submitted to WildSide the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Bald eagle – 0% OF Wildside users (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Bald eagles have had a difficult time since the end of the second world war and the growth in the use of DDT to control insect populations. In 1972 DDT was banned for most uses in the United States. By that time there were fewer than 30 pairs in California. Nowadays, thanks to captive breeding and the ban on DDT, their numbers are recovering.
In 2001 a pair of eagles made a nest at Lake Sonoma and have been raising chicks every year since. They have been spreading throughout the area and can be seen at Laguna de Santa Rosa, near the Occidental Road Bridge, and at Jenner, the mouth of the Russian River. There’s a great guide to the bald eagles of Sonoma here, which suggests that the best time to see them is between sunrise and mid-morning at the overlooks by Highway 1. They are mostly seen foraging near lakes, rivers, and at the coast, favouring areas with tall trees for nest-building and as perches for hunting from. For further information about the Jenner bald eagles, there is even a handy Facebook page!
harbour seal – 100% OF Wildside users (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Sonoma Coast is an important breeding ground for the harbour or common seal. Goat Rock State Beach is home to the largest concentration of harbour seals along the Coast. The Russian River estuary is a good spot to observe these shy mammals. This guide recommends stopping at the Highway 1 overlook in Jenner (which is also recommended for bald eagle spotting), then walking along the beach or kayaking in the estuary. When the tide is out, seals are visible resting on the shoreline or on exposed offshore rocks. At sea, they can be glimpsed snatching a breath before diving to hunt for fish.
Photo credit: WildSide team member Sara Camnasio