Wine, Surf, & Sun: A Weekend in Sonoma County, California

Taking to Bodega Bay’s beach just before sunset, we had to pinch ourselves that we were really strolling through the golden sand in winter. Between us both, Shawn and I had endured our fair share of brutal Midwestern, Canadian, even Continental-European winters, but this weather, we were told, was even exceptional by California standards. During the early-evening hours, the sunbeams beat down on our jacket-less forms, as we watched the Pacific’s waves reaching farther into the sand.

The happiest of dogs pulled their owners down the beach. Sandpipers ran in and out of the water with the tide, looking for morsels of goodies – dining, dashing, then repeating the cycle as the sky turned more intense tangerine hues. The salty-sea air gently kissed our cheeks.

We explored barnacle-adorned rocks, looking for a starfish or two. Instead, we found a coy crab. ‘Poor fellow,’ I thought as I remembered all the roadside restaurant and market signs hinting that they were appearing on seasonal menus.

A nearly-full moon shone in the brilliant blue sky, contrasting with the rugged, fiery-orange coastline.

This evening stroll along the Pacific would be one of the highlights of our weekend in stunning Bodega Bay, spent with Shawn’s parents, in their friends’ beautiful home. So too were those moments spent reading in their living room while overlooking the Pacific, and the moments devoted to admiring the February flowers: Rosemary, Rose Succulents, even perky Primrose of pink, buttercup-yellow, ivory and lavender hues. One morning, I surrounded myself with these flowers and did yoga among them.

Another afternoon, we drove over to Sonoma wine country, stopping at tried and true wineries and boutiques. Shawn and I were treated to a bottle of one of our favorite Viogniers, thanks to Shawn’s parents,  bringing to mind our shared Napa and Sonoma wine-tasting adventures of 2012. One winery’s framed print made note of Zinfandel’s ancestral homeland, Croatia, where we’d spent the last two winters getting to know what’s known there as the Crljenak varietal.

Driving through Dry Creek Road at sunset, we admired the more abstract forms of the vines, made more beautiful by vibrant-yellow rapeseed sprouting up between them. Before nightfall, we arrived at Sbragia Winery, greeted by the family’s tiny dog (who lounges in a dog bed made out of a wine barrel!). That evening, under strings of white, twinkly lights, we were treated to a crab feast. The staff was kind enough to give me a gluten-free, selectarian version – a lovely cheese plate dressed with toasted almonds and sun-dried tomatoes.

The next day, we’d explore the trail of filming scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic movie, The Birds, which was shot in the nearby village of Bodega. Shawn acted as though he was one of the schoolchildren running away from the flock of frightening birds, with the film’s schoolhouse in the background. Across the street at the country store, a likeness of Alfred Hitchcock would lure us into the establishment. The Birds memorabilia inside, including autographed photographs from the movie’s actors, was fun, but it was the homemade, gluten-free food that would truly reel us in. We ordered a bowl of piping-hot New England Clam Chowder, and took it out to the store’s front porch where we savored it in the sunshine. A resident black Labrador Retriever gently begged, but we didn’t know if he had food allergies, or perhaps if he was on a diet, so we refrained from spoiling him. He quietly sauntered off, hoping that he’d have better luck with another couple that was feasting on a nearby bench.

The smell of lightly-sautéed Crab Cakes wafting from inside the country store tempted us too. I hope they’re in season when we next return to the Sonoma Coast and California wine country. Just don’t tell the little fellow on the Bodega Bay Beach that though.

California roadtrip

Succulent Roses California
Succulents, resembling blushing roses, look splendid in the early-evening light.
Bodega Bay Pacific
The Pacific, as seen on a hazy morning, from the living room windows of our friends’ home.
Pink flowers California
Pretty in pink… and in February!
Bodega Bay California

Bodega Bay views of Pacific

Bodega Bay flowers
A beautiful bird’s eye view, and a branch of rosemary.
snowman and flower
Feeling far from a snowy winter with brilliant blue skies and flowers galore. The little snowman was hanging out on my father-in-law’s car antenna, and I thought it seemed out of its element in sun-drenched California! :)
Bodega Bay Beach Sunset
Bodega Bay, in the early-evening hours.
Bodega Bay California Pacific Ocean

Dogs on Bodega Bay beach
Happy dogs take to the beach.
Stones Bodega Bay Beach

Bodega Bay Beach California

Shawn barnacles Bodega Bay
Shawn checks out the barnacles on this rock.
Bodega Bay Beach moon

Bodega Bay Beach Pacific Ocean

Sandpiper silhouettes sunset Bodega Bay California
A quintet of sandpipers dives in and out of the water for a sunset dinner.
Bodega Bay Beach Sunset California

Sonoma Wine Dry Creek California
Vibrant Rapeseed flowers mingle with grapevines along Dry Creek Road in Sonoma wine country.
Sonoma Wine Country California
Shawn and me taking in the scenery along Dry Creek Road.
Dog Wine Barrel Bed Sonoma California
The pup at the Sbragia Family Winery snuggles up in his wine-barrel bed.
Sonoma Vineyards CA
Shawn’s mother and father.
Crljenak Croatia Bluenose Zinfandel Sonoma
Having spent two winters in Croatia’s wine country, which is well-known for being the Zinfandel grape’s genetic home, we were excited to see this poster showing the Croatian Crljenak varietal, and eager to share the picture with our Croatian friends who are winemakers and wine entrepreneurs. Shawn’s holding a bottle of Blue Nose Zinfandel, a nod to his mother who hails from the same part of Canada as the vintner who produced this wine.
Palm Trees white picket fence California
Lush palm trees, a white picket fence, and an inviting wrap-around porch.
Sonoma Vineyards California February

Sonoma Vineyards Califonia

Crab Feast Sbragia Sonoma
Attendees mingle under twinkly lights at the Sbragia Winery’s Chardonnay & Crab Feast. These tables were packed earlier in the evening as diners huddled together to stay warm in the crisp, winter night’s air.
Church Diner Bodega California
The spirit of pure Americana in the tiny town of Bodega. Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds, was partially filmed here in 1963.
Totem Pole Bodega California

Alfred Hitchcock Memorabilia Bodega California the Birds
Alfred Hitchcock’s likeness ushers in film fans to the Bodega Country Store, which, as we discovered, has movie memorabilia and fantastic gluten-free Clam Chowder.
Bodega Schoolhouse from the Birds Alfred Hitchcock
The schoolhouse from the movie, The Birds. It was built in 1873.
Bodega Schoolhouse from the Birds
Shawn re-enacts the infamous Birds scene in which a flock of angry birds attack schoolchildren on this street.
The Birds souvenirs and Bodega Clam Chowder
Clam Chowder from the Bodega Country Store. Gluten free, homemade, and piping hot. On the right, a mannequin resembling Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds.
Dog begging Bodega
The Clam Chowder even tempted this fellow.
Bodega Country Store the Birds movie
Shawn and ‘Hitch’ pose outside before we take to the road to head back to Nevada.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Birds Schoolhouse (also known as the Potter Schoolhouse) is located at 17110 Bodega Lane, in the village of Bodega.
  • The Bodega Country Store, where we enjoyed that fantastic Clam Chowder, is just around the corner from the schoolhouse, on the Bodega Highway. (Be on the lookout for Alfred Hitchcock’s look-alike mannequin out front to guide you.) They had other homemade, gluten-free goodies on the menu too, but for the sake of our waistlines we abstained. :)
  • For more information on the area, visit Sonoma County Tourism.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

59 thoughts on “Wine, Surf, & Sun: A Weekend in Sonoma County, California

    1. Klees Butterfly, oh no – sorry to hear the post left you longing for the sun! My husband and I just spent the past months in Germany, (and I’ve lived there for many years) so I can relate to you looking forward to more sunshine. In what part of Germany do you live?

      Thank you for your compliment about the pictures. With so much splendid light, rugged scenery and vibrant flowers in Sonoma County, my camera was snapping overtime.

      1. I lived in Heidelberg until 2011, never tiring of castle views or strolls along the Neckar River. In Nordrhein-Westfalen, I think I’ve only visited Köln, so more exploration is in order! Any cities in the area that you’d recommend, in particular?

      2. I’m from Bonn actually, and I know Köln very well. I would recommend some regions in NRW: Behind Aachen the Dreiländereck (three countries’ corner) where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. And the Ruhrgebiet. It has gone through a lot of restructuring measures, and has become a cultural hotspot with great museums and a lot of things to do and visit.

    1. Thank you, Andrea. I’ve only seen bits of California, but I have the distinct sense that there are many places in the state in which I could live for quite a while too. The plentiful sunshine, wine-growing areas, tiny towns, and coastal views make it very inviting.

  1. You do realise that when you start a post with “WINE, SURF, & SUN” there is no chance to skip that one even when there really isn’t time to read it?! :D I wish I’d been there too. Especially in the Bodega country store.

    1. Freebutfun, indeed, I agree that it’s a winning trio – particularly as much of us are experiencing winter. I do hope, however, that the post didn’t distract you too much. :) And, the Bodega Country Store was a fun surprise; we thought we’d pop in just for a second to see The Birds memorabilia, but then the aroma of the home-cooked food lured us in.

      Hope you had a wonderful weekend in Helsinki!

    1. Naomi, it’s thoughtful of you to say that I have a good eye – thank you. This part of the United States has so much natural beauty, and fun, quirky spots, making it a joy to try to capture the spirit of the area. Hope you’re having a wonderful Wednesday, and thanks again for your compliment. It brought a smile to my face.

  2. Oh what incredible views, Tricia. This trumps snow and ice anywhere. I remember the movie well and was scared to hang laundry outside thereafter.🏃. Looks like this has been a delightful trip for you and Shawn. Would love some clam chowder, now, and how fortunate to get it gluten free.

    1. Lynne, your anecdote about being fearful to hang laundry outside made me chuckle. :) Shawn and I did read something in the news lately about owl attacks in an Oregon park – hopefully this isn’t an example of something from the silver screen being brought to life! Here’s hoping you had a lovely Sunday, with perhaps some Clam Chowder?

  3. Hi Tricia, what a lovely trip to the wine country of Bodega, I haven’t been there yet. But as always your post is so inspiring and your inviting pictures just make me wanting to go on a trip , even I live in beautiful Southern California. Believe it or not I have never done a wine tasting trip up there, though it is on my long travel list. Since a week it seems like we are having summer days though still in the season of winter, a bit too hot though, but hey I am not complaining, thinking of people living in the East of this country. Enjoy your further trips and feed us readers with more…….

    1. Belated greetings, Cornelia! Quite often it does seem that places ‘in one’s backyard’ are put on the back burner. (I know, because there are places around Heidelberg and Oberammergau which I have yet to see.) We had added incentive to visit Bodega because Shawn’s family friends were kind enough to invite us to stay in their vacation rental, as a belated wedding present. Ah, the views from their living room. Just spectacular and so relaxing.

      In the past days, the more balmy weather that we’d been experiencing turned to snow – but just for a day! Here’s hoping you – and we – get some more of that glorious sunshine. We are lucky, aren’t we?

      Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, Cornelia, and look forward to catching up with you soon!

      1. Tricia thank you for your wonderful response. You won’t believe it, two weeks ago there was summer in winter here, so hot, it felt like so unreal. Now since a few days it is winter here again , cold and crisp and raining. I love that season when it rains, we hardly get that and since we in California are most of the time in a drought, when it rains it’s heaven to me. At night when waking up from sleeping listening to the rain makes me feel so happy, thinking that mother earth is being nourished. The view of seeing on side the ocean and the other side the snow covered mountains is so most beautiful. I mean which country does have that. I am so mesmerized by that. Oh BTW, my aunt living in Garmisch, turned 103 years old the other day. Thank you for sharing your lucky feelings, yes we are lucky… enjoy and inhale more of that as long as it lasts for you. Looking forward to your next posts. xoxo Cornelia

      2. Cornelia, I can see why you find the rain to be refreshing, and like your description: “that mother earth is being nourished.”

        Belated Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag to your aunt! Is one of her secrets to longevity perhaps Garmisch’s fresh mountain air? :)

        I hope you’re having a splendid weekend, Cornelia. Here in Nevada, we have lots of sunshine, and I think we’ll head out for an afternoon walk shortly.

  4. Wonderful post! I find myself in a situation similar to KleesButterfly, hunkered down in Virginia with freezing weather (7 degrees F this morning) and a snowstorm on the way. So it was nice to read about a warmer place. Thanks!

    1. Hi Robin, glad you could ‘escape’ to warmer climes in a virtual fashion. :) Indeed, we’ve heard a lot about the storms in the Midwest and on the East Coast. They’re currently delaying travel for some friends and family. Here’s hoping you’re staying warm and not having to engage in too much interaction with the snow! Thank you for your kind words about my post too.

  5. This looks to be a perfect way to spend a winter break…all of the US west coast seems to be bathed in sunshine and relative warmth, especially when compared to the east coast and Europe right now. As for Bodega Bay’s beach, it looks like heaven and such great photos of the soft light, sand and simple pleasures that life can offer. Beautiful. Perhaps my favorite part of that area is the Sonoma wine country…I think I could spend several months there sampling and savoring all it has to offer. Beautiful post Tricia ~ happy continued trails :-)

    1. Randall, like you, I think we could also spend a life chapter exploring all California has to offer. Wherever you are in the world now, I hope your day is filled with sunshine. We continue to luck out with the weather in Nevada; we’ve only seen a dusting of snow since we’ve been here. Thanks, as always, for your warm and thoughtful comments too.

  6. Well, this is different from your usual posts. It sounds like you really enjoyed your mild winter weather Tricia. Ours are like that too and only last for about 8 weeks, and still we complain about the cold! I love your pictures of the ocean.

    1. Carol, lucky you to have a winter like this, all the time! Seeing what an onslaught of snow the rest of the United States is getting now, I’m feeling pretty fortunate to be escaping winter – and soaking up lots of sunshine. :)

      Thanks for your thoughtful words about the Pacific pictures. There’s definitely a lot to be inspired by in lovely Bodega Bay, and so I was busy snapping away and eyeing new shots much of the time.

      1. We have had our hottest month, hottest summer and hottest year on record. But at the moment a cyclone is bearing down on the coast of Queensland so it’s windy and rainy and it will be worse before it is better. We live inland so it shouldn’t affect us too much but the coastal areas will have an unpleasant few days.

  7. Welcome back to the States Tricia and Shawn. What a treat California must have been after your past winters in Croatia. When we lived in Newport, Oregon we took a wonderful trip down the coast and spent time in Bodega Bay. How lovely, and your photos captured it perfectly. Will you be touring around the US or heading back to Europe? ~Terri

    1. Thanks for the warm welcome, Terri, as I envision you waving the stars & stripes to greet us. :) Actually, California was a treat after the more snowy winters we’ve had elsewhere in Europe. I think the winters we encountered in Croatia and California were unseasonably warm, still we’ll happily accept those balmier temperatures.

      You two have certainly lived in a great number of scenic places! We have a friend who just can’t get enough of the Oregon Coast, and keeps returning there. We were happy to see her on our 2012 N. American road-trip, and lucked out with lots of sunshine. For this trip, we’re mostly staying close to my husband’s hometown, perhaps with a day-trip or jaunt to California here and there. If the weather was warmer, I’d love to see some of the national parks out this way, so we’ll see!

    1. Ah, a tough question! Great wines from both wine regions come to mind. For reds, I love Croatia’s Zinfandel (Crljenak Kaštelanski) and Plavac Mali (but a white wine from the island of Korčula called Pošip was also quite memorable.) Strangely enough, even though California is known for its bold reds, some of my favorites there have been Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.

    1. Neely, much of our long weekend was spent merely soaking up the sunshine in our Bodega Bay friends’ home, but when we were ready for more stimulation there were many fun pursuits within reach. I was yearning to explore more of the small towns in the area too – that’s another excuse to return! What favorite coastal spots would you recommend?

      1. We haven’t been to as many as we’d like, but I do enjoy Mendocino, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Big Sur and Monterey. Anywhere along the coast is heavenly!

      2. Neely, thank you for the pointers – I have the distinct feeling that I could easily remain distracted in California for a long time. Here’s hoping we might get a chance to voyage to some of the spots you mentioned. Monterey has been on my wish-list for some time!

    1. Jenna, that’s high praise for Sonoma! :) Having lived most of my life in the Midwest and Germany, I haven’t explored California to the fullest…yet. But, I can see why you’re so enthusiastic about Sonoma County. I especially enjoyed the small towns – with their unique family-owned shops – and of course wine country. Hope it’s a sunny weekend in Sacramento.

  8. Hey Tricia, Photographs in this article looks really nice :) We went to Napa Valley last year… the experience was amazing…. your article reminded me of that trip… feeling nostalgic!!

    1. Go See Capture, California’s wine country is special, isn’t it? After exploring several European wine regions, I was especially curious to see Napa and Sonoma. Less history there than in Europe, but California’s laid-back charm makes up for that! Were there any particular Napa wineries that really stand out from your trip there last year? And finally, thanks for your thoughtful words about the series of images.

      1. Oh yeah! Napa is beautiful. We would be travelling to European regions in May… :)
        Domaine Chandon was really nice… specially the cocktail making tour…

    1. Mallee, travel – and the blogosphere – have a way of making one realize how much of the world there is left to see, don’t they? :)

      Living in the American Midwest and Europe most of my life, I haven’t yet explored much of California. Do you have any spots elsewhere in the state that you’d recommend?

      1. Mallee, ah, that’s another fun part of the Pacific Northwest. Did you also climb the sand dunes? That was a great little workout and fun break to our road-trip of 2012.

  9. I just got back from California (Laguna Beach) and wish I could wish myself back! I especially like your shot of the tree in the foreground and vineyards streaking away on the right sight (right after the shot of the white house). Beautiful.

    1. Molly on the Move, I haven’t yet made it to Laguna Beach, but having fallen for Sonoma and other spots, I can see that more California jaunts are in order.

      Having lived in spots in Europe that have decidedly frigid winters, I was surprised to see that California’s wine country looked so vibrant – even in January!

      Thank you for reading, and here’s hoping you’re having a wonderful weekend.

    1. Ha, ha, Jo. After all the snow we’d encountered in Germany, this ‘winter’ weekend in California was a real treat. :) Hope you have a sunny weekend ahead – either in the UK, or perhaps Portugal?

      1. Dreadful, I think (in England) but I’m not long back from the Algarve and will be there again in a few weeks, so I’ll cope :) (just)

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