By Alexa Chipman Feb. 18, 2017
The Sonoma County coast is a rugged rock garden of pluming surf, tidal estuaries, and sea life such as gray whales, elephant seals, and birds. Wind blown trees create unique sculptural formations that range across grassy knolls and pockets of sandy beaches nestle at the bottom of steep cliffs.
After a day of exploration, feeling the chill and sting of salt, or perhaps to enjoy the rough coastline from a sheltered perspective, there are countless restaurants offering spectacular views and fresh seafood. When I am having a rough day, I often drive out to an oasis of relaxing dining on the Northern California coast.
If you have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s terrifying film The Birds, you may be familiar with this location. Although it has since been renovated, The Tides retains a charm and timeless elegance that makes it a favorite lunch destination from around the county. There is outdoor seating for picnics using their well stocked snacks, wine, and seafood shop, a small bar, and the main wharf restaurant with open views of the water.
They have a wide array of daily specials and a menu that ranges from elaborate dishes to variations on traditional fare like their Bodega Bay chowder. For seafood with a breakfast twist, come early in the day on a weekend for brunch. Best of all, their range of deserts is to die for—stop by their bakery for sumptuous mini cakes, éclaires, tarts, and pies.
I always stop by The Tides gift shop for ocean inspired home décor, seashells, books, and more. Last year I slowly collected ornaments until I had enough to entirely deck my Christmas Tree in a blue-green array of fishing boats, shells, and sea creatures. I am particularly fond of a small Bodega Bay model ship with sparkling lights running up and down its mast that I hung near the top. If you know someone who enjoys the ocean and need a quick gift, I recommend taking a look.
Drive farther North up the coast for a truly delicious treat at River’s End. Even on stormy days, their small parking lot is overflowing. If it is full, there are several overlooks a leisurely stroll away. Their menu is limited and everything on it is mouthwatering with exquisite presentation. The staff is attentive and cheerful, eager to help and explain what is offered. For a tiny, busy restaurant they have efficient service. I have never gone wrong with a dish here—their sauces are perfectly balanced and decadent.
Despite amazing food, the real reason I go to River’s End is their talented mixologist, who has gathered onto a searchable iPad an assortment of difficult to find cocktails, such as “Aviation”. Your server will bring the tablet to your table to search through, making you want to stay all day and drink through the menu to try them all. In addition they have local wine choices and a lovely pairing for couples of oysters with the airy white wine gewürztraminer. This is my go to restaurant when I visit the coast.
For the adventurous, experience the local Jenner scene in the cozy Café Aquatica with casual outdoor or indoor seating, often serenaded by live guitar music. Its rustic décor is reminiscent of the Sonoma County coast’s fishing community origins, and their menu is straight forward comfort food with a seafood twist like their salmon melt sandwich. If your shoes are still sandy from the beach and you aren’t up to a formal atmosphere or fine dining, they are the place to go for a laid-back lunch with a view of Russian River flowing into the sea.