Menu

Sonoma coast, my love

SeaGrass

Have you ever felt you were meant — truly meant — to be someplace?

I have often said that my hometown of Schenectady, NY, is a lovely place to be from. I mean, it's a much underrated part of the country, rich with charm and history, but I spent my adolescent years pining for the great big world out there. I knew I was destined for a different place.

After leaving New York State, I had my dalliances. In the summer of 1990 I had a torrid affair with Santa Fe, NM, rocky and passionate. I even returned for a second summer, which was like going back to a boyfriend, only to remember why you broke up in the first place. In between I had a slow, steady and almost serious relationship with Sacramento. But I just wasn't ready for that kind of commitment.

That's when I met San Francisco. This was the city that, intellectually, I was meant to be with — after all, we have so much in common.  And eventually I did fall in love with this newest companion, for mind as well as body, but it took a solid year. Luckily, that perseverance has paid off with a rich and nuanced love that has paid itself back many times over across the years.

But secretly, scandalously, I love another.

SeanReeseBeach

It's not that I don't appreciate San Francisco for all that it is. But as often as I can, I sneak away (with my husband, ahem) from San Francisco to be with the Sonoma Coast.

This is no passing fling. DPaul and I have taken holidays up and down the coast over the past 15 years or so, renting homes in remote and placid Sea Ranch, tiny Jenner, and famous but still surprisingly off-the-grid Bodega Bay

Call me corny, but I feel an undeniable thrum of the heartstrings when I am surrounded by the ionized sea air and the roar of the waves crashing on the shore. I know in the very core of my being that I am where I belong. Of course I swoon on the diamond days when the sun sparkles on bluegreen seas, but I am no less in love when moody storms rage and the skies cry cold tears of rain. The coast's moods are my moods; we understand each other.

And then there's the food. Whereas San Francisco tantalizes me with its sophistication and diversity, with food that challenges the mind as well as the palate, the coast serves me up dishes from its soul. 

The western part of the county is peppered with blink-and-you-miss-them
towns, sometimes just a cluster of Victorian structures. Towns so small
they make Bodega Bay look like a veritable metropolis — though Bodega
itself doesn't even have a traffic light. Many of these towns have something on offer that makes them worth the trip, not that the trip isn't its own reward. 

TomalesBayOyster

Heading south on Route 1, I am constantly amazed how the road grows ever more rural, despite technically drawing nearer to the city. Near the end of the long, straight bay where the earth has been rent asunder by the San Andreas Fault, oysters await. I'll gleefully order up a dozen in any number of establishments in the city, but if you've never had Tomales Bay Oyster Company's bivalves plucked fresh from the cold waters of Tomales Bay, you have never eaten an oyster, period.

OystersBins

The coastal areas are dominated by dairy farms, so the landscape is unspoiled, undulant and verdant. Farms proudly hang their badges for having been Dairy Farm of the Year. I cannot help but wonder whether there is a fancy awards show to mark the occasion. Is there a red carpet? Do cows get disqualified for having udder implants? I suppose I shall never know.

WildFlourBread

Just a few miles inland from Bodega Bay, the picayune town of Freestone basically has just two things: Osmosis spa, where you sweat out toxins in a bath of fermenting wood shavings (yes, you get sawdust in every crevice, and yes it's worth it), and Wild Flour Bakery. Wild Flour's loaves are hardy, heavy and laden with too much whole wheat flour; in other words, hippie bread. And I can't get enough of it. This go-round we picked up a garlic rosemary loaf for dinner, and then spontaneously grabbed a seasonal loaf with dates, cranberries, walnuts and cardamom. Bring your own patchouli oil.

OystersHalfShell

During this last trip we mused on what our last meal would be. I think we may have had it that night. Freshly-shucked oysters, briny and plump. Live crabs steamed à la minute and eaten with neanderthal violence. Globe artichokes braised until they have the aroma of tea. Drawn butter. Aioli. Hippie bread. A perfect meal in the place I am meant to be. I can die happy.

Related:

Sam is also a fan of Wild Flour Bread

I'm jealous that Hunter Angler Gardener Cook went crabbing on Bodega Bay

Food Migration chows downs at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company oyster feed

  • I know exactly how you feel! I have truly fallen in love with Sonoma over the past few years, too. Having spent 2 birthdays in Napa, and now planning a Sonoma wedding, I try to sneak up there as often as possible. Driving along the coast is possibly one of the most relaxing experiences I can think of.

  • Beautiful. And I know exactly what you mean about an affair with Santa Fe. Before we moved here I was infatuated. Dizzy with love. Unfortunately, after living in New Mexico (just north of Santa Fe) its charms have faded. True love it isn’t. I miss the ocean more than I can say. And the way you write about Sonoma makes me want to pack my suitcase. I just know I’m supposed to a West Coast girl. xox

  • I am so with you, every step of the way and for similar reasons. I would add Stinson Beach and also the Pelican Inn. While they’re closer to the city (Marin coast), they still feel really remote to me, esp. if you hike over Tennessee Valley to Muir, and authentic. One of my most fond (fondest? cripes what happened to my grammar!?) memories is of my very spontaneous wedding on Stinson last April. My cake was a mud pie from the shack in Stinson. Okay, forgive my indulgence here, this was a great post, thank you.

  • Ah, the moodiness of the Sonoma Coast… you’re right, it’s simply magical.
    Thanks for the reminder, Sean. I have a hankering for oysters right about now…

  • Love this post – I am desperate for oysters right now!
    When I was in Berkeley I zipped up to Sonoma at every chance I got – there is nothing better than the Russian River Wine area – sparkling wine at Iron Horse with that killer view – can’t be beat.

  • Well written! I can almost taste those oysters and smell the salty air! I need to pick your brain about some of these small remote places to stay – we were just tossing around that idea!
    I love Osmosis spa, so relaxing getting one of their massages out in the garden. Wild Flour is one of the best places to stop first thing in the morning, nothing like sweet smelling bread to get your going!

  • Kasey: For sure. I feel my blood pressure drop when I’m there.
    Karina: I get that, totally. I loved Santa Fe, but in both cases, by the end of 3 months in the desert, I heard the siren song of the ocean calling me back. I need to be near the coast.
    Carrie: How lovely! Truth be told, I’ve spent much less time on the Marin coast, tho I do find Stinson, Bolinas and Pt Reyes extremely charming.
    Jennifer: Well, perhaps we should set up a lunch date at Hog Island. It’s much closer. 🙂
    sue bette: Oh, the wine country is a whole other post or 50. I do prefer Sonoma to Napa, and Russian River/Dry Creek vie for my attentions.
    Chez US: Absolutely! vrbo.com is a great resource, and the house we’ve stayed at in Bodega the past couple times is a gem.

  • Wow Sean, you’ve sold me. Jim and I are going to pack our bags (for a vacation, at least.)
    Wonderful post.

  • EB

    Oh I love Sea Ranch! I haven’t been there in a few years but I always remember how much I love the tall grass in the wind and the sea air. mmmm. lovely post.

  • Yes! I spent many childhood a Labor Day weekend on the Sonoma coast. The summer wasn’t really over until we’d all packed into the car and driven up to Sea Ranch. I’m trying to convince the Suitor to sign off on a holiday there. I love the place dearly, but it’s been years since our last rendez-vous. I can’t wait to go back.

  • We lived in Sea Ranch for two years – in many ways the best two years – but while it is a fantastic place to visit it isn’t such a great place to live – particularly for children. Nevertheless I still love it and we still go often – most recently Thanksgiving – which was still fantastic despite the oven breaking thanksgiving morning.
    Sadly the Indian restaurant on highway 1 at the Russian River is a shadow of itself. Ten years ago it was better than every place in the city. And you could get Chai to go as you drove by. But now I wouldn’t bother.

  • I’ve always wondered about that Indian restaurant — always seemed like an unusual spot for it. I’ll avoid it now.

  • I don’t think your corny as I understand the need to be near water as there is something quite primal and reassuring about the sea. Whenever I need to clear my head and gather my thoughts I make my way to the nearest possible beach. The Sonoma Coast looks like a dream!

  • I am so with you! The very air is magical… and then all of the amazing views and then the glorious good.