Sonoma County might be famous for its namesake wine region, but for anyone looking to get a bit more off-grid, the Sonoma coastline – which officially begins in Bodega Bay and stretches 48 miles north just beyond the town of Sea Ranch and Gualala Point Regional Park – is a destination unto itself. This is true nowhere more so than Jenner-by-the-Sea, where the Russian River meets the Pacific and coastal hikes, wildlife-centric kayaking trips (resident harbor seals at Goat Rock Beach and migrating gray whales from January through May) and golden hour cocktails are the order of the day. Yes, this coastal village is tiny (current population: 122), but it’s big on wilderness experiences. Here’s how to spend a few days here.
How to Get There
The fastest way to reach Jenner is to head up Highway 101, with optional stops in Petaluma and Bodega Bay (satisfy a sweet tooth with some saltwater taffy at Patrick’s of Bodega Bay). Another option is to cruise Highway 1, which should take around two-and-a-half hours without a midway break in Point Reyes Station (although should you want to factor in look-see, the tasting sessions and walking farm tours at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company come highly recommended).
Where to Stay
Designed as a retreat for artists and intellectuals — including sculptor Beniamino Bufano, whose obelisk “The Expanding Universe” still stands here — Timber Cove Resort is a soulful place to sleep on a magnificently rugged stretch of coastline 15 miles north of Jenner. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural style, the original A-frame structure maximizes ocean views while the materials — stone and locally milled redwood — make the building blend seamlessly into the landscape.
Bookend days exploring the area with breakfast and pour-over coffee on the balcony of your ocean- or cove-view room or toasting s’mores beside one of the fire pits, or borrowing a telescope and star chart for night sky gazing. In between, you can explore the two miles of trails on the property, catch live music on Wednesday nights, or swing by one of the local wine tastings (every Tuesday and Thursday). You can also dine on fine farm-fresh produce (don’t skip the Timber Cove cheese and charcuterie board) and just-caught fish and seafood (try the Point Reyes oysters) thanks to the seasonal menu at Timber Cove’s Coast Kitchen.
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What to Do
Thanks to the single largest nonprofit land acquisition in Sonoma County history, Jenner Headlands Preserve provides free public access to a network of trails across chaparral and coastal prairie meadows, oak woodlands and stands of redwoods across its 5,630 acres. With more than 3,600 feet of elevation gain, the 15-mile round-trip Pole Mountain via Sea to Sky Trail (which rewards with views of the Lower Russian River and surrounding coastline from the highest point in the county) is challenging but worthwhile; for a more chilled-out, two-hour or so walk, the 4.5-mile Sea to Sky to Raptor Ridge loop is popular.
One of the best ways to get a feel for Jenner is from the water, which makes a kayak or SUP eco-tour of the Sonoma Coast State Park Marine Protected Area and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary on the Russian River with local outfitter WaterTreks a solid choice. WaterTreks also runs night tours to see bioluminescent plankton (mid-August to early October, when fish, harbor seals and other estuary life leave glowing trails through the water) and monthly full moon tours, should you wish to paddle out after dark. Situated 11 miles north of Jenner on Highway 1, at Fort Ross Historic State Park (where dogs are permitted on a leash), you can sign up for bird walks with an expert birdwatcher and easy walks to see Pacific harbor seals and sea lions ($8 for adults). A guided tour of Fort Ross provides a chance to learn about the compound, which was constructed in 1812 by members of the Russian-American Company as the southernmost outpost of its fur-trading business. For a bird’s-eye view of Jenner and the surrounding countryside, Helico Sonoma runs scenic tours of Seaside Cliffs and the Russian River ($225 per person).
Where to Eat
Jenner does not have a buzzy restaurant or nightlife scene, but that’s kind of the point: enjoying good local food, preferably outside on a cliff-top terrace or at a low-key waterside restaurant, is the thing to do here. Coffee connoisseurs who appreciate Fair Trade single-origin beans will love Cafe Aquatica, which is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and serves a small but intentional menu of sandwiches and salads, plus Dungeness crab rolls (the latter when in season). It’s also a social hub for community events, including weekend art pop-ups and tarot readings while local musicians play live on the waterfront deck.
Another Jenner go-to with a sweet waterfront setting is Tasting By The Sea Wine Bar, an unpretentious spot to sample pours from boutique Sonoma vintner Eric Kent Wine Cellars on a lovely outdoor deck. For a wine tasting paired with small bites courtesy of chef John Vong, head to Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery (about halfway between Jenner and Timber Cove), where the estate vineyard is planted with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. And if it’s a romantic one-of-a-kind meal you’re after, book a table at River’s End Restaurant. It’s located in a primo sunset viewing spot on Shoreline Highway, where the Russian River spills into the Pacific, and the California Modern menu skews fine dining with dishes like a half-dozen local Miyagi oysters and pan-seared duck breast with fennel.
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