It seems as though a good section of the United States is buried under a heavy blanket of snow these days. My family and friends on Long Beach Island, NJ do a great job of keeping me up to date on the winter wonderland I once called home, sending plenty of pictures. They’re great to look at, but I’m so glad I’m not there. Blame it on old age, but if you ask me, snow stinks unless it means a snow day off from school or you’re doing something fun in it like taking ski lessons with the kids.
There’s a reason I live in Northern California now, and I was reminded of it last weekend, loud and clear. There aren’t many other places in the United States that you can spend a Saturday in February on the beach. It was just too nice to stay home and work in the yard. The whole family wanted to go somewhere. Fifteen minutes on the computer, and a decision was made. Another 15 minutes to pack a picnic lunch and we were out the door. Dog included.
The destination of choice, Bodega Bay.
The drive itself is fun for adults and kids. After leaving Highway 101, you make your way through the charming but quirky town of Sebastopol. Your drive gives you a mini tour of sorts. Through busy downtown, past the Luther Burbank Farm and by orchard after orchard of Gravenstein apple trees. When you hit Freestone, hang a right on the Bohemian Highway, Wild Flour Bread is almost immediately on the left. It will be busy. Expect a line, but know it’s worth the wait. In the middle of fields, barns and cows, Wild Flour Bread is a growling stomach’s dream. I think they had a dozen kinds of bread on this sunny, Saturday morning, making our decision even harder. And there was no way my girls (or I) were leaving without scones. After grabbing a double chocolate hazelnut scone and a cranberry, orange white chocolate scone, we were back on track to the beach.
Before you can finish your huge scone, you’ll be in the town of Bodega. Don’t blink or you might miss the tiny town and St. Teresa’s, the church Alfred Hitchcock made famous in his 1963 movie “The Birds.” Tourists may invade on sunny days, but Bodega truly is a tiny town. Signs for fundraisers and polenta dinners are a common roadside sight. Reassure the kids the beach is just minutes away.
Signs for Bodega Bay’s bevy of beaches will start popping along the road. You really can’t go wrong, so don’t stress over which beach to choose. Our dog, Jetty, made the trip with us, so I was sure to pick a beach dogs were allowed on, but other than that, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. Bodega Bay’s beaches all have what we were looking for: sun, sand and hours of fun.
My girls were starving, so once the blanket was down, they attacked the picnic, eating in record time. Before my husband and I even sat down, they were off. First it was all about running and splashing with our greyhound, Jetty. For awhile the Frisbee was flying, then everyone was on their knees in the sand. The engineering feat of the day: damming a small stream that flows into the ocean. My girls found every suitable piece of driftwood for miles, to carry out the construction endeavor. Success was achieved when a beach walker asked if she could take a picture of their creation.
About 4 o’clock, I rounded the family up and we headed off the beach. But it was at least half an hour before we were back in the car. First we stopped to climb in some fabulous trees, then my youngest took off running for a stretch of wildflowers, aka blooming weeds. When she hit the patch of petals I rushed to grab the camera.
Finally it was back into the car, but it wasn’t time to head home yet. A quick stop for gas and nice, clean bathrooms. There’s only one station in town, so you can’t miss 76 station. It’s also hard to miss Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy, just across the road. The pink and white striped building shouts for the adventurous type to enter. A rainbow of taffy lines the counter. There’s also a collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts and assorted seaside souvenirs. All my girls were interested in was the taffy. A pound later, it was time to go, but not before tasting the flavor of the week: huckleberry. To my surprise, wow, a thumbs up from all of us.
There was one more place I wanted to go, and we had just enough time before the sun called it a day. On Route 1, about a mile and a half north of Bodega Bay there is a Children’s Bell Tower. It’s dedicated to Nicholas Green, a seven year-old boy from Bodega Bay, who was killed while vacationing in Italy with his family. (His parents donated his organs, and changed the lives of seven Italians waiting for transplants. Organ donations in Italy have reportedly quadrupled since Nicholas was killed.) The memorial is tucked away behind an old community center. There’s no sign. You’ll drive right by, unless you make an effort to find it.
From the 18 foot tower hangs 140 bells; almost all of them sent by Italians. The centerpiece bell is thirty inches high. It was made by the Marinelli foundry in Italy, which has a long history of making bells for the papacy for a thousand years. Pope John Paul II went to the foundry to bless it. Nicholas’ name and the names of the seven donor recipients are listed on the bell. The tower is fairly simple, but leaves its mark. Visitors leave smiling, not sad.
As I walked back toward the car, my 10-year-old, who had found yet another perfect tree to climb, came running, and grabbed my hand when she caught up to me. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
You don’t have to live in Northern California to take advantage of Bodega’s bliss. Plan a trip to wine country, just don’t forget the beauty of the beach. We have some of the best family-friendly hotels in the wine country on Ciao Bambino. Macarthur Place is the closest to the beach, and just a short walk from downtown Sonoma. You can’t go wrong.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
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