I went on a short vacation to Bodega Bay, California last week. I love this little fishing village for many reasons: authenticity, wildlife, and beauty. It may look sleepy to the outsider, but this northern California town has been a lively place for a long, long time.
No matter how many times you visit this area you never know what it is going to look like because of the influence of the ocean tides. You can be there at 10:00 in the morning one week and see the Bay loaded with water, birds, and boats. Then go back at 10:00 a.m. a few days later and the Bay will be mostly mud. The Bay is the center of town, the main attraction for recreation and commerce, yet it is nothing but mud for half of every day. But even when the water is low, there are still boats moving out to the ocean along a narrow channel, and birds and wellie-wearing humans digging in the mud. Sometimes you can’t even see the other side of the Bay, so shrouded with thick, drippy fog. This is what makes Bodega Bay so authentic.
The wildlife here is awesome. In the fall and winter the bird migration is at its peak. There are hundreds of shorebirds, ducks, geese, and pelicans occupying the Bay. It’s a source of endless attraction to us birders from all over the San Francisco Bay Area. When I was there last week the migration hadn’t started yet, so the Bay hosted primarily summer residents. The birds and seals pictured here are just a few of the many visitors we enjoyed.
The world of fish is also a big draw to this area. Crabs, salmon and other culinary catches are an important source of income for many people. I had the joy of being here one year on Christmas Eve day and the area was absolutely hopping with residents from all over the San Francisco Bay Area who were here on their annual holiday trek. Many people come here to collect their holiday feast of local Dungeness crab.
There are crab pots (cages for catching the crabs) stacked wherever you look and happy holiday folks with their coolers collecting the day’s catch to share with their friends and neighbors. Commercial fishers and many other fishing folks are fervently moving the day’s harvest on the boats and docks. There’s also a wonderful tiny restaurant called Spud Point Crab Company right across from the small marina. They advertise that they have the best crab chowder on the coast, and it truly is. In December it’s often rainy and cold, and sipping a hot cup of their fantastic garlicky crab chowder is pure bliss.
On top of all this local charm, abundance of wildlife, the briny sea smell and the ever-present ebbing tides, is the exquisite beauty of Bodega Bay. Look at the scenery behind this Western Gull. That gull was three feet from our picnic table at Bodega Head. Our view was the glorious Pacific Ocean where we had spotted harbor seals minutes earlier. On the rocks in the sea: sea palms bow and undulate with each ocean wave, bright orange starfish peak out when the waves subside, crustaceans mingle with oystercatchers, cormorants, and gulls. Visitors in the winter watch for migrating whales, watching expectantly for the telltale spouts.
Lastly, there are many tourists who enjoy this place for its historical significance in the film industry. Bodega Bay and the neighboring town of Bodega were the primary locations where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds.” Posters, informational brochures and of course the ubiquitous t-shirts remind every visitor that Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette worked here in the early 1960s.
A few spots still remain, like the famous schoolhouse where the birds descended and terrorized the town’s innocent children; and the view that Tippi Hedren scanned of the quaint town on her arrival, executing her plan to use her dainty figure and high cheek bones to woo the town’s ruggedly handsome bachelor.
This town is still quaint. Tourists come and go; thrills from old Hollywood days are embraced, San Franciscans visit during the holidays for their crab fests, and birders are dazzled by the winter arrivals. The locals embrace these people passing through, but they also protect their environment to keep it a wholesome fishing village. I am reminded every time I come here of the fierce battle in the late 1950s over a nuclear power plant.
It’s now called Hole in the Head. It provides good birding and a picturesque vista overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay. But in 1958 the local power company proposed this spot for a nuclear power plant. Opposition was spearheaded by rancher Rose Gaffney, who was forced to surrender 64 acres of her property to the power company. This fight became one of the first anti-nuclear grassroots events in the country…and they won. Over a half century later, the hole that was dug is filled with rainwater that hosts marsh reeds, trees, brush, and dozens of bird species. It is a serene spot with bluebirds and sparrows flitting among wild lupine, squawking gulls and barking seals, and the occasional background bellow of a fog horn.
It’s a place on this planet of pride, pristine beauty, and all the natural rhythms of the mighty Pacific Ocean.