Sonoma Coast State Park is a state park of California, United States, on the Pacific Ocean. The park consists of two non-contiguous areas in Sonoma County, one near Jenner and the other near Calistoga. The main area of the park is at Bodega Head. This includes the lighthouse, which dates from 1876; Fort McDowell, which was built by the Spanish during their 1769-1821 rule of New Spain; and most of the land between the Pacific coast and Highway 1. A second area of the park extends north of Point Conception (where the border with Mexico begins) to include the Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve. There are more than 5 miles (8.0km) of beaches along the Pacific coastline within the park, including several that are accessible via a road that winds through an open gate into the dunes adjacent to the ocean.
The total acreage of both parks is about 2,400 acres (970ha). Inland there are approximately 700 acres (280ha), mostly agricultural land with some smaller parcels scattered here and there. Much of this land has been farmed for decades, if not centuries. Some of it was even planted as part of the original vineyards around what is now Calistoga.
Only four structures remain standing, all dating from the 19th century. One of those buildings houses the Coastal Discovery Center, which provides public access to historical information and artifacts, as well as natural history exhibits and aquariums. Another building contains the visitor center and museum for the Robert Louis Stevenson House, which hosts tours seasonally. The third remaining structure is the old light tower, still equipped with its original lamp and fog signal. It can be accessed by visitors climbing to the top of the structure or riding the elevator to the lantern room level. The fourth and final surviving structure is the round barn, no longer used for its intended purpose. It remains because it is a significant example of 19th-century American farming architecture.
Many of the grounds contain numerous historic farm buildings, most of which have been converted into residences or businesses. Visitors can drive onto the grounds of many of these farms to get a closer look inside. On weekends local residents may be seen out walking their dogs, exploring the fields and picking wildflowers. Occasionally horseback rides are offered, too. Sonoma Coast State Park offers over 200 campsites, ranging from modern RV sites to tent camping to rustic cabins. Most of the campsites offer full hookups, although some do not. Water is available at most campsites, although electricity is only available at a few.
Other facilities, such as restrooms and showers, are shared among campers. Two trails wind through the park, totalling about 7 miles (11km) in distance. The shorter trail follows the shoreline, passing under the highway bridge and ending just past the point where the beach ends and the coastal dunes begin. The longer path goes up the side of a mountain, emerging above the tree line and then descending to the south fork of the Estero River. From either vantage point, hikers can see remnants of the military installation known as Camp Reynolds, consisting of concrete observation bunkers and gun batteries that were active during WWII. Nearby are the foundations of Fort McDowell, another former US Army post. Beyond the campsite, across Route 1, is the RLSMHR, which protects 3,500 acres (1,400ha) of sensitive habitat that supports rare species and endangered wildlife. Access is allowed only by guided tour. Like much of the Bay Area, Sonoma Coast State Park suffers from severe erosion caused by storms, rising sea levels, and increasing temperatures.
Additionally, due to budget cuts, rangers are scheduled to reduce hours worked at the park from 8:00 am until sunset, Monday through Friday, beginning June 22, 2018. The park’s coastal viewshed stretches from the Pacific Northwest to the San Francisco Peninsula, with expansive vistas encompassing the entire Central Valley and Northern California. The park’s primary geographic features are cliffs, headlands, coves, and beaches. The park also preserves grassland habitats with remnant stands of native bunch grasses and annual wildflowers.
The park has hiking trails totalling about 7 miles (11km), including a short 0.5-mile (0.80km) walk along the beach. The longer Path on the Mountain ascends Mount Saint Helena, 6,849 feet (2,192m) above sea level, and returns down the other side through dense forest. The park has picnicking facilities, and a small pond allows fishing for crappies, bluegill, catfish, perch, and sunfish. No swimming is allowed off the dock or within 100 yards of it. The park has a small cabin store, offering food and gifts for sale. There is no gas station, and no drinking water.
There are three major surfing locations within the park, identified on WCTuning.com as “Good” waves. They are located at North Beach, Gold Creek, and South Beach. The first two are patrolled by lifeguards daily, while South Beach has a free, independent volunteer organization maintaining it. Lifeguard services at South Beach are typically staffed by one person, who stays at the beach hut overnight, checks the surf conditions, and patrols the beach during daytime low tide. When the high tides come in, the guard changes shift, usually giving way to a different individual each night. Sonoma Coast State Park is a popular location for group events, particularly weddings.
During World War II, much of this property was owned by the federal government, who used it to run radar installations. After the war, many of these sites were sold back to private owners, but some of them remained vacant until Robert Louis Stevenson State Historic Park was established nearby. The state acquired most of the Stevenson site, including the buildings, in 1970.
The park’s forests consist mainly of Douglas fir, big leaf maple, madrone, tanoak, and occasionally walnut.
Common birds observed at the park include:
- black-billed magpie
- ring-tailed cat
- harbor seals
- northern fur seal
- bald eagle
- trumpeter swan
- Canada goose
- common loons
- least terns
- black skimmers
- cow birds
Mammals observed at the park include:
- ground squirrels