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Weekender: Road-Trip to Timber Cove’s Cliffside Digs, Underwater Park, and Pygmy Forest

A spruced-up oceanside inn, flourishing wine region, and horseback beach tours beckon.


Timber Cove's inn reopened earlier this month after a nearly year-long renovation.

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The Timber Cove Resort is perched on a coastal cliff.

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A room at the inn.

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Salt Point State Park.

Photo: Troy Smith/Creative Commons

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In the North Coast town of Jenner, seals outnumber tourists. But there’s plenty for people, too, from the recently revamped Timber Cove Inn to a medley of mountain wineries. Leave the clogged southbound stretch of Highway 1 behind and head north, along the Tomales Bay shoreline, past the mouth of the Russian River, and on toward Timber Cove, a secluded area of the Pacific coast with views to rival the more tourist-jammed seaside towns to the south.


On your way up Shoreline Highway, stop into Patrick’s of Bodega Bay, a pink-striped emporium of dime-store candies, gourmet treats, and bins packed to the brim with saltwater taffy. Grab a bag of assorted classics, or take the implicit dare made by novelty flavors like Maple Bacon and Chicken and Waffles.

For dinner with a view, grab a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows at Coast Kitchen, inside the Timber Cove Resort. The made-over hotel comes with a new executive chef: California native Phillip Kaufman, formerly of Nob Hill’s Gramercy Grill. His micro-seasonal menus draw on the local bounty of abalone, Dungeness crab, and wild game, as well as locally foraged mushrooms and a wine list that highlights nearby vineyards. Farther-flung specialties like Maine lobster and PEI mussels round out a surf-and-turf-centric menu.

For breakfast or lunch, head to the funky roadside Cafe Aquatica, right at the mouth of the Russian River. Grab a cup of organic pour-over coffee, roasted on-site, or treat yourself to a mocha made with pure cacao and topped with homemade whipped cream (snacks include sandwiches, pastries, and the café’s signature clam chowder). Settle into a wicker chair next to a chess board table or, better yet, snag a seat on the riverfront patio. If it’s Saturday, you might catch an alfresco jazz concert by Matt Silva and Nick Otis (son of Johnny). Sundays are flamenco days with guitarist David Jenkins.


After nearly a year of renovations, the retreat-like Timber Cove Resort reopened earlier this month. Perched atop an ocean bluff amid miles of hiking trails, the revamped inn topped up with eight brand-new suites and a new outdoor space with billiards, Ping-Pong, and a large fire pit. The remodel nods to the original 1960s Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired design, preserving natural redwood and stone features while swapping out dated patterned furnishings for a contemporary palette. But the rooms are still all about the views, whether they overlook the forest, the ocean, or the cove. 

Or, if you really want to get off the grid, pitch a tent at one of the handful of nearby campgrounds. The cliffside Gerstle Cove Campground—part of the 6,000-acre Salt Point State Park—is a front-row seat to the unblemished Pacific coast. This 30-site campground includes a picnic table, a fire ring, food lockers, and bathroom access, but it’s the proximity to miles of trails through redwoods and down to sandy beaches that make it worth roughing it. On the eastern side of Highway 1, Woodside Campground offers all the same access, with more sites and shelter from ocean breezes.


Tucked in the northwestern edge of Sonoma County, Fort Ross-Seaview became California’s newest American Viticultural Area in 2012. The vines here sprout above the fog line, where mountainous, sunny terrain mixes with the cool ocean air to create optimal conditions for growing pinot noir and chardonnay. Few of the appellation’s 22 vineyards are open to the public, but luckily for pinot buffs, Fort Ross Vineyard is among them. Located just south of Fort Ross Historic State Park, the spacious, barn-style tasting room pours pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinotage, a pinot noir–cinsault hybrid. Sip on the ocean-facing deck or kick back on Fort Ross’s sloping, tree-rimmed lawn.

Just four miles north along Highway 1, you’ll enter Salt Point State Park, a hiker’s paradise of rocky coastal promontories, high-elevation prairies, and a pygmy forest. Nature lovers, fishers, and scuba divers all gravitate to its 20 miles of hiking paths, equestrian trails, and underwater park, which is dotted with kelp forests and red abalone snails. Picnic under a sheltered grove of bishop pines at Fisk Mill Cove, and keep an eye out for tafoni (Italian for “caverns”), identifiable by their honeycomb-like pattern of pits and ridges in the coastal sandstone.

If tromping through Salt Point’s equestrian trails makes you want to jump in the saddle, head 25 miles south on Highway 1 to Bodega Bay’s Chanslor Ranch and Stables. The 378-acre preserve offers year-round guided trail rides (from $40) and houses about 30 horses. Ocean view trails of varying difficulty levels meander through wetlands, salmon creeks, and wildflowers, where you might spy river otters, deer, and osprey. 

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