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Doran Beach in Winter: An Insider's Guide

Just about everyone loves going to the beach in the summer, but here in Sonoma County, the coast attracts a devoted following in winter too. One of the Sonoma Coast's best destinations on a winter day is the long, wide beach at Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay.

Doran facing Bodega HeadDoran Beach in winter has a luminous, ever-changing beauty all its own. Puffy gray clouds might give way to showers, which might then give way to clear skies and a stunning sunset of red and gold. Or perhaps it will rain or be sunny all day long. Warm-weather crowds have disappeared, and foggy days are few. 

 “I love Doran Beach in winter,” said Irma Cuevas, a ranger assistant and naturalist who leads monthly campfires at the park. “It’s chilly and crisp, and the air is so clean and invigorating. It’s so beautiful, and so many birds come through for migration. You see them along the beach and in the marshes.” 

Winter Wildlife, Winter Sports

Bird at Doran Beach in December“Winter is a special time at Doran,” agrees Ranger Jeff Mazzeo. “Bodega Bay is a flyway for many species of migrating birds. You might also see black-tailed jack rabbits, brush rabbits, mule deer, gray fox, or even bobcat. And at low tide, you can see invertebrates like anemones, sea stars, and mussels.” 

King Tide SurfersSome people visit Doran Beach in winter specifically to birdwatch. Others come to walk the beach. A stroll from the rock jetty at the west end of the beach to the rocks at Pinnacle Gulch on the east end is a good 2 miles one way. Some come to surf winter's larger waves, catch fish, fly kites, study tide pools or play with their dogs. Others come to kiteboard or windsurf on the Bodega Harbor side of the park.

A boat launch lures winter sport fishers, especially when Dungeness crab season opens, and Doran's 128 campgrounds attract overnight visitors in RVs and trailers. (Regional Parks members get one free night of camping.)

Dress for Weather, Watch for Waves

Occasionally, winter afternoons at Doran Beach can be warm enough for T-shirts, but it's smart to bring plenty of layers. Actually, Ranger Mazzeo recommends visitors have layers at hand no matter the time of year. “A day at Doran can start out calm and sunny,” he said, “and suddenly the fog and wind move in and the temperatures drop. In winter, rain gear is a must - the wind can drive it in sideways, which is not a pleasant experience, but it’s breathtaking nonetheless."

Girl on Log at Doran BeachHe also encourages Doran beach-goers to be aware of surf conditions and boating advisories. “Doran is a safe beach through most of the year because it’s south-facing," he said. "But winter brings storms from the south, so it’s always advisable to be aware of conditions and the possibility for rip currents and sleeper waves.” 

In winter, Mazzeo’s favorite time of day at Doran Beach is early morning. “Many people enjoy the sunsets,” he said. “But I really enjoy the early light breaking. It’s serene and beautiful and always different."

Plan your visit to Doran Regional Park

About the Author

Suzie Rodriguez is a Sonoma-based writer, editor, lifelong outdoors enthusiast and past president of Bay Area Travel Writers.

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