By Janelle Wetzstein
With its oceanfront locale, campground, and long, wide beach, Doran Regional Park is one of Sonoma County's most popular summer destinations. Situated on a crescent-shaped peninsula separating Bodega Harbor from the open waters of Bodega Bay, Doran is a unique park filled with areas to explore and activities to enjoy. If you’re new to Doran Beach, or even if you’ve visited for years, you may not realize all there is to do. Here are some of our top suggestions for summer fun at Doran Beach.
This one may be obvious, but one of the things that makes Doran so special is its camping. Whether you are pitching your tent between the sand dunes or pulling your RV up to a spot near the jetty at the harbor’s edge, camping at Doran is a classic Sonoma Coast experience. The park features more than 120 year-round campsites and accommodates tents, trailers, and RVs. Doran is just an hour or two from the Bay Area and Sacramento, so camping reservations are a must, especially in the summer. Weekends are currently booked through Labor Day, but some mid-week openings can be found. Check availability at SonomaCountyCamping.org.
Doran is a south-facing beach, so it's sheltered from the powerful waves and currents that define other North Coast beaches. The gentle conditions make it a family destination, where kids can ride summer waves with Boogie boards and beginning surfers can build confidence. Remember, the ocean temperature averages only 53 degrees in July, so you might want to rent a wetsuit from a local surf shop.
A walk along Doran’s shoreline is 2 miles one way from the rock jetty at the park’s west end to the rock formations near Pinnacle Gulch on the east end. On the north edge of the beach, a 1.3-mile trail meanders through grassy dunes and connects to a boardwalk with benches and viewing areas. On the harbor side, the .3-miles Cheney Creek Trail crosses a marsh and connects to 1-mile Bird Walk loop via a wooden foot bridge. Unlike nearby state parks, Doran is dog friendly, so pets on leash are welcome on the beach and trails.
What better way to spend a sunny day than dining al fresco? Picnic spots are available throughout the park, from tables to benches to the beach itself. Pack lunch or dinner and head out to the tables and barbecue rings inside the wind breaks at the Cypress Day Use Area. Tables and barbecues are also available near the boardwalk and at the Jetty Day Use Area. Or grab your sandwich and head out to the jetty rocks to watch the harbor seals catching fish while you munch.
Doran has its own launch for boaters and paddlers. Easily accessible on the harbor side of the park, the launch serves boats up to 20 feet. From there, you can explore the protected harbor or head out to the bay. Paddlers can also put in directly from the beach. However, ocean boating is not for the inexperienced. Don’t head out without a solid understanding of how to safely maneuver on open water. For paddlers, kayak and paddleboard lessons and rentals are available from outfitters in Bodega Bay.
Building Sandcastles/Chilling on the Beach/Taking a Nap
When was the last time you got down in the sand and built a castle? Or fell asleep between sand dunes to the sound of waves breaking nearby? One of the best activities Doran has to offer is rest and reprieve. Let yourself doze for a while, enjoy the sun and the breeze, or dig a giant hole in the sand that you swear will be a castle but just winds up being a hole. You know, enjoy yourself.
Know Before You Go
- Summer in Bodega Bay can be warm and sunny or cold and foggy. Come prepared by packing jackets and sweats as well as shorts and bathing suits. It’s also often windy.
- On holidays or really warm days, Doran Beach gets crowded, and when the parking lots fill, rangers will turn visitors away. On those days, plan to arrive before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to get parking. Parking is $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
- Lifeguards are not on duty at Doran, so please use caution in the ocean and don't leave children unsupervised.
Janelle Wetzstein is a former marketing specialist at Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Note: This post was originally published in 2018.