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. The long, wide beach at Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay is one of the Sonoma Coast's best destinations on a winter day.
Why? Warm-weather crowds have disappeared, and foggy days are few. Although it can be chilly and crisp, the air is also clear and invigorating. Doran 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.
Many birds visit Doran during seasonal migrations, overwintering here along the beach and in the marshes. You might also see jack rabbits, brush rabbits, mule deer, gray fox, or even bobcats. And at low tide, you can see invertebrates like anemones, sea stars, and mussels.
Winter wildlife, winter sports
Some people visit Doran Beach in winter specifically to birdwatch. Others come to ride their horse or walk along 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 and crabs, fly kites, study tide pools or play with their dogs (dogs on leash are welcome in the campground and on the beach). Others come to kiteboard, kayak or windsurf on the Bodega Harbor side of the park.
The boat launch and rock jetty on the park’s western end lures sport fishers, especially when Dungeness crab season opens in the fall, and Doran's campsites attract overnight visitors in tents, RVs and trailers. (Regional Parks members get one free night of camping.) The jetty can also be an exciting place to explore small sea life during low tide.
Dress for weather, watch for waves
Occasionally, winter afternoons at Doran Beach can be warm enough for a T-shirt, but it's smart to bring plenty of layers. Weather can be unsettled at Doran, a rolling fog layer quickly cooling a warm day. In winter, it’s a good idea to have rain jacket in the car, especially if it can double as a wind-breaker, as sometimes strong winds can create a breathtaking – though not very pleasant – beach experience.
Doran is the only Sonoma Coast beach that’s protected enough where wading and playing in the waves can be a safe, family-friendly experience. Nonetheless, the water is cold in winter and storms can blow in, so it’s always advisable to be aware of conditions and the possibility for rip currents and sleeper waves.
Even in winter, the best time of day at Doran Beach is when the park has fewer visitors and more breathtaking lighting: early morning (as the sun rises) or late afternoon (as the sun sets).
Originally published 2016; Updated December 2023