Going back to my hometown with a different perspective. It’s quite refreshing to come back to California’s forestry after a few days in different environments outside of the Bay Area. While returning to Marin County, I surf with an old friend at Bolinas beach break, explore the wonders of Point Reyes National Park (PaloMarin Beach) and visit Point Reyes Station.
There’s plenty to do whether you’re hiking, camping or passing through on a road trip. You can find it all.
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County spans from Sausalito to Novato and includes some of the best views of redwoods at Muir Woods. Highly recommend if you’re visiting the Bay Area.
California was the last frontier for European exploration. If you visit the coastline you will see the influence European adventures had on modern day. For example, many of California’s state parks or monuments are named after European conquistadors such as Sir Francis Drake, Drake’s Bay in Marin County. To learn more about California Central coast, visit my blog on Big Sur, Big Surf Part 1.
California was built upon the sea and the coastline, and it’s the most important resource to the state. The surf here can be dangerous, challenging or mellow depending on your skill level. You can surf Cronkite if you’re advanced or chill out at Bolinas. Just remember, whiteys are around.
Living in a major metropolitan area as crowded as San Francisco, you’ll find that some people will become easily agitated. Think about traffic if you have a long commute to and from work. You’re not entirely in the best mood if someone is in your way. Imagine if you were in the water trying to surf? There’s a reason why surfers are so much in tune with nature. We avoid the crowds and we grimace when we see groups of non-locals and beginner surfers taking over our beaches. The only way to cure this, find unexplored beach breaks.
My adventure up north was quite the experience. Most people wouldn’t think about surfing in San Francisco and wouldn’t bother to think that you could surf in Sonoma County, Wine Country. Here it is on a map below.
Sonoma County has an old town feel with lots of farm land and diverse geography spanning from the coast to wine country. My adventure starts on the Russian River hanging with good friends on a nice sunny Saturday.
Not exactly the beach I was looking for at Russian River
Lucy is loving life
The Russian River is a major artery with 110 miles of mainstem and the 2nd longest river in California.
The Russian River was settled by the Russian American Company by Ivan Aleksandrovich Kuskov in 1817 and provided fresh fish such as sturgeon and salmon as long as 5′ – Wikipedia
The 1800s are long gone and after more 200 years, the river is still abundant, salmon, seals are still part of the ecosystem and so are the “real locals”, Great White Sharks. Many surfers have warned me not to surf Sonoma County. However, I wanderlust to find the perfect wave. Onward! (Sonoma County surfer bitten by shark)
The river mouth into the ocean
A nice place for seals to hang out for easy pickings from the river. Not to mention, sharks.
I make my way towards the coast and reach the river mouth. I heard this is called the “McDonald’s drive thru for Whiteys”. I assess and find no swell.
Driving along I notice a surf shop, Kool City Surf Shop. Steve was awesome and told me he was originally from San Francisco. He gave me the drop on where I should go, Salmon Creek Beach. Nervously, thinking about the fresh salmon and feeding grounds for Whitey, I said farewell.
Goat Rock Beach
Sandy beach line at Goat Rock
A nice place to take a walk – no surfers in sight
Flat at Goat Rock Beach at 10:15am nothing exciting, but still nice. I head south as Steve instructed down Highway 1 for another 20 minutes.
Hitting the road searching for swell
Passing by many beaches and state parks
Looking from afar I see a chance for swell
Somewhere along the coast there will be a point break
Getting closer and a great sign seeing a surfer assessing the point break from the cliff
Another surfer searching for swell
A break that dissolves into a rocky cove
A rocky cove along Sonoma Coast
Driving on Highway 1, the first sign of swell is when I see another surfer on a cliff checking out the break. I feel a rush of excitement as I look to the horizon.
North Salmon Creek
North Salmon Creek stairs that lead to the beach
The break long
You can either go left or right
You can see the southern part of the beach
Finally, I’ve arrived.
It’s 12:10pm, the last time I checked it was between 82-84 degrees with the sun in full force. Quite the day to go surfing, San Francisco weather is around 65 degrees on average. This is Glorious. Studying the waves and timing the sets, I was surprised by what I see. Consistent sets with small barrels coming in, a line up and families enjoying the beach. Pretty Groovy. I knew this was going to be epic!
My Tinder date
Paddling out, the water felt like it was 56-59 degrees, pretty cold as in all surf spots in NorCal. I suggest wearing at least a 4/3mm, I felt fine.
The first thing I noticed in the line up were the animals. Instead of the usual seagulls at my local break there were these Brown Pelicans flying in groups that came very close to the water, sometimes 3-4″ away trying to catch their next meal. It was breathtaking. Another moment, I had dolphins right beside me as I was in awe. I fumbled my camera and wished I was fast enough to capture them on film, but they quickly submerged underwater.
The locals surfers were experienced and there were only a handful of them. Everyone seemed to be in the zone and happy to be out.
It took me about 20 minutes and a few wipeouts to get a grasp on timing and the angles of the break. The waves had a lot more force when they came in, not like Santa Cruz where the waves are longer and don’t barrel as quickly. I was able to find my rhythm and ride a few sets all the way in.
Overall, Sonoma County has solid surf. If you’re interested in exploring, here is a list of all the beaches in Sonoma County State Park. Definitely a great place to spend the weekend with a variety of activities and sites to see. If you’re interested in learning more click here. I will definitely be coming back.
The drive home provided plenty to reflect upon. One thing is true, I was a bit skeptical and afraid of the shark stories I heard. It was an amazing trip and I’m stoked that I went. Don’t let anything discourage you, go see it for yourself.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the post. Let me know if you have tips, suggestions, feedback or questions. If you enjoyed this blog posts sign up and receive updates on my next adventure.
In my next post, we’re going back to the basics. See you in the line up!
What type of person are you? Are you someone that likes to go against the grain? Or maybe someone that likes to stay in the middle of the pack? There are really two types of people in my opinion. Someone that likes to test the waters to see what happens even when there is a lot of uncertainty. And then, there is someone that is risk averse and likes to take the safe play. Whatever person you are, there’s lots to explore. If you’re starting to venture out into unknown breaks, this might help prepare you for what to expect.
I’ve been living in Northern California for pretty much my entire life. Northern California is expansive and diverse in its geography. The entire state can be quite expansive with 840 miles of coastline, the 3rd longest in the nation behind Florida (1,350 miles) and Alaska (6,640 miles). But one thing is true, the Beach Boys and the phrase “California Dreaming” explains why California tops the list for its beaches and surf lifestyle. If you’re wondering where to go next, California has a lot of surf hot spots, you just have to find them. Take a look at this list from RentApplication.com that lists the top 30 surf spots in the nation (close to half of them are in California). BTW, I will be visiting most if not all of them, so stay tuned! (There are some missing hot spots on the list, but I’ll keep my mouth shut for next time.) To begin your surf adventure here are some dangers to think about.
Top 10 dangers surfing in Northern California,
Unknown terrain such as rocks
In order to prepare for your trip, you will have to measure your skill level and be honest with yourself. Do not attempt to surf breaks that are for more advanced and experienced surfers. If you surf a 2′-3′ wave typically, stay within your range. If you want to surf more difficult breaks, train yourself and build up your endurance by mastering your current surfboard and local break.
Here’s a critical piece of advice, study unfamiliar breaks by watching the waves and attempt understand how it breaks, locate the rip current and be aware of your surroundings such as rocks or where other surfers position themselves. Talk to the locals and be respectful.
If it looks too big or out of your comfort zone, chances are, it probably is. In my next blog post, I finally venture out and experience one of the best surf breaks on the Top 30’s list infamous for Great Whites. Here’s a preview. Until next time!