Cheap and Free Bodega Bay, California – with kids

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For most northern Californians, the Sonoma Coast is synonymous with wine tasting, fine food, spendy spas, and “grown up fun.” It’s not the first place that comes to mind when you think of an affordable family vacation. However, the scenic Sonoma coastline is peppered with great beaches—38 beaches in fact. And best of all, Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast make a great getaway with kids. Even on a budget.

If you’re looking for a good weekend trip from the Bay Area, or would like to plan a side trip during your family’s visit to San Francisco, take note. Here are 10 ways to enjoy your trip to Bodega Bay without breaking the bank.

1.    Fly a kite. Always a popular beach pastime, kite-flying is fun for all ages and affordable. If you don’t already have one, look to the local kite shops for a great “starter kite” for your kids. Prices start around $12 for basic kites, and your kite will serve you well for years to come.

2.    Build a driftwood fort—or just borrow one for the afternoon. Several of the beaches along this stretch feature great driftwood forts, and with the collections of driftwood on the shore, it’s easy to feel inspired. This fabulous fort at Salmon Creek State Park (above) kept our girls busy for hours.

3.    Build sand castles.And sand people. And sand cars. And… you get the idea.

4.    Go tide-pooling. There are some great tide pools at some of these beaches, the top-recommended beach for tide pools is Shell Beach.

5.    Watch the surfers. Always fun.

6.    Watch the whales. This is prime whale-watching territory, and there are some great vantage points just from scenic turnouts along the highway and easy hiking trails (click here for an idea). Best viewing (and photographing) is in the morning when the sun’s angle is favorable.

7.    Have a picnic.Sure, the beach is a natural spot for a picnic, but you might also enjoy some of Bodega Bay’s other sites such as this picture perfect churchyard on a rise overlooking rolling pastures.

8.    Play T-ball on the sand with your tots, or fling a Frisbee with older kids.

9.    Go camping. While there are great deals to be had at the local inns and hotels, there are also several campgrounds along this stretch of coast. Click here for more information about camping in Sonoma’s regional parks, including Doran and Westside in Bodega Bay, and Gualala Point and Stillwater Cove on Sonoma’s north coast. State Park campgrounds include Wright’s Beach and Bodega Dunes among others, click here for more information.

10.    Watch those waves. Sometimes when you travel with little ones, it’s easy to get caught up in their activities (and entertainment, and eating, and…). Don’t forget to take a little time while you’re on the beach to just take in the view… and breathe. Nice, isn’t it?

More tips: While Doran Beach Sate Park, with the Pacific on its two-mile front and Bodega Bay at its back, has a $6 day use parking fee, most of the other beaches along the Sonoma Coast are completely free (even Salmon Creek, which has ample parking and restrooms).

For lodging info, check out the Travels with Baby review of Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children

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