California town is for 'The Birds' Claim to fame: Tourists come to see the sites where the movie was shot, but Bodega Bay has other attractions.

January 21, 1996|By Gary A. Warner | Gary A. Warner,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Touting your town as the place where a woman got her eyeballs pecked out by psychotic waterfowl doesn't seem like a nifty plan to lure tourists.

But the bloody attacks of possessed sea gulls filmed in the idyllic Sonoma Coast town of Bodega Bay for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" have gained the tiny town international notoriety.

"It's a cult film all over the world -- the first thing usually people ask about," said Patricia Terrell, who works for the local chamber of commerce. "We get French people, German people, English people who come up from San Francisco just to see the places in the movie."

Bodega Bay today is a popular weekend getaway from San Francisco. It's a spot to cuddle up and stroll on a wind-swept beach or bundle up and read on the porch of one of the beachfront motels.

There are actually two towns -- Bodega and Bodega Bay -- but for the visitor the difference is inconsequential.

Most visitors make the trek around the twin towns to find the sights remaining from "The Birds." There's the Tides Inn, where bar patrons in the movie watched an early gull attack and the gas station blow up. The original inn burned down but was reconstructed. Head for the bar that was rebuilt as a replica of the one in the film. You can check the authenticity against a large still photo from the movie that graces the inn's entry hall.

Horror buffs remember Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette leading screaming schoolchildren from the birds who presaged their attack by alighting menacingly on the jungle gym at the Goddard Schools. The schoolhouse is now a private residence. Visitors can come by and take pictures; just don't bother the people living in the house. It's at 17110 Bodega Lane.

Visitors can attend services or just stroll around St. Theresa's Church, the chapel that had a starring role as a sanctuary for villagers fleeing the feathered fiends.

What really remains is what first attracted Hitchcock: a quiet, quaint seaside area isolated from much of the world -- a rocky, wind-swept coastline and beautiful forests nearby.

The area is at its best when the sun is shining -- an iffy proposition along the Northern California coast. On clear days, kites dot the skies over Doran Beach and picnickers head for Westside Regional Park. April brings whales migrating north past Bodega Head State Park.

The lack of large buildings or big towns belies that Bodega Bay has served as a port for 220 years. Spanish explorer Francisco Bodega y Cuadra discovered the bay in 1775, the same year colonists were firing the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington.

First Mexicans, then Russians set up communities on the bay's shores, hauling crabs and fishing for salmon and hiding from storms in the protected port. The harbor was Americanized in 1850 when California entered the union.

Fishing remains a mainstay of the community today, and the half-dozen restaurants along Highway 1 offer inexpensive seafood.

A great way to spend the day around Bodega Bay is to drive what locals call "the loop." From Bodega Bay, drive north on California 1. Wind-swept Wright's Beach is a great spot for a stroll or a late breakfast. Continue north to Jenner, a pretty village nestled on the hills where the Russian River meets the sea. On nearby Goat Rock Beach, you can often see sea lions lounging just offshore.

Backtrack slightly and take California 116 east. You'll pass through Duncan Mills, a shopping village with a 19th-century theme. There's a small railroad museum and several popular curio shops.

After driving along the Russian River, turn south at Monte Rio for a curving ride down the Bohemian Highway. Tall pines serve as a canopy as you drive through a rustic back country of cabins and farms.

Halfway down the highway is Occidental, a one-time logging and railroad town now best known for its fierce but friendly Italian Restaurant War.

On a Friday night, the parking lot is packed in front of the Union Hotel, which isn't a hotel at all. It's a family-style Italian restaurant serving big plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Across the street is the equally crowded Negri's, a cavernous dining room serving almost exactly the same pasta dishes as the Union Hotel.

Continuing south, you reach Freestone, an old hippy hangout of general stores and New Age shops. It's the area's first historic district, with many buildings more than a century old.

From Freestone, head west again on Bodega Highway, which eventually rejoins California 1 just before it enters Bodega Bay.

The drive can be done leisurely in about three hours, including a break for a stroll on the beach and lunch in Occidental.

Back in Bodega Bay, spend an afternoon outdoors. Golf nuts can hit the Links at Bodega Bay, a Scottish-style course more rough-hewn than traditional. Ocean lovers can snorkel for abalone or explore tide pools.

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